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OU 164613 


Human Nature in Everyday Li/e 




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Sot up ami clerlrotyp-U. Publihliod August, 1920. 

Press of 

J. J. Little & Ives Company 
New York 


F. R. R. 


The great majority of students who spend one quarter 
or one semester in a general course in psychology do no 
further work in this field. And many of them have no 
reason to go forward to expertness in such related fields of 
science as might revive the accomplishments of their brief 
experience in psychology. The short course in psychology 
can be made profitable only if the peculiar needs of such a 
course be squarely faced. Under these circumstances 
there should be a strong effort to integrate psychology with 
the issues of the work-a-day world. This does not require 
the teaching of the technical applications of psychology. 
It does, however, require the teaching of a practical psy- 
chology. Such a practical psychology is one in which 
scientific principles are given more emphasis than technical 
devices. But, more than this, it is a psychology in which 
these principles are selected and treated in such a way as 
to bring out their intimate relations to the personal and 
social life of the student. The present book is an attempt 
at such a psychology. 

The educational background presupposed by this text 
is no greater than is likely to be possessed by a student in 
the latter part of the high school course. I believe that, 
with the use of such supplementary readings as are suggested 
at the end of each chapter, the book will also be fitted for 
college classes. It should be especially appropriate for 
students who are going almost immediately into the study 
of education, business, law, and other professional subjects. 
In trying to administer to such needs as these I hope that 


I have done something which the general reader will find 

In the writing of the book I have had much friendly 
assistance. From the inception of the project Florence 
Richardson Robinson has helped me on every type of 
problem that authorship involves. Professor Leon C. 
Marshall was one of those who first encouraged the plan of 
writing such a book as this. His criticisms of the manu- 
script have been invaluable. All, or nearly all, of the 
chapters have been read and commented upon by Professor 
Harvey Carr, Professor Leverett S. Lyon, Professor Francis 
M. Maxfield, Mr. Henry Reed Burch, and Mr. John A. 
Powell. Each from his own point of view has made many 
important suggestions. 

Authors and publishers have been kind in permitting 
the use of illustrations and quotations. I have given 
specific credit for each of these favors at that place in the 
text where the material concerned is used. 

E. S. R. 

July, 1926. 





A. The Subject-Matter of Psychology 3 

B. The Methods of Psychology 7 

C. The Uses of Psychology 10 

Summary of the Chapter 14 


A. How the Nervous System, the Sense-Organs, the Muscles, and 

the Glands Work Together 17 

B. Special Organs Involved in Behavior and Mental Life ... 21 
Summary of the Chapter 38 



A. Characteristics of Reflexes and Habits 46 

B. Types of Habits 51 

(Summary of the Chapter , 64 




A. The Basis of New Habits 68 

B. How Experience Modifies Behavior 70 

C. Conditions under Which We Learn 75 

Summary of the Chapter 86 


A. The Rate and Limit of Learning 90 

B. The Curve of Learning 110 

C. Features of Established Habits 119 

D. The Elimination of Habits 121 

Summary of the Chapter 127 


A. The Various Meanings of Efficiency 133 

B. The Effects of Working 138 

C. Effects of Other Factors than Work Itself 151 

Summary of the Chapter 155 



A. Perception 162 

B. Attention 177 

C. Preparation for Movement 183 ' 

Summary of the Chapter 185 


A. Perceptions of Simple Sense Qualities 190 

B. Perceptions Involving Several Senses 216 

Summary of the Chapter 219 





A. The Forms of Ideation 229 

B. What Ideas Stand For 235 

C. The Association of Ideas 243 

D. Concepts 248 

Summary of the Chapter 257 


A. Memorizing 265 

B. Forgetting 281 

Summary of the Chapter 288 


A. Characteristics of Imagination 294 

B. The Sources of Original Thought 299 

C. Imagination and Reality 316 

Summary of the Chapter 324 


A. The Nature of Reasoning 328 

B. The Value of Reasoning 333 

C. The Basis of Reasoning 339 

D. How Valid Reasoning Goes On 353 

E. Results of Reasoning 362 

Summary of the Chapter 367 





A. Feeling Compared with Cognition 373 

B. The Make-Up of Feelings and Emotions 377 

C. The Origin and Development of Our Feelings 385 

D. Feeling and Other Forms of Activity 402 

Summary of the Chapter 405 



A. Personality and How We Know It 410 

B. The Organization of Sound Personality 418 

Summary of the Chapter 437 


A. How Abilities Are Measured 441 

B. Measurements of Simple and Complex Abilities 455 

C. Measurement of General Abilities 457 

D. Testing the Value of Measurements 468 

Summary pf the Chapter 472 

Index 477 









1. What is psychology? 

2. Why study psychology? 


Psychology is a study of human nature. Psychology is 
a study of the ways of man of how he sees and hears, of 
how he feels and thinks, of how he moves. In other words, 
this science is concerned with human nature. 

At one time psychology had to do almost exclusively with 
the conscious experiences. But in late years it has been 
increasingly realized that what people do is quite as im- 
portant as what they feel and what they think. And so 
psychology has come to have a great deal to say about 
action. Thus, human nature as it is looked upon by modern 
psychology embraces both mental life and behavior. 

Everyone knows something about human nature. Most 
people, when they begin the study of scientific psychology, 
are surprised at the number of facts and principles of mental 



life and behavior which they have previously picked up 
without any effort to do so. Plainly, the reason for this is 
that human nature is always with them, either in themselves 
or in those about them. They see every day how practice 
increases skill and how skill is destroyed by anger and 
extreme fatigue. They know how people develop from 
helpless infants into adults competent to make their own 
ways in the world. Such matters pertain to human nature, 
and the fact that people generally are aware of them means 
that most individuals know some psychology, whether they 
have ever realized it or not. 

But there are at least two important differences between 
scientific psychology and the psychology that one picks up 
incidentally. In the first place, the knowledge of human 
nature which is acquired without effort and serious study is 
very incomplete. Anyone can tell us that " practice makes 
perfect/ 7 but only one who has paid close attention to the 
question can begin to describe the many reasons why practice 
brings better results at one time than at another. In the 
second place, the psychology that is casually acquired con- 
tains many errors. There is a strong popular belief that a 
person can "feel it" if he is stared at, even when his back is 
turned. Careful students of human nature have submitted 
this belief to a test and they have found that it is quite false, 
that it has no basis in actual fact. We often come across the 
idea that those who are capable of doing well in one kind of 
study, such as mathematics, are, because of that fact, less 
likely to be capable in work differing widely from mathe- 
matics, such as history. Study of the problem has shown 
this belief also to be without foundation. A person posses- 
sing a good capacity for one type of intellectual work is more 
likely than not to possess a good capacity for other types of 
intellectual work. The science of psychology contains not 


only more facts, but facts of greater accuracy than are to be 
found in popular opinions about human nature. 

Most of psychology is based upon the normal adult. 
The first thinkers who attempted to make a genuine study of 
human nature confined themselves almost exclusively to the 
normal adult. This was really quite natural. There is one 
person whom the student of psychology always has with 
him and whom he can observe more minutely and exhaus- 
tively than he can observe anyone else. This is himself. 
Furthermore, he is likely to understand best those who are 
most like himself other adult human beings. 

There are practical reasons why it is well that psychological 
interest has centered in the mental life and behavior of the 
mature human being. We need to have a clear idea of 
the normal adult in order to point the developing child in 
the right direction; we need to have a clear idea of normal, 
competent human nature in order to help those who are 
mentally sick back to a life of health and usefulness. 

Nevertheless, psychology would be one-sided if the mental 
life and behavior of normal adults were its only basis. We 
must study children, the feebleminded and the insane, and 
even animals to gain a broad understanding of human nature. 

Child nature is simpler than adult nature. It is 
often extremely difficult to study the adult. The emotional 
life of the mature person is hard to get at because he has 
learned to hide his emotions to a large degree. No such 
control is present in the young child, and his emotional life 
is therefore more open to observation. The adult's action 
frequently comes after an elaborate process of deliberation 
which no one but himself can observe. The child's acts are 
likely to be more impulsive and the ideas and motives 
governing his behavior are often more evident. When he 
deliberates, this process is frequently carried out aloud. 


In general, then, the nature of the child is so much simpler 
than that of the adult that it offers easier conditions for 

There are, nevertheless, genuine difficulties to be en- 
countered in the study of children. We are all prone to 
forget just how we felt and thought about things during our 
own childhood. This fact may bring about serious mistakes 
when we seek to interpret the mental life and behavior of the 
very young. Difficulties of this sort, though serious, are 
not insurmountable, and child study has in recent years 
become an increasingly important part of psychology. 

Abnormal conditions exaggerate ordinary facts. Human 
nature as it appears in the insane, the feebleminded, and the 
intoxicated has a special importance. In such cases there is 
usually an exaggeration of facts which are difficult to observe 
in normal individuals. The feebleminded person is one 
whose mental development has been held in check by some 
diseased condition. When such individuals learn to make 
even the simplest movements, the process is painfully slow. 
And yet this very slowness may give us an excellent oppor- 
tunity to study the manner in which habits are formed. 
It is astonishing how much can be learned about running 
and batting from slow-motion pictures of those acts. In 
the feebleminded it is as though nature were presenting us 
with a slow picture of mental processes which, in the normal, 
go on so rapidly as to baffle our closest observation. 

The insane or the intoxicated man who thinks that he is Na- 
poleon is revealing in greatly exaggerated form a character- 
istic which is present in every normal person, but which under 
most circumstances is difficult to discover. While the normal 
individual does not actually believe that he is Napoleon or 
anyone else other than he is, he does have day dreams in 
which he sees himself in the seats of the mighty. But the 


fact that he knows the difference between his dreams and 
reality makes him a little ashamed of his dreams and unwill- 
ing to let anyone else know about them. In the insane and 
the intoxicated, on the other hand, if the distinction between 
fancy and reality does not break down, it at least becomes 
unimportant. Thus, we have these individuals unhesi- 
tatingly displaying their fancies. 

There is one primary precaution always to be observed in 
studying abnormal forms of human nature. We must not 
lose sight of the fact that what we are observing is abnormal 
and is exaggerated. The difference between believing one is 
Napoleon and wishing one were a great man is a difference of 
fundamental character. 

Animal life offers favorable conditions for study. 
Behavior and mental life in the child are simpler than in the 
adult. In the lower animals they are simpler still. For 
this reason the study of animals is a very profitable part of 
psychology. Another advantage in studying animals is that 
they can be used in experiments in which human subjects 
could not be used. In order to study the role of the brain 
scientists have removed various parts of this organ from 
rats and monkeys and then observed their behavior. Such 
experiments have the highest value, but no one would think 
of performing similar operations upon human beings unless 
disease or injury made it necessary for a patient 's own good. 
Of course we must be cautious in reasoning from animals to 
men. We must not overlook the vast differences between 
animal nature and human nature simply because we are able 
to discover many points of similarity between them. 


