Citation: Fay Berger Karpf. "George H. Mead" Section II of Chapter VII in "The Emergence of a Differentiated Social Psychology" in American Social Psychology: Its Origins, Development and European Background. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company (1932): 318-327.
Ross' work outlines a conception of social psychology which was very prominent if not predominant during the earlier part of the modern social-psychological movement. In the work of Baldwin and Cooley, however, we get the emergence of another conception which has been growing in importance in this country ever since its first formulation. This latter conception, which, as we have seen, centered about the analysis of the social self and the social nature of personality, was developed further in important directions by George H. Mead. While Mead approached the subject of social psychology in a frankly philosophical manner, for reasons which will appear presently, he has been an outstanding figure in American social-psychological thought alongside of the other writers so far considered here. At any rate, it is necessary to view his social-psychological theory here as supplementing some of the other formulations, despite some altogether unusual difficulties.
For Mead's influence upon American social-psychological thought has been exerted chiefly by way of the classroom and only secondarily by way of his published writings. The latter are fragmentary in the first place and both involved and obscure, and hence limited in their appeal, in the second place. A survey of Mead's published discussions of social psychological material would, therefore, be peculiarly inadequate as an index of the importance of his social-psychological theory. It is necessary to link these discussions of scattered aspects of his theory with his point of view as a whole, and this is to date not available in published form. The following summary is accordingly based on an unpublished outline of Mead's social-psychological theory  and on his class presentation of the material, as well as on some of his published articles. The reader who would follow out this brief summary is neces-
Mead addressed himself in particular to the careful analysis of the process by which the social unfolding of human personality takes place. Both Baldwin and Cooley had made their distinctive contributions here, but with the developing experimental study of the role of imitation in mental life a serious gap was left, at any rate in Baldwin's side of the analysis, which it seemed, from Mead's standpoint, most important to bridge. In fact, current social-psychological thought as a whole was so conspicuously associated with the imitation theory of social life—that the weakening of this specific theory seemed for the time being to be a weakening also of the social-psychological point of view in general. In directing his attention to a careful re-analysis of the process of social interaction, Mead was thereby attacking a problem which at the time was of fundamental social-psychological importance. Just when the imitation basis of modern social-psychological thought was beginning to give way, he shifted the center of social-psychological interest, so that imitation became a mere incident in the analysis of the basic process by which personality develops and social interaction is carried on. Mead also went the step beyond current social-psychological thought in this country of extending the social-psychological point of view more directly into the field of what had been looked upon as general psychology proper and of restating from his own standpoint such of its characteristic concepts as, for instance, consciousness, imagination, meaning, mind, thought, impulse, emotion, attention, etc. His theory accordingly appears to be especially challenging on the side of traditional psychological thought, as we shall see. In fact, his theory is among the most revolutionary in this respect of any of the formulations which we have so far had occasion to consider.
Though broadly inclusive of related thought, especially of that of James, Baldwin, and Cooley, Mead's approach is chiefly from the activistic and functional view of mental life which Dewey more particularly brought into focus in this country and the genetic and behavioristic movements in modern psychology as represented prominently by Darwin's work on The Expression of the Emotions and Wundt's treatment of language in his Völkerpsychologie.  He starts out with the "social act" as the primitive unit in social psychology, this unit being regarded by him as "social" in no mere secondary or delimiting sense but in the fundamental sense that human psychology in its most distinctive aspects is, according to him, basically social in both origin and function. Conceiving of social psychology "as the counterpart" of physiological psychology in the fundamental sense which recalls the classic defense of this position by Comte and Tarde,  Mead proceeded to build up the essential structure of his social-psychological theory about his behavioristic account of the process of interaction in the social act, very aptly and very suggestively designated by him as a "conversation" of attitudes and gestures.
