The Conditioned Response and the Consciousness of Kind

Nancy Boyd Willey and Malcolm Willey


Giddings' concept of the consciousness of kind as the elemental aspect of human association is strengthened and clarified in the light of a recent development in psychology— the conditioned response. This latter, the transfer of associations and the conditioning of emotions, has been demonstrated by Pavlow's experiments with the salivary reflexes of dogs and John B. Watson's experiments with the emotional reactions of infants. This psychological mechanism clarifies many of the more obscure aspects of the Giddings concept, and in it one of the forces active in the determination of kind is discovered.

When Franklin H. Giddings published his Principles of Sociology in 1896, he gave to the literature of sociology one of the first comprehensive expositions of the subjective aspects of human association. In its objective phases, sociological writers had carried their study of group life far, but the basic principles underlying societal relations had by no means received adequate attention. The bond of unity underlying group cohesion had not been analyzed. Aristotle's dictum that man is a political animal was accepted axiomatically; and in a general way it was recognized that birds of a feather flock together. But the why of the matter had not been developed. It was to meet this need that Giddings formulated his consciousness of kind, which, as he conceived it, "is the original and elementary subjective fact in society."[1] Here, to him, is the point of departure for all interpretations of social life; and here, the distinguishing factor between what may rightly be called society and mere gregariousness.[2] A psychological foundation for social analysis was thus

( 23) introduced with the publication of this work, and whatever may be the judgment concerning the superstructure of the system of sociology erected by Giddings, it must be agreed that in this psychological and subjective approach his contribution has greatly enriched the field of human knowledge.

Consciousness of kind, simply defined, is "a state of consciousness in which any being, whether high or low in the scale of life, recognizes another conscious being as of like kind with itself."[3] This has been elaborated by Giddings at great length in his extended writing.[4] It is the purpose of the writers to examine most briefly those factors that determine what constitutes a kind, to regard them in the light of a recent development in modern psychology, and to suggest certain bearings of this latter upon Giddings' doctrine as originally formulated. In no way is this to be construed as invalidating the earlier analysis; it merely strengthens it by bringing into support of it recent facts of psychology, facts which were unknown at the end of the last century when the Principles was published.

It is clearly true that "our conduct towards those whom we feel to be most like ourselves is instinctively and rationally different from our conduct towards others whom we believe to be less like ourselves."[5] What, then, lies behind our beliefs as to whom we shall include in our kind ? It is no simple matter to answer this. Giddings himself has clearly recognized the subtleties involved: ".... consciousness of kind is an ever changing state of mind. It is not to be once and for all identified with the consciousness of species, or of race, or of class, or of similarity of moral nature, although at any given moment it may, in fact, be identical with any one of these."[6] In later works Giddings has sought out more definitely the elements of his principle: consciousness of kind is

( 24) seen to be a compound of organic sympathy, perception of resemblance, conscious or reflective sympathy, affection, and the desire for recognition.[7] The perception of kind, without elaborating the above, is obviously based on two phases of recognition: (1) external, physical resemblances; (2) emotional, psychological resemblances.[8] The two, quite clearly, usually blend into each other.

Objectively kind is a matter of like physical appearance: a matter of race, size, color, stature, sex, age, etc., and these are fundamental, it would seem, in what Giddings calls organic sympathy.[9] The observer sees the physical appearances of another, and feels resemblance in his reaction to the other as stimulus, and according to the degree of resemblance to self, the matter of kind is deter-mined. Fundamental in this, and underlying the reactions, is organic sympathy. This organic sympathy may be traced through the history of life from amoeba to man. To Giddings it is one of the great co-operating causes in the origin of species, and a chief factor in what he has called "anthropogenic association." Like reaction to like stimulus is to be understood in terms of it.[10]

Subjectively the problem is more difficult of analysis. Here kind rests on likemindedness, common interest, mutual desires, feelings, sentiments, and tastes.[11] This explains how diversified physical types may on occasion work harmoniously for a given end -and so far as the attainment of that end is concerned, constitute a kind. It also suggests that individuals who recognize others as their kind in one respect or interest may not consider them as of their kind when other interests are involved. The loyal democrat is one with a protectionist in some common religion, but when politics is concerned they are of different social groups (kinds). The black man and the white may be of the same kind politically in the South, but there the community ends. Thus it is clear that on the