Psychology accepts many popular opinions about human 
nature. As we have already said, everyone, as a result of 


his ordinary experiences, learns some facts and forms some 
opinions about human nature. Many of these casually 
acquired facts and opinions are perfectly sound. In this 
case they can be taken over bodily into the science of psy- 
chology. Indeed, a great deal of psychology has been taken 
over in this way from popular thought and tradition. No 
scientist discovered that practice improves skill. This 
principle was discovered in everyday life long before the 
dawn of science. Thus, one of the most important methods 
by means of which psychology is enlarged is that of evalu- 
ating the knowledge of human nature which is constantly 
being acquired in the workaday world and including such 
parts of it as are valid in the subject matter of psychology. 
The psychologist observes human nature in everyday life. 
The knowledge of human nature possessed by most of us 
comes to a large degree from observing people as they go 
about their ordinary work and play. The psychologist also 
turns to daily life for many of his observations. But the 
psychologist does not observe people's everyday actions in 
quite the same fashion as does the layman. A distinguishing 
feature of scientific observation is that the scientist, at least 
in his own field of study, knows what he is looking for and 
to a certain extent what he is likely to find. If a boy, with 
little mechanical experience, is told simply to examine a 
certain automobile engine and learn all about it, he will 
make little headway. He will be lost in the complications 
of the machinery, because he does not know what is worth 
looking at and what is not. But a boy who has been given 
some wise instruction about gasoline engines, will make all 
sorts of interesting observations. The psychologist brings 
to his observations of ordinary behavior certain guiding 
principles. The fact that everyone can observe human 
nature does not make everyone a psychologist. A psy- 


chologist must know what are the important features to look 
for in human nature. As we go on with this book we shall 
see what are some of these features. 

The psychologist performs experiments. The scientist 
is at a great advantage when he is able to cany out experi- 
ments. Events as they occur in ordinary life are almost 
always difficult to observe with exactness. Suppose that a 
person is suffering from nervousness. Upon questioning 
him, we learn that he drinks six cups of strong coffee every 
day. Now we know that this is a large amount and that it 
may be the cause of nervousness. There is a possibility, how- 
ever, that there are more important causes for this case of 
nervousness than the excessive coffee-drinking. An ideal 
way of solving such a problem is by experimentation. We 
might have the sufferer continue to indulge in coffiee drinking 
for a period during which we made careful observations of 
him. Then we might have him abstain from coffee for a 
considerable period. In this way it would be possible to 
compare the patient's condition in the presence of the 
effects of coffee drinking with his condition in the absence of 
these effects. The psychologist is able to use experiments 
in studying many problems of human nature. He has 
people learn poetry by various study methods and thus 
discovers what are the best ways of memorizing. He has 
people read under different conditions of illumination and 
thus discovers the best types of lighting. 

The psychologist, in some of his experiments, simply sets 
his subject at a specified task under this, that, or the other 
set of circumstances and records the efficiency with which 
the task is accomplished. But there is another kind of 
procedure, known as the introspective experiment, which is 
quite different. In this case the subject plays a double part. 
He not only performs a set task, but he also observes his 


own actions, thoughts, and feelings. In one experiment of 
this type the subject looks for a few seconds at a bright white 
light. Then the light is turned off and he is left in total 
darkness. But it does not seem like total darkness to him. 
He still seems to see the light, and as he continues to look, 
this phantom light keeps changing colors. Now in order to 
investigate an occurrence of this sort an introspective ex- 
periment is necessary, that is, an experiment in which 
reliance is put upon what the subject observes, rather than 
upon what is observed by the conductor of the experiment. 


Knowledge of psychology is useful for everyday life. 

We wish to get on well with others and to control our own 
thoughts and actions. For both of these purposes we re- 
quire some understanding of human nature. If our knowl- 
edge be scientific and sound, so much the better. 

Two men were carrying out a piece of work together. 
Things did not go as well as they might because one of the 
men kept talking about "my job" instead of "our job" and 
because he kept saying to his partner, "I want you to do 
thus and so," instead of, "Don't you think it would be wise 
to do thus and so?" If the man who spoke so undiplo- 
matically had studied human nature thoroughly and had 
formed the habit of looking for the causes of human behavior, 
he would not have been so surprised when his companion 
became sullen and unco-operative. And if his companion 
had become used to looking at himself scientifically, he would 
have realized that he was suffering quite as much from his 
own hurt pride as from any important grievance. A knowl- 
edge of psychology does not always make one a diplomat, 
nor is it a sure cure for false pride. But through the study 
of this subject one should cultivate habits of thoughtfulness 


about human nature which will prove helpful in under- 
standing just such situations as the one described. 

The habit of remembering that there is a scientific way of 
solving many of the problems of human nature will keep us 
on the lookout for better methods of emotional control, for 
better methods of study, and will in general prevent our 
treating human nature, either in ourselves or in others, in a 
shortsighted and prejudiced manner. 

Psychology is basic for education. When the new-born 
babe enters upon the adventures of life he can scarcely be 
said to have a human nature. He knows nothing about the 
world and he has no control over his own actions. Yet he 
has powers of acquiring knowledge and self-control. It is 
the purpose of education to aid the child in realizing his 
possibilities of development. An enterprise so vitally con- 
cerned with human nature should, of course, keep in close 
touch with psychology. 

It is no accident that psychologists have made important 
contributions to the practice of teaching. Psychologists 
have studied how learning goes on, what factors make for 
efficient learning, how forgetting takes place. And no one 
seriously interested in the best methods of education would 
ignore what has been discovered about learning and for- 

Psychology is important for medicine. Modern medical 
practice is based upon a number of sciences upon anatomy 
which deals with the structure of the body, upon physiology 
which deals with the action of the various organs, upon 
pathology which deals with disease, and upon a long list of 
Dthers. Among the sciences which should form the back- 
ground of sound medical practice is psychology. Although 
nany a physician has succeeded with no psychology except 
that of common sense, many another has failed because of 


a lack of understanding of human nature. The medical 
man is frequently confronted with questions which have 
little to do with disease in the usual sense of the word, but 
which do involve human nature. There is often a greater 
need for removing a patient's anxiety than there is for 
changing his diet or giving him medicines. 

In recent years there has been a general recognition of 
the fact that there are forms of sickness which are really 
nothing but very bad habits. Not long ago a man went to 
his doctor because he was seized by a terrible dread whenever 
he went into a crowd. The chances are that no amount of 
knowledge of the patient's bodily condition would have 
revealed the source of his difficulty. Somehow and some- 
where he had acquired a bad emotional habit perhaps 
years before as a little child he had been lost in a crowd. If 
so, the only hope lay, not in administering drugs, but in 

Psychology is useful for the practice of law. In con- 
nection with education and medicine we have stated only 
a few examples of how a knowledge of psychology may lead 
to sounder practice. Likewise in the case of law, we shall 
simply give an instance or two of the possible uses of psy- 
chology. One of the most important of legal questions has 
to do with the degree to which any particular criminal is 
responsible for his actions. If one man attacks another, 
the court wants to know, not only whether the accused in- 
dividual actually did make the attack, but, in case he did 
make it, why he acted as he did. Thus, we see a need for 
knowledge of why people do the things they do, of what 
forces are capable of affecting human behavior. Another 
set of psychological problems of great legal importance has 
to do with the accuracy of testimony. Many of the facts 
upon which court decisions are based are furnished from 


memory by witnesses. Psychologists, as we shall later 
see, have studied in detail the accuracy of memory and 
have discovered many of the types of error which are to be 
expected in ordinary testimony. 

Business has its psychological problems. In the early 
development of business and industry there was such a 
strong emphasis upon the improvement of machines and 
materials that human nature was largely neglected. In late 
years, however, there has been a pronounced interest in the 
human problems of business. This has meant a turning of 
the business man's attention to psychology. 

Some of the first applications of psychology to business 
were in the fields of advertising and selling. It is evident 
that both of these branches of business will be successful 
only to the degree to which they are based upon a sound 
appreciation of the desires and motives that lie behind the 
making of purchases. 

A second group of human problems in business has to do 
with the selection of workers. The psychologist's con- 
tribution in this field has been mainly in the form of tests for 
measuring ability. Some of these tests have been designed 
to deal with the special abilities required in certain occu- 
pations, while others have dealt with such general traits as 
" brightness" or " intelligence." 

There is a still more vital need for sound knowledge of 
human nature in connection with the treatment of workers 
after they have been employed. No matter how carefully 
men are selected, there are, nevertheless, questions regard- 
ing the handling of those men. If they are to give their 
best, there must be incentives adequate to arouse ambition. 
If they are to attain high levels of expertness, they must be 
trained in the best possible manner. In both cases the 
employer is confronted with psychological problems. 



1. Psychology deals with human behavior and mental life. 

2. Scientific psychology is to be distinguished from popular 
psychology because of the greater number and accuracy of 
the facts about human nature which it contains. 

3. Psychological knowledge has been gained mainly from 
the study of the normal human adult. This is due partly to 
the fact that psychologists have found it convenient to make 
many of their observations upon themselves. 

4. The psychologist has also drawn facts and principles 
from studies of children, of individuals in abnormal condi- 
tions, and of animals. 

5. Many of the principles of scientific psychology first 
come to light in popular thought. Consequently the psy- 
chologist is constantly examining popular notions about 
human nature and adopting such of them as -are valid. 

6. The psychologist studies human nature as it appears in 
everyday life, but his observations are not haphazard. He 
is usually able to tell the difference between important and 
unimportant facts. 

7. Whenever possible, the psychologist makes his observa- 
tions by means of experiments. In some of these he simply 
records the performances of subjects tested under varying 
conditions. In others, the introspective experiments, the 
subjects, themselves, observe and report what goes on. 

8. Psychology has many uses. It can be applied to 
everyday affairs of self-control and of controlling others. It 
should be the basis for education. It should enable the 
physician to understand his patients and to cure them of 
such troubles as are really only bad habits. In law and 
business there are numerous problems of a psychological 



1. Psychology deals with how man sees, hears, feels, thinks, moves. 
With what other matters would you expect a science of human nature to 

2. State five truths about human nature with which people are familiar, 
whether they have made a study of psychology or riot. 

3. Why is it well that psychology is not based entirely upon self- 

4. What do you suppose is the chief difficulty in the way of studying 
the mental life of animals? 

5. Do you accept the common belief that red-headed persons usually 
have hot tempers, or would you like to see this belief subjected to a scien- 
tific test? Why? 

6. Describe an experiment dealing with human nature which you 
would like to perform. Why would you expect to learn more from it 
than from casual observation? (Do not quote the experiment mentioned 
in the text.) 

7. What uses besides those we have cited can you see for a scientific 
knowledge of human nature? 


The supplementary readings which follow this and later chapters are 
selected especially for classes which lack ready access to an extensive psy- 
chological library. Although the readings are from many works and 
authors, they may all be found in a single book Readings in General 
Psychology, edited by Robinson and Robinson and published by the 
University of Chicago Press. References to these readings will give both 
the regular place of appearance and the place of appearance in the above- 
mentioned collection. The instructor who is able to send his students to 
a well stocked psychological library will undoubtedly wish to add in his 
own way to the present list of supplementary readings and perhaps in 
some instances to substitute selections which he thinks are more appro- 
priate and important. 

The collateral readings suggested in this book contain more matter than 
is likely to be covered by most classes in a one-semester course. This 
fact will give the teacher an opportunity to use any amount and selection 
of collateral material appropriate to the general maturity of the students 
making up his class. 

Pearson, The Grammar of Science (3d ed.), Part 1, pp. 12-14; or Read- 
ings in General Psychology, Ch. 1, Selection 1-A, p. 1 ff. 


Titchener, Popular Science Monthly, 1914, pp. 42-43; or Readings, 
Ch. 1, Selection 1-B, p. 3 ff. 

Thorndike, The Principles of Teaching, pp. 265-266; or Readings, Ch. 1, 
Selection i-C, p. 5 f. 

