Social Living [Review of Social Psychology by F. H. Allport]
Social Psychology. By Floyd H. Allport. Houghton Mifflin Company. $3.
THERE are two standpoints in social psychology today; the first, which is sociological, involves the group as a unit of study; the other, which is psychological, in the strict sense, deals with the individual in social situations, either real or imaginary. For Mr. Allport social psychology falls under this second category.
In accordance, then, with his thesis, the author has confined himself very largely to describing and interpreting the mechanisms of individual consciousness and behavior as they involve social stimuli and the responses thereto. The opening chapters give a general behavioristic background to the problem with emphasis upon the "prepotent reflexes": hunger, sex, struggle, rejection, approach and withdrawal, and "sensitive zone re-actions." Through learning, which consists chiefly in the process known as "conditioning," habits are built up which furnish us with the concrete features of conduct. Connected with these fundamental behavior patterns are the emotions and feelings. The author has modified the James-Lange theory of emotions to take into account the differentiating aspects of bodily sensations and the place which the autonomic nervous system plays in emotional expression.
Following this preliminary treatment of human nature is given an interesting analysis of personality. Here are presented some original researches upon temperament, compensation, inferiority feelings, sociality, and domination-submission tendencies. While there is in this volume no direct acceptance of Freud, the influence of psychoanalysis upon Mr. Allport's conception of personality is everywhere evident. In fact, one of the outstanding contributions of the book, aside from its specific content, is the author's acceptance in a systematic treatise of much of the new psychology, although it is couched, on the whole, in terms of behaviorism. To him "personality is preeminently the social aspect of the individual" whose traits are a combination of original nature and much transformation under family, playground, and other group environment—a viewpoint very much like that of Freud, Adler, and Jung.
The second part of the volume deals more especially with "social behavior," that is, for Mr. Allport, the reactions and attitudes of the individual in social situations. The chapters on "language and gesture" and on "facial and bodily expression" as forms of social stimulation are the ablest summary of this important material which the reviewer has seen in English. True to his general standpoint, however, the author does not venture beyond the mechanistic phases of the topics into the wider significance of human communication which is so basic to social intercourse and social control. And in the section on the relation of infantile to primitive language there is an unwarranted assumption that non-inflective languages, for instance agglutinative or polysynthetic languages like those of native Africa or America, are inherently inferior to our own Aryan tongue which no modern anthropologist would accept.
Two chapters are given over to the presentation of experimental data on the responses of the individual to the presence of other persons. Confirmation of older observation is here given. The mere presence of other people tends to make, in the individual, for quantity rather than quality of motor skill. So, too, working in groups tends to eliminate individual differences in mental performance leveling the thinking capacity of the brighter to the mediocre standards of the average member concerned.
In the discussion of crowd behavior, more specifically, the author follows Martin's interpretation fairly closely. The older theory has been that the crowd wipes out the individual's own personal attitudes and ideals. It is here maintained, on the contrary, that more frequently the real deep-rooted emotional attitudes of hatred, selfishness, and aggression of the individual are there fully expressed, simply because of the feeling of universality and of release from responsibility which the crowd fosters. As Mr. Allport puts it, "The individual in the crowd behaves as he would alone, only more so."
The final chapters discuss the place of social attitudes in social adjustment and give a sketchy account of the nexus between the individual and his institutional environment.
It may be said in conclusion that this book is a very adequate account of the fundamental mental mechanisms behind social relations. To hold with the author, however, that the province of social psychology consists in this sort of treatment only is to ignore the important contributions to this field of such writers as Tarde, Le Bon, Graham Wallas, J. M. Williams, and the type of studies now being published under the direction of Professor Park at Chicago. I believe that the basic foundations of social psychology must first treat the individual mechanisms of mind coupled with an analysis of the concrete nature of idea and attitude. In the second instance, account must be taken of the specific environment around which these attitudes and ideas revolve and toward which behavior is directed. To ignore either the individual or the social environment in dealing with social psychology is to possess a particularistic formula from which the full interpretation of social living will tend forever to escape us.