( 25) subjective side the determination of the factors underlying the kind is not simple. And on this side kind itself is a varying concept. On the objective side the stability of kind is obviously greater. All of this the writers feel Giddings has implied, and in general would agree with. Which is more fundamental, the subjective or the objective phase, is not clear. In the long run are those we select as of our kind chosen because of physical resemblance, or on the basis of mental resemblance ? Or both ? To the writers it would seem that no hard-and-fast rule applies, but in a general way it appears that in selecting those with whom we would consort, a certain physical limit is set: white men do consort with white, blacks with blacks, yellow with yellow, etc. Types go with types. This, of course, in a general way.[12]

Leaving for the moment this altogether too brief statement of the factors entering into the determination of kind, consideration must be given to a psychological mechanism that throws further light upon, and refines, the foregoing analysis. We refer to the "conditioned response."

Pavlow's experiments with salivary reflexes of dogs are now generally familiar. How the sight of food causes the flow of gastric juices, and how the sounding of a bell simultaneously with the stimulation through the food soon builds up an association which makes for the flow of the juices when only the bell is sounded, is clear. It is also now evident that habit response in man may be similarly conditioned, and a response, originally excited by a single stimulus, may eventually be produced by a multiplicity of stimuli. The experiments of John B. Watson, especially, have demonstrated this.[13] He shows, for example, that originally the child gives a fear reaction to only two stimuli: a loud sound and a sudden release of support.[14] If a rat (which originally the child does not fear) is shown at the moment the sound is produced, and this repeated a few times, in due course the sight of the rat alone will bring the fear

( 26) reactions. And more than that, the rat itself then becomes an object to which other objects may be conditioned to produce the fear reaction. In this manner, by compounding, conditioning, and reconditioning, the vast array of phobias that torments mankind is brought into existence. "In general, then, it seems safe to say that when an emotionally exciting object stimulates the subject simultaneously with one not emotionally exciting, the latter may in turn (often after one such joint stimulation) arouse the same emotional reaction as the former."[15] The mechanism seems clear, but may be further illustrated. A young man is jilted by a woman; toward her he feels the utmost hatred and contempt. This is, by association, extended to womankind in general, and a misogynist results. According to the Watson formulation, a child reared by a mechanical man would, because it satisfied the primal needs of life, have feelings resembling those of affection toward the automaton, and would extend these feelings to other mechanical men-and include them in its own kind. The man whose wife dies during an operation blames not only the doctor concerned, but conditions his hatred to all surgeons. A first-generation foreigner, with his mannerisms and uncouthness, displeases an individual of Puritan extraction: the displeasure is then transferred to the entire group of which the original foreigner is a member.[16]

The relation of this brief analysis to that with which this note began now becomes apparent. Kind itself, in addition to mere physical appearance, of mere likemindedness, may be, in many instances, in part at least, determined by this process of conditioned response.[17] The entire learning process is a function of this conditioning .[18] The concept of kind is consequently bound up in it. Some further examples will make this evident. The particular Jew whose bear-

( 27) -ing, mannerisms, and conduct excite a feeling of strangeness or repulsion is in part no doubt the cause of the ill feeling toward his race as a whole. The modern negro, his ancestors still fresh in memory as slaves and menials, is the victim, by association and conditioning, of the slave psychology. The. foreigner with the name suffixed with a ski, regardless of rank or attainment, in the general mind is regarded with distrust, largely because his name is conditioned by the misgivings produced by some first-generation countryman whose conduct has not conformed to the mode of American behavior —whose reactions themselves are conditioned to an alien culture. And how many are the unfortunates who are social outcasts because, holding what to them seem sound doctrines, they, by conditioning, are linked with what the popular mind calls "Red" or Bolshevik ?