Cliff oid, Lectures and Essays (3d ed. Eversley Series), Vol. II, pp. 50- 
51; or Readings, Ch. I, Selection 2-A, p. 6. 

Ebbinghaus, Psychology (trans, and ed. by Max Meyer), pp. 3-9; or 
Readings, Ch. I, Selection 2-B, p. 7 f. 

Dunlap, A System of Psychology, pp. 1-4; or Readings, Ch. I, Selection 
3-A, p. 9 f. 

Angell, Chapters from Modern Psychology, pp. 76-79; or Readings, 
Ch. I, Selection 5-A, p. 20 f . 

Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (Everyman's 
Library), pp. 45-46; or Readings, Ch. I, Selection 5-B, p. 22. 

Yerkes, Introduction to Psychology, pp. 52-55; or Readings, Ch. I, 
Selection 7-A, p. 26 ff. 

Thorndike, Journal of Educational Psychology, 1910, pp. 6-7; or 
Readings, Ch. I, Selection 7-B, p. 28 ff. 








What organs of the body play the most important part in human 
behavior and in mental life? 

The most distinguishing features of human nature are 
man's behavior and his mental life. Human digestion, 
circulation, and breathing are carried on in much the same 
fashion as in many of the animals, but human behavior and 
human mental life are scarcely approximated even in the 
highest apes. The bodily organs most directly responsible 
for mental life and behavior are contained in the nervous 
system, which includes the brain. Closely related to the 
nervous system are the sense-organs, the muscles, and the 

In the present chapter we shall discuss in a brief way those 
parts of the body which are so important for human activities. 
First we shall consider how the sense-organs, the nervous 
system, the muscles, and the glands all work together. Then 
we shall consider these organs separately and in greater 

detail. f 




All knowledge depends upon sense-organs. There are 
within the human body and on its surface certain organs 
called sense-organs, or receptors, which receive stimulation. 
Without the action of these organs, we could be aware of 
nothing. Through the receptors of the skin we are aware of 
temperature changes and of objects and forces in contact with 
the outside surface of the body. Through receptors in the 
head the eyes, the ears, and the nose we are aware of 
neighboring objects, even if they are not actually in contact 
with us. Through receptors within the body we are aware 
of our bodily activities. In fact, so dependent are we upon 
the proper working of these organs of sense that we cannot 
even imagine anything independently of the manner in which 
it affects our senses. Everything in this world of ours is a 
something touched, seen, heard, tasted, or in some other 
way experienced by means of sense. 

Action depends upon muscles and glands. But the 
mere experiencing of what goes on within us and about us 
would be of little value if we could not do something about it. 
If we could not act in the presence of pain or of food, why 
should we be aware of them? While the receptors are indis- 
pensable aids in gaining impressions of the world, something 
more is needed if anything is finally to result from those 

And again we find certain other bodily organs playing a 
vital part in mental life. These we call effectors, which is 
very natural considering the fact that they bring about the 
effects or results of the impressions which the world makes 
upon us, TherQ are two main classes of effectors, (1) the 
muscles, and (2) the glands. The muscles bring about 


movements of the whole body or of its parts. The glands 
secrete substances like saliva or digestive juices which put 
the body in better 
working order and 
thus aid its activities. 
The nervous sys- 
tem connects recep- 
tors and effectors. 
It is evident that we 
could have no mental 
life without sense- 
organs, and that 
nothing could ever 
come of our mental 
life without muscles 
and glands. A little 
thought also shows 
us that there must 
be some connection 
between the muscles 
and glands and the 
receptors, for other- 
wise the action of the 
muscles and glands 
would not be in ac- 
cord with what was 
acting on the recep- 
tors. As a matter of 
fact, there is a very 
complicated set of 
organs called the 

nervous System which Fia. 1. DIAGRAM ILLUSTRATING THE GEN- 



with action. Nerves lead from receptors in all parts of the 
body to the spinal cord, which lies within the spinal column, 
and to the brain, which lies within the 
skull. These organs, the spinal cord and 
the brain, are themselves masses of inter- 
connected nerves, and from them nerves 
run out to all the muscles and glands. 
Whenever a sense-organ is stimulated, an 
impulse is set up which passes along the 
nerves to the cord or brain and then out 
again to some muscle or gland, or to a 
number of muscles or glands, which im- 
mediately become active. 

The nervous system, as a collection of 
links between all parts of the body, is 
the primary basis for the co-operative 
working of the different parts of the 
body. It is the main bodily basis of our 
ways of acting, feeling, and thinking. 

How we know the importance of the 
nervous system. There are many 
reasons why we are so sure of the indis- 
pensable role played by the nervous sys- 
tem in behavior and mental life. In the 
first place, it is the principal connection 
between the senses and the muscles, and 
without it neither of these would be use- 
ful. Secondly, we know that a knock on 
the head, certain drugs, a high fever, and 
other conditions which profoundly affect 
the nervous system disturb our mental life. It is not 
the sense-organs or muscles .of the sleeping man, the 
man under chloroform, or the man in a delirium that are 

Fia.2. A LENGTH- 

This drawing shows the 
brain, the spinal cord, 
and the spinal nerve roots. 


mainly affected. It is the nervous system that connects 
these sense-organs and muscles. Thirdly, we know that 
the main difference between highly intelligent man and the 
less intelligent animals lies, not so much in sense-organs, 
muscles, or glands, as in the nervous system. If we examine 
different animals, including man, we find that, in those 
whose mental life is simple, the nervous system is com- 
paratively simple. In those whose mental life is complex, 
the nervous system, especially the brain, is also complex. 

Mental life affected by all bodily processes. It would 
be a mistake to suppose that our mental life is not connected 
with bodily processes other than those of the sense-organs, 
the nervous system, the muscles, and the glands. If the 
circulation of the blood stops, mental life stops. If breathing 
is interfered with, there results a mental disturbance. If 
digestion is not going on efficiently, our disposition is likely 
to be affected. But it is only in so far as these disturbances 
affect sense-organs, nervous system, muscles, or glands that 
our mental life is affected by them. 



Receptors provide for contact with surrounding world. 

The receptors, or sense-organs, are always points of contact 
between the individual and the events taking place within 
him and around him. Each receptor is not, however, sensi- 
tive to all kinds of happenings. Rays of light arouse the eye 
the organ of vision to action, but such rays do not affect 
the organ of hearing in the ear, and would not do so even if 
they could penetrate to that point deep in the head where 
this organ is located. Sound, on the other hand, affects the 
ear, but not the eye. 

Those objects and occurrences that affect our senses are 


called stimuli. Thus, a mechanical impact against the skin 
is a stimulus for the sense of touch; a severe impact of the 
same kind is a stimulus for pain ; and changes of temperature 
arouse sensations of warmth and cold. Light is the stimulus 
for vision, and sound the stimulus for hearing. Certain 
substances in solution are, when present on the tongue, 
stimuli for taste, and certain gases which get into the nose 
are stimuli for the sense of smell. Besides the stimuli pro- 
duced in the surroundings of the individual, there are others 
which are produced by his own bodily activities. The 
movements of muscles arouse sensations of a certain kind, 
and such internal affairs as the too rapid beating of the 
heart during strong emotion, the contractions of the stomach 
during hunger, and the dryness of the throat in thirst, pro- 
duce their own special sensations. 

Man has increased the power of his senses. And, 
yet, with all of this, we are in contact directly through our 
senses with only a very small fraction of the forces of the 
world within which we live. There are many experiences 
we might have, but do not have because our senses are not 
delicate enough. Man has made up for these deficiencies of 
sense in many ways. The telescope has extended his sight 
until he can see other worlds as if at a comparatively close 
range. Drawing, painting, and photography have made it 
possible for him to see again events that are past and might 
otherwise be forgotten. The motion picture is one of the 
most recent improvements in the sense of sight. The tele- 
graph, the telephone, and the radio have enabled man to 
hear sounds originating at great distances. The phonograph 
has made it possible to hear repeated production of sounds 
which otherwise would have perished. All sorts of vibrations 
which our unaided sense-organs are not acute enough to 
detect are detected by means of instruments which man has 


invented. There are instruments now in use that detect 
earthquakes in the remotest corners of the earth. 

Sometimes it is advantageous to decrease rather than to 
increase the powers of our senses. Modern surgery with its 
great achievements in the saving of human lives is possible 
only because in chloroform, ether, and other anaesthetics we 
possess the means of temporarily suspending the action of 
the sense of pain. 

Sense-organs vary in structure. The structure of the 
receptors varies widely. Pain is aroused by the action of 
so-called free nerve ends, the ends of nerves which have no 
particular receiving organs attached to them. But most of 
the sense-organs are special structures which are set in 
action by some special agent, such as light or sound or 
contact, and which in turn set up impulses in the nerves 
attached to them. Perhaps the most elaborate of the re- 
ceptors is the eye. In the eye are cells especially designed 
to convert the energy of light into the energy of the nerve 
current. Besides this, there is a system of lenses and focus- 
sing apparatus to regulate the reception of light from points 
at different distances, and of light of different degrees of 
brightness. We shall have more to say about the structure 
of the sense-organs in Chapter VIII. 

Some receptors affected by external happenings. As 
we have previously pointed out, certain senses are set in 
action by what goes on at the surface of our bodies. This is 
true of touch, cold, warmth, and pain. There are other 
senses through which we are aware of happenings at some 
distance from us. We do not see the light itself, but rather 
the object from which the light is reflected or transmitted, 
such as a wall or a lamp. The sound likewise is judged to be 
the sound which something at a distance is making. It is 
the drum and the cannon we are usually interested in rather 


than the sound itself. The same is true of the odor of food 
or of flowers. Receptors which thus make us aware of hap- 
penings at the surfaces of our bodies or at a distance are 

Some receptors affected by bodily movements and pos- 
tures. We have also mentioned the fact that certain 
receptors record our movements. Within the tissues of the 
muscles and at the joints of the limbs there are sense-organs 
aroused by movements and postures. In the ears there are 
small structures called the semicircular canals which are 
involved in movement and in the balancing of the body. 
These organs of the muscles, joints, and ears are called 

Some receptors affected by internal conditions. - Certain 
receptors record the progress of events within our bodies. 
Those of taste are the best defined of these. Hunger, thirst, 
nausea, and internal pains depend upon these sense-organs 
within the body. The name for them is inter oceptors. 

The result of sense stimulation is action in muscles or 
glands. The final result of the stimulation of a sense-organ 
is action in some muscle or gland. Most muscles act only 
when a nerve impulse sets them in action. The action of 
glands is sometimes aroused by nerve impulses and some- 
times by substances (hormones) which the blood conveys 
to them from other glands. But the important fact for us 
in our present study is that sense stimulation sets up nerve 
impulses which travel in to the spinal cord and brain, and 
then out again to the effectors. 

Of the two chief classes of effectors muscles and glands 
the former are much better understood and of much 
greater importance for an understanding of human nature. 
The muscles have been classified in a number of different 
ways. But the most significant distinction, from the point 


of view of psychology, is between the voluntary and the non- 
voluntary muscles. The important voluntary muscles are 
those which move the body parts about their joints. The 
muscles of arms, legs, neck, and jaw are of this class. While 
movements of these parts sometimes become quite automatic, 
they are typically under volun- 
tary control. The principal 
non-voluntary muscles are 
those which have to do with 
such internal matters as diges- 
tion and circulation. One 
may become aware of the 
action of such muscles. One 
may even become able to con- 
trol them to a limited degree. 
But typically, the operation 
of these non-voluntary mus- 
cles goes on automatically. 