This approach implies, in conformity with the spirit of Mead's social-psychological thought as a whole, that the basic data of human psychology in its social aspects are not "sensations" or "ideas" or "instincts" or any other such abstracted element but rather "acts" or "behavior" as it is directly observable in concrete human conduct. It is in this broad sense, it should be noted, and not in the narrowly technical sense that Mead's approach is behavioristic and linked with the behavioristic movement in modern thought, especially as represented by Darwin and Wundt. This approach remained impossible, according to him, as long as psychology continued to deal with entities which were referable to the soul, the mind, or the body, as in the case of the atomistic standpoints suggested above. It came into view only with the organic standpoint which the theory of evolution introduced into modern psychology. In its social-psychological implications, Mead associated this standpoint especially with the above-mentioned works of Darwin and
The social act, according to Mead, is an act, "in which one individual serves in his action as a stimulus to a response from another individual." Its important character, he maintained, is not imitation but the process of interstimulation in which the participating forms in a social act engage and which links them functionally together in a common social situation. "The important character of the social organization of conduct," says Mead, "is not that one form in a social group does what the others do, but that the conduct of one form is a stimulus to another to a certain act, and that this act again becomes a stimulus to the first to a certain reaction, and so on in ceaseless interaction," as suggested by the distinctive phrase "conversation of attitudes."
In developing this conception of the social act, Mead is led into an attempt to distinguish between what he regards as the world of social objects and relations generally and the physical world. This distinction cannot, according to him, be set up once and for all in physical terms. It is a matter of functional relationship. Thus, a social object, according to him, is one that calls forth a social response and results in social conduct, while a physical object is one that does not elicit such conduct but is acted toward in a characteristically impersonal and mechanical manner.
The child's world is at first entirely a social world, according to Mead, the world of physical objects and relationships being, from his standpoint, an acquisition which the child arrives at as a construct of its experience and by a process of abstraction. The child gradually learns, he suggests, following out the strain of thought which had been previously outlined by Baldwin, that some objects do not respond to it in the manner that people do. It gradually notices, also, that these same objects are treated
Whatever its socially defined boundaries, however, the physical world eventually does become distinguished from the basic world of social objects and relations by its poorer emotional content. There is in the case of the latter a constant play of responsive adjustment and readjustment, involving inhibition, emotion, and gesture, as there is not in the physical world. Thus it is, according to Mead, that emotional expression and gesture, as first described in behavioristic terms by Darwin in his Expression of the Emotions, are peculiarly the phenomena of the world of social conduct. They have a special importance, according to him, in the early stages of the social act, for they serve as indications to other forms to adjust appropriately to the stimulus presented, and as a result they set going the play of social stimulation and response characteristic of social conduct.
Thus, for instance, if A expresses anger, B responds in an appropriate manner. The adjustment on the part of B becomes in turn a stimulus to A to readjust, and A's new attitude the occasion for a new readjustment on the part of B. This play of social stimulation and response continues back and forth in the manner suggested by the phrase "conversation of attitudes," until the social act in view is finally brought to a close. Almost any aspect of social interaction can serve as an illustration of the process. The development of a dog fight, the progress of a fencing match. and the course of conversation on a specific topic all bring it clearly into view. An illustration from genetic psychology which is more directly to the point here is the play of stimulation and response that goes on
The child acquires the social imagery on the basis of which it can build up the more complex processes of its mental life as a guide to its social conduct by "taking the role of the other" and by "stimulating itself as it stimulates others," as it constantly does in play and whenever it rehearses its social role in imagination.[20 Vocal gesture in particular plays an important part in this aspect of development, according to Mead, though in a lesser degree those of one's gestures that one can see or feel may make for the same result. "The vocal gesture," he says, "is of peculiar importance because it reacts upon the individual who makes