Thus, while kind may be in part a function of physical appearance, while it may be a function of similarity of interests, feelings, and the like-still, by this process of reconditioning, even the person who bears characteristics of the self may yet, by a conditioned reaction, by means of which some trait or characteristic has been associated with some unpleasantness or idiosyncrasy, be conceived of not as of the kind, but as an outlander. The cultured, refined, blond, and regularly featured Jew or Jewess, even though once unknowingly accepted, is dropped, perhaps unconsciously, but generally nevertheless, from the Gentile's kind. The feeling against the more grating race-mate is carried over; the conditioned response has made former associates now of another kind, although in interests and appearance they are yet as one.

In summary, we may say that while all that Giddings has analyzed is true, there is this additional factor operating much of the time in determining the characteristics of the kind. Here we have one of the elements underlying the choice of kind-mates, and one of the important factors behind the "laws of social choice," the determination of which, according to Giddings, is one of the sociologists' main quests.[19] The transfer of emotions and the

( 28) conditioning of emotions in many cases are seen as important factors in explaining what constitutes or determines those who are to be regarded as group mates. The conditioned response is, further, often the bond uniting emotional response with physical types; it is frequently the cause of the subtleties underlying the instability of kind on its subjective side-subtleties which Giddings himself recognized. The conditioned response, then, must be taken into consideration in all discussion which turns upon the consciousness of kind, and in all discussion which is based upon a subjective approach to the analysis of human group life.


  1. The Principles of Sociology, p. 17.
  2. Principles, p. 19; cf. Studies in the Theory of Human Society, chap. xv, "Pluralistic Behavior," pp. 249-90. Here Giddings makes consciousness of kind a phase of a somewhat more general process, the like reaction to like stimulus. But in this reaction to like stimulus, the consciousness of kind is the elemental fact.
  3. Principles, p. 17.
  4. Cf. Elements of Sociology, chap. v; and especially, Studies in the Theory of Human Society, where the doctrine has received its latest formulation and interpretation. Also Descriptive and Historical Sociology, Part II, chap. iii., and Inductive Sociology, Part II.
  5. Principles, p. 18.
  6. Op. cit., p. xiv, Preface to 3d edition. Cf. "The Mind of the Many" in Studies in the Theory of Human Society, pp. 154-74.
  7. Elements of Sociology, p. 66; Inductive Sociology, p. 99; Studies in the Theory of Human Society, p. 165; Descriptive and Historical Sociology, p. 289.
  8. Inductive Sociology, pp. 46 ff.; Descriptive and Historical Sociology, Part II, chap. iii, pp. 275 ff.; Studies in the Theory of Human Society, p. 165.
  9. Elements, pp. 59-62; Inductive Sociology, pp. 46-55.
  10. Principles, Book III, chap. ii; Inductive Sociology, pp. 91-94.
  11. Inductive Sociology, pp. 91-100; Studies in the Theory of Human Society, pp. 257-61.
  12. Cf. Studies in the Theory of Human Society, "The Mind of the Many"and "Pluralistic Behavior." The importance of mental resemblance is stressed through all of Giddings' work. The real problem is to determine what underlies this mental resemblance.
  13. Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, pp. 28-38, 199-200.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Op. cit., p. 214.
  16. The entire process of "Americanization" is one of reconditioning. Clark Wissler, in Man and Culture, makes an interesting application of the conditioning process and shows how in the earliest years of life the individual has his responses conditioned to a given culture. This further clarifies the concept of kind. The Indian is made an Indian-of the Indian kind-because of his early surroundings. Cf. Man and Culture, Part III, chap. xii, especially pp. 253-65.
  17. Wissler, op. cit., pp. 266 if.
  18. Cf. R. S. Woodworth, Dynamic Psychology, pp. 77-152; Robinson and Robinson, Readings in General Psychology, pp. 91-92; A. I. Gates, Psychology for Students of Education, pp. 207-376, for further applications of the conditioning process.
  19. Principles, pp. 76, 404 if. Giddings himself appreciates thoroughly the importance of the conditioned response in human mental life, but he has not in his writing made the direct application of this mechanism to his own concept of consciousness of kind, as the writers have tried to do. Cf. Studies in the Theory of Human Society, P.155.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2