There are two main groups 
of glands. The duct glands 
secrete substances on to the 
surface of the body or into the 
body cavity. The sweat 
glands secrete on to the surface 
of the body, and so do the tear 
glands. Glands in the walls 
of the mouth, stomach, and intestines secrete into those 
organs saliva and other fluids which aid in digestion. The 
ductless glands, often called the endocrine organs, secrete 
substances into the blood. The action of glands is much like 
that of the non-voluntary muscles in that it is almost always 
quite automatic. The study of these organs is more import- 
ant for a detailed knowledge of the working of the body than 

Courtesy of Ginn and Company 




The dotted lines within the muscle show 
the distribution of the nerve fibers. (From 
Judd, Psychology.) 


it is for our present goal, which is a knowledge of mental life 
and behavior. 

Man has increased the power of his effectors. The 
effectors (and we are now speaking principally of the 
muscles) with which man is equipped enable him to act in 
many ways. But just as the sense-organs have their limita- 
tions, so have the muscles. Man can move his body from 
place to place, but not at a very fast rate. He can lift 
objects and bend them and tear them and put them to- 
gether again in new ways, but there are definite limits to his 
strength. And so he has proceeded to create machines which 
add to his powers. Ships, trains, automobiles, and airplanes 
have extended his powers of locomotion. Tools and ma- 
chines of various kinds have enabled him to perform feats 
with the materials about him which he could not perform 
with his unaided muscles. Think of the great stones hoisted 
by derricks, and the stiff and hard metals fashioned into new 
shapes by machines of various kinds! 

Route of nerve impulse from receptor to effector known 
as the neural arc. When a receptor is stimulated, whether 
it be the eye, ear, tongue, or skin, an impulse runs along the 
nerves to the spinal cord or brain, and then out again to an 
effector. This route which the impulse follows is called the 
neural arc. At one time psychologists did not pay so much 
attention to the fact that the impulse going in to the spinal 
cord and brain comes out again to the effectors. They were 
interested mainly in the fact that the world acts upon the 
individual and makes impressions upon him or arouses 
experiences in him. But now we know that this outflowing 
of the impulse to the effectors is the one most important fact 
about the nervous system. Of what service would it be to 
man to see the obstacle in front of him if his muscles could 
not take him around it? Of what service would it be for 


him to smell food if his muscles would not carry him to that 
food? True, we do not make an important move in response 
to everything that affects our senses, but none of those 
things of which we are aware would be of any interest to 
us it is doubtful 
whether we should 
ever learn to recog- 
nize them were it 
not for the fact that 
sometimes, at least, 
their presence sets 
us in action. In 
other words, the ner- 
vous system's real 
duty is to connect re- 
ceptors and effectors 
so that experience can 
lead to action. 

The actual route 
of a nerve impulse 
from receptor to ef- 
fector is very com- 
plicated. But Figure 
4 shows in prin- 
ciple what takes 
place when a finger 
is withdrawn from 
the prick of a pin. 
The stimulation occurs at D 1 where the nerve ends in the 
skin. An impulse is set up which traverses a neuron, or 
nerve cell, as indicated by arrows, to the interior of the 
spinal cord. Within the spinal cord the impulse passes 
up through neurons e and g y to the surface of the brain A, 


This drawing shows the oonnections between neurons, 
and the course that a nerve impulse might take if the skin 
at D were stimulated in such a way as to cause contraction 
of the muscle fibers at C on the other side. A represents 
the outside of the brain and B represents the spinal cord. 
(After Cajal ) 


where it is transferred to a descending neuron a, by means of 
which it passes to a lower level of the spinal cord 6. There 
it is again transferred to another neuron, by means of which 
it passes to the muscles C. 

Nervous system composed of two sub-systems. The 
nervous system as a whole is composed of two sub-systems: 
(1) the cerebro-spinal, and (2) the autonomic. The cerebro- 
spinal system comprises the brain, the spinal cord, and the 
nerves which lead in to them from the sense-organs and out 
of them to the muscles. The autonomic system comprises 
a chain of nerves running along each side of the vertebral 
column or backbone, and certain other nerves scattered 
throughout the head and body. The cerebro-spinal system 
is responsible for most of our voluntary acts. The autonomic 
system is not independent of the cerebro-spinal system. 
In fact, the two are very closely connected, but the autonomic 
system is especially important for those muscular and 
glandular activities within the body which are carried on 
without our being conscious of them, or at least without 
conscious control or direction. In emotion, where there is 
rapid heart beat and other pronounced activities of the 
internal organs, the autonomic system plays an important 
part. But the vast majority of peculiarly human actions 
are more immediately related to the cerebro-spinal system. 
For that reason, we shall say nothing more about the struc- 
ture of the autonomic system, and a good deal more about 
the cerebro-spinal system. 

Cerebro-spinal system has central and peripheral parts. 
The cerebro-spinal system has a central portion and a peri- 
pheral j or outlying portion. The central portion is made up 
of spinal cord and brain. The peripheral portion is made up 
of twelve pairs of nerves called the cranial nerves, which con- 
nect with the brain directly, and thirty-one pairs of nerves 


called the spinal nerves, which connect with the spinal cord. 
(See Figure 1.) 

Cerebro-spinal system is symmetrical. Perhaps the 
most striking feature of the complete cerebro-spinal system 
is its symmetry, that is, its division into corresponding right 
and left halves. A deep fissure divides the brain into right 
and left halves, and a similar, though somewhat less marked 
division, is present in the spinal cord. The peripheral 
nerves, as we have seen, exist in pairs, one member of each 
pair joining the central nervous system at the right and the 
other at the left. 

What the peripheral nerves do. In the peripheral 
nerves are two kinds of nerve fibers: (1) those that convey 
impulses in from the receptors to the central nervous system, 
and (2) those that convey impulses out from the central 
nervous system to the muscles. The first are called afferent 
fibers, and the second are called efferent fibers. 

Impulses from sense-organs in the face and head are 
carried in by the afferent cranial fibers, and impulses going 
out to muscles in the face and head pass over the efferent 
cranial fibers. Most impulses from sense-organs in parts of 
the body lower than the head and face go along the afferent 
spinal fibers, and those going out to muscles below the head 
go along the efferent spinal fibers. Those impulses passing 
to or from the arm go over the upper spinal nerves, and those 
passing to or from the leg go over the lower spinal nerves. 

What the central nervous system does. The central 
nervous system (the spinal cord and brain) is composed of 
great masses of nerve fibers. Some of these convey impulses 
up and down the cord. Others convey impulses from one 
side of the cord or brain to the other. (It is of course 
very necessary that the two halves of the body should be 
connected.) Still other fibers make connections within a 


single half of the central nervous system and at the same 

A little further back we said that the spinal cord and brain 
serve to connect the sense-organs and the muscles. If it 
were only necessary for one sense-organ to be connected 
with one muscle, this would be a simple matter. But in a 
well-organized individual, it is necessary that means of 
connection exist between each sense-organ and a great many 
muscles. When the starter shouts, "Get ready!'' almost 
every muscle in the runner's body becomes tense. This 
means that nerve impulses starting from his ears spread out 
into a large number of muscles. In order for this to happen, 
impulses must be able to pass up and down and across the 
brain and cord. 

The central nervous system is often likened to a great 
telephone exchange where the incoming message may be 
sent out along any one or many lines. This system has no 
operator who makes these connections. The connections 
are formed by training. The words "Get ready'' would not 
arouse the same tightening of muscles in a foreigner who had 
had no training in English or in the customs of racing. But 
in one who has had the proper training, the connections are 
made automatically. Indeed, in such a person the con- 
nections are relatively permanent connections, or, as we 
usually call them, habits. 

What happens in the brain. There are in the body a 
great many sense-organs, and usually they are all active at 
once. During the day, there is a continuous stream of 
impulses set up by what we are seeing, hearing, and smelling. 
By contact, our clothing is constantly stimulating the sense 
organs of touch. Slight changes in temperature are con- 
stantly stimulating our sense-organs for cold and warmth. 
Throughout the day impulses are set up in our internal 


organs; sensations of hunger, of thirst, of fullness are per- 
sistently with us. 

With such a volley of impulses constantly coming in to 
the central nervous system, it seems remarkable that our 
actions are not chaotic, that they do not forever interfere 
with each other. Evidently the individual impulses in this 
multitude of impulses must work together in some way. 
Now this is just what does happen. The different im- 
pulses present at any one time act upon each other, and 
if that interaction is efficient, an orderly type of move- 
ment results. Usually one group of impulses will dominate 
over the others. Consider the quarterback waiting to 
catch a punt coming toward him. The roar of voices 
in the stands, the cool breeze on his cheek, the thought 
of possible consequences if he fumbles the ball, all compete 
with the impulses whose natural expression is in a good 
catch of the ball. If our player is well trained, the impulses 
which would result in the catch are dominant. We say he is 
well trained and well co-ordinated because of the fact that 
the result of a multitude of impulses is efficient action 
catching the ball. 

Such efficient action is possible only because there exists 
at one end of the central nervous system a larger mass of 
nerve fibers called the brain. The brain is a very com- 
plicated structure. It will suffice for us at the present time 
to note that it has two principal parts: (1) the cerebrum 
above and forward, and (2) the cerebellum below and behind. 
Practically every impulse entering the central nervous 
system reaches the brain. It is there that impulses from 
different sense-organs get into a place where they can in- 
fluence each other. It is there that these impulses work 
together in such a way as to produce efficient and not chaotic 
action of the mbscles. 


If we again think of the central nervous system as a great 
telephone exchange, the brain may be conceived as the very 
heart of the exchange, as the one room where it is possible 
to connect any individual telephone with any other individual 
telephone, as the one place where it is possible to know at 
any given time what lines are in use and what are free. 

Courtesy of W. B. Saunders Company 


Tbe cerebral hemisphere is the mam mass above and at the left. The cerebellum, with 
its narrow convolutions, is below and behind. The medulla bears the stumps of several cranial 
nerves. (From Stiles, The Nervous System and Its Conservation.) 

The brain dominates the human body. Since the brain 
is the organ by means of which actions and thoughts are 
made more orderly and more closely related to each other, it 
is plain that the brain is necessary for intelligent beings. 
If we examine different members of the animal kingdom, 
we find that those that are most intelligent are most domi- 
nated by brain action. An earthworm has a brain of a sort, 


but a great part of its actions apparently have little effect 
upon and are little affected by the brain. A dog whose 
brain and spinal cord are severed in such a way that most of 
his body is out of connection with his brain still gets along 
fairly well. He eats and performs other simple acts with 
almost normal efficiency. But in man, life is dominated by 


Here are shown (a) the motor, (b) the sensory, and (c) tho association typos of neurone. 

the brain. Sever the spinal cord so that the vital organs are 
out of touch with the brain, and those vital organs cease to act. 
In man, the most intelligent of all creatures, the brain is more 
dominant over the rest of the body than it is in any other animal. 
Nerve tissue is made up of neurons. The nerve tissue 
that forms the essential part of the nervous system is com- 
posed of countless individual cells called neurons. These 



cells 'are very small in diameter. In the cortex, or outer 
layer of the cerebrum, there are estimated to be approxi- 

mately 9,200,000,000 
neurons. In length, 
the neurons vary 
considerably, but 
they may be several 
feet long. There are 
neurons, for example, 
which reach from the 
foot to the upper part 
of the spinal cord. 
In a very tall man this 
might be five feet. 

