Review of Social Psychology by Robert Gault
SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. By Robert H. Gault. New York: Henry Holt Co., 1923, vi, 336 pp. $2.00
There is now pretty general agreement that social psychology is to form the nexus between experimental psychology and the social sciences. Since Professor McDougall's well-known treatise, first published in 1908, there have been innumerable articles and a number of books purporting to deal with this borderline topic. Even yet, however, there is no uniformity as to the subject matter of the field. The psychologists incline, on the whole, to stick to a description of the social instincts and the social ideas built up by association of people in groups, whereas the sociologists run all the way from systematic standpoints based on psychological interpretation, as with Giddings, Small and Ellwood, through Ross who leans toward the continental "collective psychology," to W. I. Thomas, Williams, Park and Faris who emphasize the importance of dispositions, wishes and specific acquired attitudes.
Professor Gault has given us here a book from the former angle yet well illustrated from sociological materials. His approach is indicated as follows :
The social psychologist looks into the psychic nature of individuals for the root of all social phenomena... . By psychic nature we mean to suggest not only the conscious aspect of human life but also the unconscious instinct and complexes that form the background of human personality.... This nature is conceived . . . as accounting for the existence of the (social) organization itself (pp. 8-9).
Certain uniformities of conditions, climatic, hereditary and environmental produce the core of social living, namely, the "sense of social unity," or sense "of belonging together." This "sense" exists in the individual consciousness only. The author dismisses any notion of group mind as unnecessary and misleading. More specifically the sense of social unity is developed "out of one's right or wrong interpretation of many signs as indicating that all are thinking or feeling alike" and secondly, "out of behavior of others that is recognized or foreseen as a more or less inevitable sequence of one's action and vice versa" (p. 10). One's imagery of other persons' reactions to one's own behavior is very important. This imagery is accompanied by emotional and affective toning which dominates the particular reaction or tendency to reaction at the moment. One should not assume, however, that this feeling or sense of unity is completely conscious at all times. Much of it is rather habitual or non-conscious.
So too, the motive to action is larger than the conscious purpose. For Professor Gault it includes not so much specific instincts arranged in logical fashion as with McDougall, but rather
( 616) habits and complexes built up from motor actions, feelings and certain drives or impulses. The author does not deny the importance of innate factors, but these are so greatly overlaid with acquired features as to lose much of their identity.
Two chapters are devoted to the importance of individual and racial differences in social life. The mentally inferior constitute a decidedly serious social problem, yet the writer does not accept uncritically the recent findings of army psychologists and others on racial differences. He does not believe we have at hand adequate means for testing the real innate capacities of the colored races. Up to the present, crude methods, plus very much of prejudice, have prevented the desirable experimental accuracy in these matters. Professor Gault, nevertheless, is aware throughout of the importance of individual differences for social control, a matter so frequently ignored by many sociologists.
The treatment of suggestion and crowd psychology is well done. Suggestion is a perfectly normal feature of all our lives. Its abuse arises from the particular situation in which it is applied. It has a legitimate function in building up the larger "social unities," although it is frequently twisted and aborted by prejudice, ignorance and sheer lack of mental ability. Suggestion plays an important part in the formation of the crowd, whether of the direct type—mobs and fortuitous gatherings—or the more formal audiences and parliamentary assemblages. The run of attention of any particular crowd is largely in the hands of the leader who serves a focal point of action. In the more direct and primitive forms of crowds there is frequently an appeal to much that is unethical and brutal in nature, while in the higher order of crowds, rules and social rituals control the suggestive manoeuvres of the leader.
The material on convention, custom and morale adds little to what is already at hand in the discussions of convention in Ross or is found in the analysis of Veblen of fashion and fad among the leisure classes.
While touching upon social progress, which he nowhere defines, the author does not discuss the rise of the idea of progress nor show its effects on habits and customs. Instead there is a thorough acceptance of the thesis that progress is inevitable. "The upward push is the great central fact in life . . . the élan vital, as the French describe the upward urge of human nature, is the fundamental thing" (p. 203) . "Motivation" of the correct sort will enable us, along with our increased knowledge of the universe and of man, to overcome the "unaccustomed complexities" of current living.
It is assumed, when viewing the whole matter in the broadest perspective, that our present direction of progress is the root which will bear fruit in an ultimately higher culture. If correct in his theory that progress is really measured by "an inner alteration of personality," one better balanced ín to to, does it follow that the present industrial-commercial age makes for this higher human development than any other? Is there not a good deal of evidence that the dominant economic order tends toward the disintegration of human personality? At least, is it not preventing, in many directions, the arrival at the higher forms of integrated self expression?
We need a psychological and sociological analysis of the whole notion of "social progress" as we find it in the prevalent mental set of the western mind today. We need, further, a clear differentiation between the mere accumulation of mechanisms which aid rapid communication and increased specialization of manufacture and those more subtle changes in life which make for wider individuality based upon free play to creative thinking.
KIMBALL YOUNG. University of Oregon.