Review of The Psychology of Ego-Involvements by Muzafer Sherif and Hadley Cantril

Kimball Young

The Psychology of Ego-Involvements. Ву MUZAFER SНERIF and HADLEY CANTRIL. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1947. Pp. viií+525. $6.00.

This book attempts to restate the field of self or personality in terms of what the authors call "ego" or "ego-involvement." Their first thesis is that basic attitudes and actions of man are oriented toward the sense of self or ego. Second, this ego "is not innate" but is "a genetic formation." Third, its development derives from the nature and scope of the individual's contacts with his fellows. That is, "ego-involvements are situationally determined" and hence "by no means rigid and unchangeable." In the fourth place, these contacts are qualified by such factors as age, sex, status, and other differentials in the social-cultural system to which one is exposed. Fifth, the psychology of ego development and operation is "essentially" that of the "general psychology of attitudes." In fact, for them, the ego is largely a particular focus and organization of attitudes.

Upon these basic assumptions, implicitly or explicitly laid down in the Introduction, the authors go on to examine—in chapters íí–ví—the nature of attitudes and to review the literature on this topic, both experimental and that from daily observation. Following this, three chapters take up the genesis, development, and changes in the ego from infancy through adolescence. Chapters x and xi review "ego-involvements and identifications" in a variety of group situations. There is one chapter devoted to the "breakdowns of the ego" and another to selected illustrations of their thesis from well-known literary works. The final chapter is a critical review of psychoanalysis from the authors' particular standpoint. Committed as they are to a strong defense of environmental determinism with respect to the self, they sharply oppose the instinctual and inner-operating drives and processes posited by the psychoanalysts and attempt to show "why psychoanalytic formulations must be rejected." Without becoming an echt Freudian, one may enter a demurrer that so far not all the evidence is in the interplay of processes and drives that are biologically derived and those which come from social-cultural learning.

There is really nothing new or particularly startling in the standpoint or descriptive analysis in this volume. The authors have reviewed and restated in their own terms a great deal of, but by no means all, the pertinent literature in this field.

To this reviewer the most serious omission of Sheríf and Cantril—in common with the writings of the Allports, the Murphys, and most other social psychologists whose training and background is that of the laboratory and the statistical measurement—is their failure to grasp and use the mechanisms of interpersonal interaction long ago explored by C. H. Cooley, John Dewey, and George H. Mead. These contemporary writers, like most of their followers, are consciously or unconsciously still oriented to traditional individual psychology, not social psychology in its basic meaning. It is interesting to note that year after year the significant theoretical formulations of George H. Mead, in particular, continue to be ignored or neglected by most workers in social psychology. True, the present authors take two minor quotations from Mead, but nowhere do they state, accept, reject, or analyze his profound analysis of the rise and function of the social self. Yet this is, in essence, the heart of their own concern. While one hardly expects every piece of research in the field of personality to pay attention to Mead's views, surely a serious systematic treatise of this kind should do so.

This negative comment is made more in sorrow than in indignation and is not meant to show that the authors have not produced a serviceable book. While there is considerable needless repetition, occasional explications of the obvious, and a certain overtone of pretentiousness at times, it is nonetheless a valuable contribution.

Northwestern University


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