A single neuron is 
made up of one or 
more long processes, 
many fine branches, 
and a cell body. 
Where the cell bodies 
of many neurons are 
gathered together, 
the name ganglion is 
applied. What is 
usually called a nerve 
is a bundle of the 
straight processes. A 
single nerve may con- 
tain as many as 

Courtesy of A. G. Setter 100,000 of these, to 

they are only from 
f an 

FIG. 7. - 


This drawing shows the section very highly magnified. 
(From Thorndikc, Element of P*ycholo<ju. (After Kolliker ) 


Impulses change their route through the nervous system. 

Impulses within the nervous system are able to pass from 
one neuron to another. In the course of life the route taken 
by nerve impulses changes. That is how we learn and forget. 
A few years ago the sight of a spider set a certain child 
screaming in terror. Now the same st imulus causes laughter 
rather than fear. In such a case the route through the 
nervous system of a particular set of impulses changes. 
Referring to Figure 8, an impulse which has passed from 

Court y of Longmans, Green and Company 


This drawing shows the posbibihty of a change of pathway from A AC to AB. (Adapted 
from Carr, Psychology.) 

neuron A to neuron C might in the course of time come to 
pass from A to B. Of course this figure is an over-simplifi- 
cation of what actually occurs. Every stimulation in real 
life sets up impulses in a very great many neurons. 

There is a theory that the change which takes place in 
the path of an impulse takes place at the synapse, that is, 
between the neurons. This is ^called the synapse theory. 
According to this theory, when a person's ways of thinking 
or acting become altered it means that synapses which 
formerly did, not allow the passage of an impulse become 


open, and that synapses that formerly were traversed now 
are resistant. Most of what we have just said is only what 
has been inferred about the nervous system from what we 
know of how people and animals act, and from what under 

Courtesy of W. B. Saunders Company 

Notice where the ends of one neuron connect with those of another. (From Stiles, ibid.) 

the microscope seems to be the structure of the nervous 
system. It is, however, a very good theory and many of 
the facts seem to support it. 

We possess only general knowledge of nerve connections. 
When a child learns to catch a ball, we may be perfectly 
certain that something has happened to his nervous system. 
There is no other way of explaining how it is that the sight 
of the flying ball comes to arouse just the hand and arm 
movements necessary for the catch. Eye and hand were not 
originally so connected, or the child would not have had to 
learn to make the catch. Clearly his nervous system has 
been altered so as to conduct impulses from the eye to the 
proper muscles in hands and arms. 

But what route did the impulses follow through the 
nervous system when the result was a muff, and what route 
do they follow now that the result is a catch? This is a 
question to which a definite answer cannot be given. We 
know in a general way the route of impulses going from the 
eye to the brain and from the brain to the hands and arms, 
but we know this only in a general way. We cannot dis- 


tinguish, in terms of actual paths traversed by the nerve 
impulses, the difference between a good catch and a bad one. 

In the following chapters of this book we shall have much 
to say about habit formation. It will be well to remember 
that every case of habit formation, or of habit breaking, 
depends upon some change in the route followed by impulses 
going from sense-organs to muscles. It will also be well to 
remember that we have little specific knowledge of the path- 
ways traversed by the impulses. Because of this latter fact 
we shall not have much to say about the nervous system 
from now on, although we shall keep continually in mind the 
complete dependence of behavior and mental life upon the 
nervous system. 

The size and shape of the head tell little of character and 
intelligence. It is sometimes held that the size and shape 
of the head reveal a person's intelligence, bravery, loyalty, 
and other traits. This is true to only a very limited degree. 
In individuals born with the effects of some disease upon 
them, the head and the brain within it may be very small. 
And such individuals are usually inferior in intelligence. In 
individuals afflicted with what is usually called water on the 
brain, the head may be abnormally large. These persons 
are likely to be inferior in intelligence. But between such 
extremes as these very large heads and very small heads, the 
size of a head tells us little or nothing of the intelligence of a 
person. Women's heads and brains are usually smaller 
than those of men, but examination of their intelligence 
shows that it is not inferior to that of men. Intelligence is 
determined by the nature of the connections between the 
billions of minute neurons that make up the nervous system. 

If the brain thought thoughts as a muscle lifts weights, size 
might be of prime importance. As it is, every healthy 
individual has plenty of neurons, but the important thing is 


the connections between these neurons. Do the impulses 
pass in free and orderly fashion so as to bring about prompt 
and efficient thought and action? This is determined, as 
we have said, by the connections within the nervous system, 
and these connections in turn are determined by heredity 
and by the experiences one has. 

We can no more judge such traits as intelligence, bravery, 
and loyalty by the shape of the head by the bumps on it 
than we can by its size. The shape of the skull is only a 
rough indication of the shape of the brain within. Many of 
the uneven places on the surface of the skull are present 
only on the outer surface. The inner surface next to the 
brain may be quite different. But more important than this 
is the fact that brave action, for instance, is not taken care 
of by any particular part of the brain. Such an act involves 
the working together of almost every part of the brain. 


1. Man's most distinguishing features, his behavior and 
mental life, are intimately related to his nervous system, 
sense-organs, muscles, and glands. 

2. The sense-organs keep the individual in touch with 
what is going on within him and around him. The muscles 
and glands make possible his reacting to what is going on. 
The nervous system connects sense-organs with muscles and 
glands in such a way that the different parts of the body 
can work together. Although there are various lines of 
evidence showing the supreme importance of the nervous 
system, this system could not operate without those systems 
which carry on circulation, digestion, and other bodily 

3. The receptors, or sense-organs, are so constructed that 
each reacts to some force, such as mechanical impact, light, 


sound, temperature changes, and internal conditions. Man 
has found it desirable to increase his range of sensitivity in 
some directions by means of telescopes, telephones, and the 
like, and to reduce it in other directions by means of such 
agencies as surgical anaesthetics. 

4. The receptors are divisible into exteroceptors which 
react to external occurrences, proprioceptors which react to 
the individual's own position and movement, and intero- 
ceptors which react to internal activities and conditions. 

5. The final result of the stimulation of sense-organs is 
activity of effectors, that is, muscles or glands. These mus- 
cles are divisible into those which are largely voluntary and 
those which are largely non-voluntary. The glands are of two 
types: the duct glands, which secrete on to the body surface 
or into the body cavity, and the ductless glands, which 
secrete into the blood. The more important effectors 
for psychology are the muscles. Man has increased the 
power of his muscles just as he has increased the power of his 

6. The nervous system, which connects receptors and 
effectors, is composed of two sub-systems, the cerebro-spinal 
and the autonomic. While these two are closely related, the 
cerebro-spinal system is more important for voluntary action 
and the autonomic for that which is non-voluntary. 

7. The cerebro-spinal system has a central and an outlying 
part.. The latter is made up of nerves leading from sense- 
organs to spinal cord and brain and from spinal cord and 
brain to effectors. The central part is made up of spinal 
cord and brain. Both of these are great masses of nerve- 
fibers within which there are possibilities for connecting 
practically any receptor with any effector. In man the brain 
dominates the activities of the entire individual to an extent 
unknown among the lower animals. 


8. Nervous tissue is made up of nerve cells, or neurons. 
It is supposed by many men of science that changes in 
behavior, intellect, and character come about through 
changes in the readiness with which one neuron is affected 
by activity in another neuron. This is called the synapse 
theory, the term synapse referring to the region between the 
ends of adjacent neurons. Although we have a good general 
idea of what must take place in the nervous system, it is 
necessary to confess that our knowledge here is only general. 
We cannot say in any detail what nerve pathways are in- 
volved in this action or in that. It is clear from this that 
we are unable to judge intellect or character by the size and 
shape of the head, except in very unusual cases. 


1. There are lower organisms in which a muscle cannot be moved unless 
that muscle is, itself, directly stimulated. Would you expect the behavior 
of such creatures to be simple or complex? Why? 

2. (Ute an instance in which your mental life was affected by your 
digestion. Cite another in which your digestion was affected by your 
mental life. 

3. Make a list of all of the devices you can think of that are used to 
increase the power of the senses. 

4. Why is intelligent action closely related to our ability to know what 
is going on at some distance from us? 

5. Make a list of devices that are used to increase the power of the 

6. Why is it an important fact that the nervous system is symmetrical? 

7. What would happen to a person if his nerve impulses always took 
exactly the same route through his nervous system? 

8. Why are we unable to judge intellect on the basis of the shape of the 
nose, the shape of the jaw, or the color of the eyes? 

9. Practice drawing Figures 4, 5, 6, and 8 until you can draw them 
from memory and explain them. 



Parker, in The Evolution of Man, pp. 86-94; or Readings in General 
Psychology, Ch. II, Selection 1, p. 31 ff. 

Herrick, An Introduction to Neurology (2d. ed.), pp. 74-79; or Readings, 
Ch. VI, Selection 1, p. 139 ff. 

Dunlap, Mysticism, Freudianism and Scientific Psychology, pp. 130- 
131; or Readings, Ch. II, Selection 2, p. 38 f. 

H. Newell Martin, The Human Body (10th ed. revised by Ernest G. 
Martin), pp. 136-137; or Readings, Ch. II, Selection 3-A, p. 39 ff. 

Hunter, General Psychology, pp. 133-134; or Readings, Ch. II, Selection 
3-B, p. 42. v 

Stiles, The Nervous System and Its Conservation (2d. ed.), pp. 28-29; 
or Readings, Ch. II, Selection 5-A, p. 45 f. 

Hough and Sedgwick, The Human Mechanism, pp. 269-274; or 
Readings, Ch. Ill, Selection 4-A, p. 62 ff. 

Readings, Ch. Ill, Selection 5, p. 75 ff. 







1. What acts can we perform without having to learn how to per- 
form them? 

2. Why is it that certain habits are possessed by practically everybody, 
while other habits are possessed by relatively few? 

The capacity to learn is the most distinguishing fact about 
human nature. The first fifteen to twenty years of an in- 
dividual's life is devoted largely to learning; to gaining ways 
of moving, perceiving, thinking, and feeling necessary for the 
business of an adult human being. Animals acquire habits, 
but with none of them is habit formation so important as it is 
with man. Those animals whose lives are most complex 
learn what is necessary for them to learn in a relatively short 
time, whereas man is never through learning. 

The process of learning is a central feature of human life. 
Every act of manual skill displayed, every item of informa- 
tion possessed, every ideal and prejudice with which the 
day's events are met, is the result of learning. No attempt 
to understand human nature can be successful, then, unless 
the principles of learning or habit formation are taken into 
serious account. 

In the next three chapters the general principles of learning 
will be our topic. The completion of these chapters will 
by no means put an end to our discussion of the learning 



process. In the present part we are to discuss the general 
principles of learning, and all the following parts of the book 
will also deal with learning. But later, we shall deal with 
special types of learning, such as the formation of habits of 
perception or thought or feeling, rather than with those 
general features which characterize learning of all kinds. 

In Chapter VI we shall consider certain general principles 
that apply, not so much to the acquisition of habits, as to 
their operation when once acquired. 


Reflexes are based upon inherited nerve connections. 