In any event, Mead finds in this "double stimulation" aspect of social conduct the basis for all those distinctively human qualities of mind and action—self-consciousness, rationality, foresight, planfulness, social consciousness, morality etc. — which have been the objects of special psychological and philosophical consideration down the ages and also for most of the observed uniformities of social conduct which are generally attributed to imitation. He thus draws the whole scope of these human phenomena, as also their underlying conditions of development in imagination, meaning, thought, and consciousness, into the realm of social conduct and social psychology, so that he gives to some of the supposedly most individual aspects of the human mind a thoroughgoing social setting and interpretation.This part of his theory, as Mead points out, is intimately linked with Wundt's formulation of the relation of language to gesture. The manner in which he leads out from Wundt's treatment of language and beyond that, as has already been noted above, from Darwin's background study of emotion is suggestively outlined in the following passage. Proceeding from a discussion of the instinct standpoint in modern social psychology to a description of his own approach as it leads into this part of his theory, Mead says:
The . . . position to which I wish to call attention, and whose implications I wish to discuss, is that the consciousness of meaning is social in its origin. The dominant theory at present, that which is most elaborately stated by Wundt in
Human conduct is distinguished primarily from animal conduct by that increase in inhibition which is an essential phase of voluntary attention, and increased inhibition means an increase in gesture, in the signs of activities which are not carried out; in the assumptions of attitudes whose values in conduct fail to get complete expression. If we recognize language as a differentiation of gesture, the conduct of no other form can compare with that of man in the abundance of gesture.The fundamental importance of gesture lies in the development of the consciousness of meaning—in reflective consciousness. As long as one individual responds simply to the gesture of another by the appropriate response, there is no necessary consciousness of meaning. The situation is still on a level of that of two growling dogs walking around each other, with tense limbs, bristly hair, and uncovered teeth. It is not until an image arises of the response, which the gesture of the one form will bring out in another, that a consciousness of meaning can attach to his own gesture. The meaning can appear only in imagining the consequence of the gesture. To cry out in fear is an immediate instinctive act, but to scream with an image of another individual turning an attentive ear, taking on a sympathetic expression and an attitude of coming to help, is at least a favorable condition for the development of consciousness of meaning.
Of course the mere influence of the image, stimulating to reaction, has no more meaning value than the effect of an external stimulus, but in this converse
One's own gestures could not take on meaning directly. The gestures aroused by them in others would be that upon which attention is centered. And these gestures become identified with the content of one's own emotion and attitude. It is only through the response that consciousness of meaning appears, a response which involves the consciousness of another self as the presupposition of the meaning of one's own attitude. Other selves in a social environment logically antedate the consciousness of self which introspection analyzes. They must be admitted as there, as given, in the same sense in which psychology accepts the given reality of physical organisms as a condition of individual consciousness.
Whatever may be said for the details of this theory and for the basis of child observation and introspective analysis upon which it supposedly rests, all in all its effect has been both profound and far-reaching. This has been due partly to the fact that for the reasons suggested above, Mead's social-psychological theory has itself been very illuminating and partly to the fact that it has been so closely associated with other important formulations of American social-psychological theory. Especially important in this connection is the consideration that Mead's social psychology is one of the notable products of the Dewey school of pragmatic thought, for this consideration suggests immediately channels of social-psychological relationship and influence which are widely significant here, as will readily appear from the following sections of this chapter. But in any event, that Mead's theory has been an important factor in American social-psychological thought is evident enough from the direct testimony of an increasing number of writers. We close this brief
To Professor Mead, according to him, "American scholars are indebted for some invaluable and wholly unique contributions."
Nowhere can be found a comparable analysis of the psychology of meaning; the nature of symbolism, and the distinction between the significant symbol which makes human experience possible and the inferior development which accounts for the limitations of the lower animals. Mead's doctrine of the histrionic tendency which runs through all normal human imaginative experiences, very happily designated as the tendency to "take the role of the other," has, in the opinion of the writer, been one of the major contributions in this generation to our knowledge of how the personality develops and the consciousness of self arises. Mead has set forth the process by means of which the spontaneous and meaningless gesture is defined by the responses of the other so that while our ideas are our own and the symbol is private, yet the soul of the symbol is its meaning, and the meaning is the contribution of others.It will be helpful, in following out the remaining formulations of social psychological theory in this chapter, to bear this statement in view, and especially in conjunction with our later consideration of Faris' social psychological position. 
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Last revision: 10/09/02 10:41:13 AM