As was seen in the second chapter, most of the action in 
muscles or in glands is the result of impulses conveyed 
through the nervous system from the sense-organs. As a 
rule, these impulses, set up at the sense-organs, do not 
spread indiscriminately to muscles and to glands all over the 
body. The pathways through the nervous system resist 
the passage of some impulses and let others through. A 
certain type of stimulation in the nasal passage results in the 
action of those muscles required for sneezing. Certain 
stimulations in the throat result in swallowing; others result 
in coughing. Now, in reflex or inherited types of action it 
is believed that the route of certain impulses is established 
at birth or develops as a part of the natural growth of 
the individual without regard to his particular personal 

Some reflexes have definite usefulness. Coughing and 
sneezing remove objects or substances that threaten to 
interfere with breathing. Sucking, swallowing, and the 
secretion of saliva further the process of taking in food. 
The closing of the eyelid and the withdrawal of the hand or 
other part of the body in pain serve to protect the individual 


from serious injury. These are only a few of the reflexes 
that serve definite purposes in life. It should not be thought 
that when these reflexes operate the person manifesting them 
has a clear realization of the purpose they serve. One of 
the most striking things about reflex action is that it serves 
its purposes without there being any awareness of what those 
purposes are. We may learn from study and observation 
that sneezing clears the nasal passage, but after we have 
acquired such knowledge our sneezing will work its purpose 
no more efficiently than before. 

Among the important types of activity represented by 
reflexes are food-taking and elimination, danger-avoiding, 
locomotion, maintenance of equilibrium, resistance to 
external restraint, and exploration. Some of these ends 
continue to be served by many of the same reflexes through- 
out a lifetime. Swallowing, coughing, sneezing, winking, 
and some other reflexes change little in form or function. 
But the crawling, kicking, and fumbling of the human infant 
become extensively modified as time goes on. 

Other reflexes lack definite usefulness. Crying and 
smiling, both of which are unlearned reactions, do not lead 
as directly to definite results as do swallowing, coughing, 
and the other reflexes we have been discussing. Swallowing 
forces substances down the throat, but crying merely attracts 
attention. After the attraction of attention, the results of 
crying, and also of smiling, depend upon the training of 
those whose attention has been attracted. Crying and 
smiling finally come to suggest to others the presence of a 
state of feeling, but this result is achieved only because those 
others have themselves acted and felt in the same ways. 

The inexperienced infant manifests other reflexes to 
which it is still more difficult to ascribe specific purposes. 
Consider all the random movements of hands and feet that 


have no observable connection with any of the vital func- 
tions. Consider, too, the large number of vocal sounds 
made by the inexperienced infant which cannot even be 
said to express particular states of feeling. 

Less definite reflexes are the materials out of which 
habits are made. The more definitely useful reflexes are 
extremely difficult to alter. When I was a boy, there was 
one envied member of our group who could pour a large glass 
of water down his throat without stopping to swallow. The 
rest of us practiced this feat diligently, but we never reached 
the point where we had under complete control the swallow- 
ing reaction, which naturally asserts itself in such circum- 
stances. Most of us know how difficult it is to control 
coughing, and sneezing is a reaction which seems impossible 
to prevent. It is not to be supposed, however, that these 
more definite reflex acts can never be changed. The 
catcher, behind the bat, suppresses the reflex wink. The 
sight of a soda fountain, which would have no effect upon 
the secretion of saliva in a baby's mouth, will cause genuine 
mouth watering in a more experienced child. But the fact 
remains that the modification or control of these more 
definite reflexes is difficult and not, as a rule, very ex- 

The less definite reflexes the facial expressions, the 
vocalization, the apparently random movements of the 
limbs are more readily affected by experience. It is out 
of them, for the most part, that the habits are constructed 
which play the predominant part in the life of the trained 
individual. The subtle changes in facial expression of the 
adult come as modifications of the cruder expressions of the 
babe; the manifold sounds of spoken language result from 
the modification of reflex cooing, chuckling, laughing, and 
crying; and the skilled movements involved in walking, 


writing, handling tools, and playing games are based upon 
the random reflex movements of earlier life. 

Some habits are useful. Some, if not most, of our 
habits are indispensable aids in the business of living. 
Walking, talking, stopping work at meal times, thinking of 
four when we hear "two plus two," are acquired ways of 
acting which serve distinct and useful purposes. The 
child, as we have previously observed, would not succeed 
very long in the mere maintenance of life if his reflexes 
were not organized into habits by his personal experiences 
and by the instruction of parents, teachers, and companions. 

Some habits are of little use or are even harmful. All 
of us have acquired some habits that serve no useful purpose. 
A person who usually puts sugar on his breakfast food before 
cream realizes how strong that insignificant habit has grown 
to be if he attempts to reverse the procedure. Speech and 
dress furnish hosts of examples of trivial habits. Such expres- 
sions as " Don't you know," "As it were," and "That is to 
say," frequently get so firmly established in one's speech that 
they are employed where they add nothing to clearness, even 
if they do not becloud one's meaning. What is chosen in the 
cut and color of one's clothing as often as not has little to do 
with anything except one's own habits. 

There are other habits, of course, that are distinctly harm- 
ful. The use of certain drugs, always seeing the faults in the 
conduct of others, working too hard or not hard enough, are 
habits that, so far from serving no useful purpose, are almost 
sure to lead to trouble. Such habits are not purposeless. 
The difficulty may lie in the fact that there are other pur- 
poses more important than those which the bad habits 
achieve, or in the fact that the habits bring about other 
results than those intended. Drugs, criticism, hard work, 
and, at times, abstinence from work are all capable of good. 


But when drugs are used, at a great sacrifice of health, to 
make one forget his troubles ; when criticism is applied where 
it can do nothing but add to one's personal feeling of superi- 
ority ; when hard work means money, but the neglect of one's 
children; or when abstinence from work means present 
pleasure, but probable future want, then these habits, while 
serving purposes, are not serving the best or most useful 

It is while learning that we are most aware of the purposes 
of our habits. While a person is acquiring an act, of skill 
he is usually aware quite clearly of just what result he 
wishes to bring about. Later much of this consciousness 
drops out. In learning to drive a golf ball the player is 
likely at each shot to think in detail of what he wants to do 
with hands, arms, feet, and club. He is likely to be aware too 
that he may strike over the ball or under it. As his skill 
increases, if it does so to any great degree, the act, at least so 
far as details are concerned, will become more and more 
automatic. The thoroughly established habit thus operates 
much as does a reflex. - " * 

Habits vary in fixity. Most human acts are learned 
acts. That is to say, they are habits. This fact is not 
usually taken account of, however, because we use the 
term habit in everyday speech to designate only such habits 
as are very firmly established. One man always uses "How 
do you do?" as a greeting, while another scarcely ever 
carries out the ceremony on two successive occasions by 
means of the same expression. "How do you do?" "How 
are you?" "Hello," "Hello, there," may each be equally 
likely to issue from his lips. As a usual thing we should say, 
if asked about it, that the first man has an habitual way of 
greeting people, while the second has not. But the second 
man, just as truly as the first, has learned to greet people as 


he does. The difference is that, whereas the first has a 
single greeting habit, the second has several. In one case 
the circumstance of meeting an acquaintance leads to a 
single, relatively fixed form of behavior, and in the other 
case apparently the same circumstance leads to any one of 
several forms of behavior. 


We have simple movement habits and systems of such 
habits. When I press the button that lights my study lamp, 
when I step over the curbstone in coming out of the street, 
or when I raise my hands above my head as I dive into the 
water, I am displaying a simple, habitual form of movement. 
But not all movement habits are so simple. In fact, those 
we have just mentioned are parts of elaborate habit systems. 
The "pressing of the button on the lamp is only one element 
in the total act of going-over-and-lighting-it; the stepping over 
the curb is an integral part of walking-across-the-street; and 
raising the hands above the head is one feature of making-a- 
ctive. Most simple movements are parts of one or more 
complex systems of movement. 

Movements are often said to exist in what are called 
hierarchies. This means that in such a complex activity as 
tennis playing there are a number of less complex, but by no 
means simple, habits, and that within these are other slightly 
less complex habits, and so on down to the simplest move- 
ments involved in the game. For example, the most complex 
activity in this hierarchy is tennis playing in general, which, 
of course, involves running, and using a racket. But running 
involves running backward, running forward, running slowly, 
and running fast. In a similar way, using a racket means 
making strokes of many different varieties, each of which is 
an act of skill in itself. Undoubtedly such an activity as 


tennis playing, if analyzed thoroughly, could be divided into 
hundreds of simpler habits of many degrees of complexity. 

It was once believed that our more complex habit systems 
are formed by first perfecting the simpler habits and then 
combining them. This sounds logical enough, but it does 
not happen to be the true state of affairs. A person does 
not wait until he has mastered all the simple movements 
involved in tennis before playing the game as a whole. In 
fact, it is doubtful if one could learn in that way. He may 
select certain strokes and practice them by themselves, but 
he must also practice them in their proper setting, along 
with the other strokes, the footwork, and the like, that make 
up the game as a whole. 

We have simple intellectual habits and systems of such 
habits. The immediate recognition of a familiar voice or 
face is a relatively simple intellectual act. In this case the 
reaction is almost as prompt as a reflex movement. But 
simple intellectual habits, like simple movement habits, are 
organized into habit systems or, as they are often called, 
higher order habits. The fact that I immediately recognize 
a voice or face means that I know something about a certain 
person. This in turn means that I have formed other habits 
in regard to him than the mere ability to recognize his voice 
or face. I probably can call him by name, tell what business 
he is engaged in, where he lives, and how many children he 
has. All of these simple intellectual acts or capacities to act 
are organized into a complex system which I refer to as my 
acquaintance with this man. 

The more complex systems of movement are not built up 
by first perfecting simple movements and then combining 
them, and neither are the higher order intellectual habits 
mere addings together of many simpler, perceptual habits. 
My ability to recognize a face is not an isolated element in 


my acquaintanceship with its owner, but an act the nature 
of which has been determined by all that that acquaintance- 
ship means. 

We have simple habits of feeling and systems of feelings. 
Many objects, thoughts, and events are so closely asso- 
ciated with certain feelings that their presence leads without 
delay to the occurrence of those feelings. Just as a curbstone 
arouses an upward step and a familiar face an act of recog- 
nition, so a bloody wound arouses revulsion and a beautiful 
flower delight. It is also true of these simple feeling habits 
that they are frequently organized into systems of wider 
scope. To learn to love our country is to acquire a number 
of closely related and interdependent habits of feeling. As 
patriots we rejoice at the sight of our country's flag, become 
angry when our national honor is assailed, become afraid if 
our national progress is threatened, and grieve if our nation 
loses a great friend or leader. To acquire a friendship is to 
acquire habits of rejoicing, becoming angry or afraid, and 
grieving according to the varying fortunes of him who is the 
object of our friendship. To acquire an appreciation of 
literature is to learn to approve of the artistically meritorious 
and also to disapprove of that which is lacking in literary 

In actual life, movement habits, intellectual habits, and 
feeling habits work together. When a person has learned 
how to play tennis he has acquired, as we have already noted, 
an elaborate system of related movements. But he has also 
acquired ways of perceiving, thinking, and feeling which are 
inseparably associated with his skilled movements. He has 
learned to perceive in his opponent's posture the stroke 
that the latter is planning; he has learned to figure out 
what stroke his opponent is expecting from him and what he 
is not expecting; he has learned to enjoy a successful play 


and to regret a poor one. When one becomes acquainted 
with another person, he acquires knowledge about that 
person. That is, he learns his acquaintance's name, his 
business, where he lives, and how many children he has. 

There are in addition, however, certain ways that he comes 
to feel about the man. Perhaps he likes his appearance and 
dislikes the quality of his voice, perhaps he feels a disapproval 
of the manner in which his business is conducted and an 
approval of his home and family. Furthermore, he forms 
habits of movement in regard to this man. He shakes hands 
with him when they meet, pronounces his name on proper 
occasions, and smiles or frowns when his acquaintance's 
merits or demerits are mentioned. In other words, this 
acquaintanceship is considerably more than a body of knowl- 
edge. It is also composed of ways of moving and feeling. 
In similar fashion, an appreciation of literature involves 
more than ways of feeling. A lover of good books accumu- 
lates knowledge about them. He is even likely to handle 
them differently because of what he knows about them and 
because of how he feels about them. 

When we distinguish between movement, perception, 
feeling, thought, and other forms of human activity, we do 
so purely to make study and description more easy. We 
shall not forget that human nature, as we have to deal with it 
in everyday life, can manifest all of these forms of activity 
within a single moment. 

Some habits are specific and some are general. A man 
may unlock the front door of his house five or six times a 
week over a period of years. As a result, the act becomes 
habitual. Not only that, but it becomes a habit of a very 
definite sort. This man has more than a habit of unlocking 
his front door. He has the habit of taking out his key ring 
just as he reaches a certain point on his way up the front 


walk. He has the habit of holding up the ring to see 
which key is the one he wants. He has the habits of picking 
out the right key, applying it to the door, and turning the 
lock. And all of the movements involved in this habit, or 
system of habits, remain relatively unchanged. The per- 
formance of unlocking the door on one day is practically 
identical with the accomplishment of that result on any 
other day. There are, of course, a great number of habits of 
this definite, specific sort. 

There are also many habits and habit systems which are 
more general in character. Even though a business man has 
left his house on hundreds of mornings, walked to the station, 
and taken the train for town, his performance of this complex 
act varies from day to day. Sometimes he takes one route 
to the station and sometimes another. Sometimes he takes 
a seat in the smoking car and sometimes in a regular coach. 
Sometimes he reads his newspaper during the journey arid 
sometimes he talks with an acquaintance. There is, never- 
theless, similarity in the general direction and purpose of his 
behavior from morning to morning, and for that reason we 
speak of his going to town as one habit or habit system. 

Some habit systems are universal. There are certain 
great habit systems which are characteristic of human nature 
wherever we find it. To care for children, to live in contact 
with other people, to collect objects of value, to build 
(whether out of stone, timber, or ideas), and to play are a 
few habit systems which are developed in the vast majority 
of normal men and women. 

But such a system as acquisitiveness, for instance, is not 
made up of the same simple habits in different individuals. 
People vary in what they collect as well as in the movements 
they make, the thoughts they think, and how they feel while 
they are collecting. But most people do try to collect or 


acquire money, cattle, land, or business enterprises, and, 
if they do not, they seem hopelessly out of place in this 
world of ours. It is true also of the other great habit systems, 
that the simple habits which make them up vary widely in 
different people. The really universal features of human 
behavior are not the specific acts carried out, but rather the 
ends which such acts attain. Methods of caring for children 
vary widely in different parts of the world, but whatever the 
specific method of handling children, children everywhere 
are given some care and protection. .*- <-* N ,' 

When one of these universal habit systems is weak or 
absent, the result is striking. Hermits and other recluses 
who care only for their own company, parents wlio shun the 
responsibility of caring for their own children, hoboes who 
shirk the task of gathering together even the necessary goods 
of life, and individuals who find keen delight in wanton 
destruction are so unlike the usual run of people that we 
look upon them as abnormal. When one of these universal 
habit systems is overdeveloped and lacking in the restrictions 
that usually surround it, we are again in the presence of an 
abnormality. It is possible to be too good a fellow and to 
sacrifice everything else for the joys of companionship; it is 
possible for one to be so solicitous about the welfare of his 
children that they lose the opportunity to acquire self- 
confidence; it is possible to forget the proper uses of money 
in the sheer enthusiasm of collecting it; and it is possible to 
construct without any thought of the usefulness of what one 
is building. 

Why are some habits so universal? Why people in all 
parts of the world mate, look after their families, live in 
groups, collect worldly goods, construct houses, tools, and 
ornaments, and work toward other universal ends is a ques- 
tion which men have often tried to answer. There is a type 


of person who says that these things are done because it is 
human nature to do them. Of course, it is perfectly clear 
that this is no answer at all. It is only saying that most 
people act as they do because most people act that way. 
What we really want to know is why human beings manifest 
the particular nature they do, rather than some other. 

Calling human nature the cause of human nature is worse 
than a merely inaccurate way of thinking. It leads, some- 
times, to our avoiding responsibilities which should be met. 
The indiscretions of youth, the sowing of wild oats, used to 
be looked upon as a natural product of human nature. The 
further assumption was made that, since it was a natural 
product of human nature, there was nothing to be done 
about it but to make the best of it. We now know, however, 
that proper surroundings and ample opportunities for the 
expenditure of surplus energy, as in well-regulated athletic 
contests, are capable of reducing to a notable degree the sowing 
of wild oats. There are some who think that, because there 
have always been wars between nations, warring is therefore 
a natural type of human activity, like sneezing and swallow- 
ing, and can never be suppressed. Such a belief is danger- 
ous in that it is likely to make people give up the struggle 
against war. That it is false as well as dangerous is proved 
by the fact that great countries can, under such favorable 
circumstances as exist in Canada and the United States, get 
along without warring on each other. 

There are some who think that the instinct theory ade- 
quately explains why certain features of behavior are present 
in practically the entire human race. According to the usual 
form of this theory the individual inherits, besides the nerve 
connections necessary for reflex action, far more complicated 
nerve connections which insure his mating, caring for his 
family, acquiring property, and the like, whatever be the 


accidents of his education. The strongest argument in 
favor of this theory is that certain of the lower animals, 
especially birds and insects, carry out fairly complicated 
acts, such as nest building and finding their way back home, 
without any apparent opportunities to learn these acts. 

To explain the unlearned behavior of these animals in 
terms of inherited nerve connections does not seem such an 
unwarranted procedure. But there are several reasons why 
we should hesitate to apply this theory to human nature. 
There are present in the human infant no complicated forms 
of behavior comparable to the so-called instincts. The 
more complicated forms of human behavior have never been 
known to develop except in an environment where a great 
amount of learning is possible. Furthermore, very un- 
usual environments produce the so-called instincts in such 
unusual forms that it is necessary to believe that these 
instincts are more truly products of experience or environ- 
ment than of inheritance. Just as bad training is capable of 
producing faithless parents and hermits, so it is good training 
that we must hold responsible for the more usual, loyal 
parenthood and sociable humanity. 

Perhaps the strongest argument against the instinct theory 
is that it leads to the explanation of human nature in terms 
of the fact that it is human nature. If we say that normal 
parental behavior, normal sociability, and so on, are caused 
primarily by inherited connections within the nervous system, 
we are very likely to assume that we can do nothing to in- 
sure the development of such behavior. We are also likely 
to assume, if we hold to this theory, that where normal 
parental behavior or normal sociability fail to develop, it is 
because of the inheritance of bad nervous connections and 
that, therefore, there is nothing to be done about it. 

The truest and most useful theory of the more universal 


forms of complex human action is that they are acquired 
habits, just like the less universal forms of action. Living 
with others rather than alone is something that is acquired, 
that is no more inborn than operating a typewriter. The 
difference between these two habits is that we are all born 
into a world where we are given lessons in a social type of 
living, while only a relatively few persons get into a position 
where they can learn typewriting. We do inherit a nervous 
system, muscles, and sense-organs without which neither 
sociable behavior nor typewriting would be possible. But 
inheritance has not so organized us that we should manifest 
either of these specific activities without certain definite 
types of experience. 

In a way we inherit what our ancestors have learned, but 
that inheritance is not the type that is present in our original 
organic structure. The knowledge of what was learned by 
those who preceded us is, rather, possessed by the society 
into which we come. By example and by word of mouth or 
pen one generation passes on to the next the lessons it has 
learned. This is often spoken of as social inheritance. 
Still, inheritance of this kind and inheritance of general 
bodily form are far different from the inheritance of com- 
plicated sets of connections within the nervous system which 
are assumed by some adherents of the instinct theory to lie 
at the basis of the more universal forms of human behavior. 
The main reason why there are universally present elements in 
human behavior is that there are universally present reflexes, 
features of bodily structure, and features of physical and social 

Some habits are typical of the particular groups in which 
people live. The members of certain groups, racial, 
national, professional, and religious, form habits which are 
peculiar to the members of those groups. These habits 


have to do with speech, dress, manner, and general outlook 
on life. So firmly do these habits become fixed that the 
individual is likely to conclude that they are inherently 
right ways of doing things. The story has often been told 
of the American soldier who, upon landing in France, ex- 
pressed great astonishment because "over here even the 
little children can speak French." To him and to his com- 
panions French had always been a foreign language. The 
thought did not occur to him that there were people in the 
world who had learned their French in the same natural way 
in which he had learned his English. 

Soon after birth the child begins to show the peculiarities 
of behavior typical of family, race, and nation. Some time 
later he learns to act like a boy, rather than like a girl, and 
to use the expressions and to play the games of the children 
with whom he is thrown. Later, when he enters upon some 
particular life work, habits peculiar to his profession appear. 
" Already at the age of twenty-five/ 7 said James, "you see 
the professional mannerism settling down on the young 
commercial traveller, on the young doctor, on the young 
minister, on the young councillor-at-law. You see the little 
lines of cleavage running through the character, the tricks of 
thought, the prejudices, the ways of the 'shop/ in a word, 
from which the man can by-and-by no more escape than 
his coat-sleeve can suddenly fall into a new set of folds. 
On the whole it is best that he should not escape. It is well 
for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the 
character has set like plaster, and never will soften again/' 1 

In light of all this, the importance to each of us of the 
groups within which we live and move is tremendous. Our 
race and family are irrevocably established before our birth, 
and we can hardly do more than make the best of them. On 

1 James, Principles of Psychology, Vol. I, p. 121 (Henry Holt aad Company). 


the other hand, many of the groups whose habits become our 
habits are entered by our own choice. Perhaps no acts of 
life are more far-reaching in their personal consequences 
than those decisions that thrust us among the business men, 
physicians, or ministers; among the luxury-loving or the 
frugal; among the cultured or the untutored. 

Seldom does a young man, entering new surroundings and 
forming new companionships, appreciate fully the changes 
that must inevitably occur in his own character as a result 
of his association with this or that group. He may say to 
himself, as he seeks the company of spendthrifts, that he 
can enjoy their friendship without sharing in their extrava- 
gances; he may say to himself that he can make his way in 
a business shot through with fraud and trickery without, 
himself, indulging in such practices, but the fight he faces 
is a hard one and his chances of success are not great. It is 
a common thing in political life to see a young man start 
out to alter the very character of his party. In some rare 
instances, he does effect great changes, but as a rule it is the 
party that works the changes and does it in the character of 
the reformer himself. 

The molding that character gets from each new group we 
enter is not simply a matter to be guarded against, not 
simply something that threatens our better selves. Sur- 
roundings and companions make men as well as break them. 
The business man or the banker of the small town often finds 
it valuable to work just long enough in the city to develop 
certain points of view and certain ways of doing things 
which he could not develop, save in the presence of com- 
panions who exemplify them. Fortunate is the young 
man^ ambitious for a career as a scientist, if he can secure his 
training in a laboratory where others with similar ambitions 
are working. His own enthusiasm and his own ability will 


increase in such surroundings as they never could if he were 
working alone, even if he had the very best of instruction. 

Why do different groups of people have their own special 
habits? Habits are produced by experience and, since the 
members of any group of people have experiences shared by 
the members of the group but not by others, they necessarily 
form habits peculiar to themselves. The habits of dress of 
Eskimos, on the one hand, and of African Negroes, on the 
other, are the direct results of their experiences with climate. 
The pioneer's disdain for a man's ancestors and his deep 
concern about the man, himself, is due to the fact that, in a 
new country, family accumulations of property or fame can- 
not replace personal strength and courage in the conquest of 
the wilderness and all its elemental forces. But in older 
communities, where several generations may have gone into 
the building of a business or into the acquisition of culture 
and good taste, a man's lineage is a thing to be taken into 
serious account. 

Membership in several groups may develop contradictory 
habits within the same individual. Everyone belongs to 
several groups racial, family, occupational and most of 
us, especially in this complex modern life, belong to a great 
many. Our particular church, school, lodge, athletic club, 
political party, and less formal list of social companions put 
their stamp upon us. It is not strange, therefore, that we 
form habits that contradict each other. Men have at the 
same time held a belief in the universal brotherhood of men 
and the belief that those of boorish manners are unworthy 
of patient treatment. In this instance the contradictory 
habits could readily exist in the same individual if he did not 
happen to think of his doctrine of universal brotherhood at a 
time when he was tempted to shun some graceless person. 

But cases arise where contradictory habits come into direct 


conflict. Suppose that an officer of the law is faced with 
the duty of arresting a member of his own family. Loyalty 
to law or loyalty to family may triumph, or perhaps there 
may be an attempt at compromise. Perhaps, on the one 
hand, the officer saves his feelings by having another officer 
make the arrest; perhaps, on the other hand, he convinces 
himself that, after all, no real crime has been committed. 

Some habits are typical of particular individuals. We 
all have our little tricks of speech and movement that mark 
us off even from our families and closest friends. We have 
special acts of skill not common property of the members of 
the groups to which we belong. We have, too, our own ways 
of feeling about things; that is to say, we have our own 
temperament. These special habits make up what we usu- 
ally speak of as a person's individuality. In a large measure 
his success in life is dependent upon them. If they are of 
one sort, he is singled out as a leader ; if they are of another, 
he may be treated as an enemy of his fellows. The great 
public benefactor and the criminal both have formed unusual 
habits which make their individualities stand out from those 
of their fellow-men, but the particular habits, of course, are 
strikingly different in the two cases. We occasionally hear 
of someone, perhaps ah actor or an athlete, cultivating 
personal peculiarities, as though merely being different from 
the run of people were, itself, a desirable achievement. 
Plainly this is far from the truth, unless one's ambition is to 
be a freak. It is worth while being different only in so far 
as one can be more skillful, emotionally under better control, 
have better taste, and be altogether, a more effective person. 

Habit is an important element in individuality. Inherit- 
ing red hair, being spoiled as a child, being unusually healthy, 
being disappointed in love, and all the other little accidents 
of life combine to establish in us those habits that are 


peculiarly ours. It seems quite probable that there is some- 
thing in each nervous system that makes it different from the 
rest. Two men with equal muscular equipment may practice 
typewriting for the same length of time and with the same 
application, yet the skill that one attains will almost surely 
be greater than that attained by the other. Occasionally 
a man whose education is undeniably meager and whose 
family and friends are far from inspiring will turn out to be 
an intellectual and moral giant. In such cases we have to 
assume that individuality is produced, not alone by the 
education and training supplied by his environment, but 
also by the sort of nervous system with which he comes into 
the world. 

If two people differ in their ability to control their tempers, 
in their ability to sell life insurance, in their ability to run an 
office, or in their ability to make an after-dinner speech, to 
what degree shall we hold environment responsible and to 
what degree heredity? The safest answer to this query is 
that where the differences between individuals are small, 
environment has been the main factor in producing them, 
but if those differences are relatively large, then heredity may 
be a major cause. Most students who make 70 could be 
brought up to 80 with very little difficulty, and most students 
who make 80 could readily be dropped to the 70 group if a 
little more distraction were introduced into their environment. 
But an imbecile could hardly be made a railroad president, 
no matter how favorable his training, and a railroad president 
would hardly sink to imbecility, even in very unfavorable 


1. There are certain acts which seem to be provided for by 
nerve connections present at birth or appearing with the 


natural growth of the body. These unlearned acts are 
called reflexes. 

2. Some of the reflex acts, like coughing, swallowing, and 
sneezing, have a definite usefulness in the life of the indi- 
vidual. Others, like the random movements of legs and 
arms, serve no such definite purposes. Those reflexes of less 
definite usefulness may in the end serve important purposes, 
because they are readily organized by experience into habits. 
Speech, for example, is founded upon the random and 
relatively meaningless vocal expressions of the infant. 

3. Some of the habits which we form make for more 
efficient living; some serve no useful purpose; and still 
others actually interfere with our efficiency. 

4. While we are forming a habit we are often clearly 
aware of just what we are trying to do. As the habit be- 
comes thoroughly acquired it tends to operate automatically, 
much as a reflex does. 

5. The fact that most human acts are learned acts often 
escapes our notice because some of these are so variable. 
Only when an act is so thoroughly acquired that it occurs 
over and over again in exactly the same way do we realize 
that it is a habit. The more variable habits may be just 
as much habits, however, even if they are not so firmly 

6. We have habits of movement, intellectual habits, and 
habits of feeling. It is possible to consider single move- 
ments, perceptions, ideas, and feelings as simple habits. 
All such simple habits are, nevertheless, organized parts of 
more complex systems of habits. 

7. While it is useful to distinguish between habits of 
movement, knowing, and feeling, we must always keep the 
fact in mind that in actual life none of these forms of activity 
ever takes place entirely alone. 


8. Some habitual acts are always carried out in about the 
same way. Others remain constant only in general direction 
and purpose. 

9. Some of the systems of habits are present throughout 
mankind. Caring for the young, and construction are 
examples. Because these systems are so widely present, at 
least in regard to their ends or purposes, the assumption is 
sometimes made that they are founded upon inherited con- 
nections in the nervous system and are independent of 
experience. A better way to account for them is to consider 
that they are those habits which are acquired by almost 
everybody, largely because there are certain common features 
in everybody's experience. 

10. Some habits are typical of the groups in which people 
live. This is because of certain common elements in the 
experience of all who live within a given group. Since no 
two groups have exactly the same experiences, the members 
of different groups differ somewhat in their habits. Some 
of the conflicts which arise in everybody's life are due to the 
fact that everybody belongs to more than one group and 
thus can form conflicting habits. 

11. Although all the members of a group have some 
experiences in common, every individual also has experiences 
which are unique. These unique experiences account for 
most of the differences between individuals brought up in 
similar surroundings. There are, of course, other differ- 
ences between such individuals which are due to their 
inherited constitutions. 


1. Which of the following acts are unlearned, that is, independent of the 
individual 's particular experience? Which are largely the products of 
personal experience? Explain why you classify each of these acts as 
learned or unlearned: 


a. shivering with cold 

b. quickening of heart beat during physical exertion 

c. drinking from a cup 

d. jumping in the presence of a sudden, loud sound 

e. shaking hands 
/. catching a ball 

2. Which child would you expect to acquire most manual dexterity, 
One who is constantly restless and moving about or one who is more quiet? 

3. Mention ten useful habits which you have formed besides those 
given in the book. Mention similarly three useless habits and one harmful 
or wasteful one. 

4. What is likely to happen if we think too much about exactly how to 
perform a thoroughly learned act? Can you explain this fact? 

5. What are some of the reasons why certain habits are very much more 
firmly fixed than others? 

6. Mention three simple movement habits, three simple intellectual 
habits, and three simple feeling habits besides those mentioned in the 
text, and indicate at least one system of habits to which each of these 

7. Name three habits of your own which are definite and specific in 
character and three which are more general. 

8. Why does all mankind build shelters? Why do different groups of 
men build different kinds of shelters? Why is it that no two people, 
even if they live in the same group, build shelters that are exactly alike? 
Consider the same questions in regard to the seeking of food. 


Jennings, The Behavior of the Lower Organism**, pp. 338-339; or Readings 
in General Psychology, Ch. V, Selection 1, p. 102 f. 

Warren, Human Psychology, pp. 100-101; or Readings, Ch. IV, Selec- 
tion 3, p. 89 f. 

Readings, Ch. IV, Selection 5-A, p. 93. 

Dunlap, The Element* of Scientific Psychology, pp. 218-219; or Readings, 
Ch. l\l, Selection 5-B, p. 93 f. 







1. What types of changes take place in our behavior when we learn? 

2. Under what conditions does our behavior become most readily 


Habits are based upon reflexes and other habits. When 
i person learns how to operate a typewriter, it is riot as though 
i totally new form of behavior were acquired. The typist 
brings to her first experience with the typewriter a knowledge 
3f spelling, a knowledge of the appearance of the various 
letters and numbers, and an ability to control, to a consider- 
able extent, the movements of her arms and hands. It is 
:>ut of these previously formed habits that the typewriting 
habit is formed. When a man studies bookkeeping, he does 
not develop a set of entirely new ideas and ways of thinking. 
In school he mastered the fundamental operations of arith- 
metic, and from the casual experiences of everyday life he 
has acquired at least an elementary notion of the meaning of 
profit and loss. When a child learns to walk, he has merely 
modified certain reflex leg movements which he inherited and 
certain crude habitual movements which he has previously 
acquired as a result of his experiments with crawling and 



kicking. What one can learn at any given time depends 
upon what one can already do, that is, upon the reflexes and 
habits one possesses. 

There is an old saying that you cannot make something 
out of nothing, hut, although the truth of the matter is 
seldom denied, there are plenty of people who are willing to 
try to do just that thing. They want to get rich quickly 
without investing much money or much energy. Now we 
all know the essential unsoundness of " get-rich-quick " 
schemes, l^he odds are always against the man who is after 
a reward out of all proportion to the time, the energy, and 
the ability that he puts into an enterprise. It is equally true 
in regard to the acquisition of skill and intellectual ability, 
that something cannot be made out of nothing. The deft 
movements and nice adjustments of the expert tool maker 
are riot founded alone upon care and good intentions. These 
movements are, so to speak, the top layer of a complex set of 
habits or modes of skill that have been years in the forming. 
The quick, sure judgments of the railroad engineer and the 
great business executive are not based alone upon the in- 
herent cleverness of these men. They are habitual ways of 
looking at things which have been built up out of those 
countless experiences which have, since the first days of 
their careers, continuously molded and remolded their ways 
of thinking and acting. 

Just as there are many who would make fortunes without 
the investment of money, time, or energy, so there are many 
who would acquire skill and intellectual capacity without 
investment, without going to the trouble of laying an ade- 
quate foundation. And, because ability is a less tangible 
thing than money, many think they have attained it when 
they have not. This is especially true of the more intel- 
lectual forms of ability. Only an extremely stupid person 


would believe himself an expert wood carver or baseball 
player if he were really quite incompetent in these directions. 
But we have sufficient examples of persons of the " get-rich- 
quick " type who believe that their judgment on very com- 
plex matters is that of an expert. 

In every business there is a beginning clerk who knows 
just how things should be run; in every corner store 
there is a politician with home-made remedies for the most 
intricate troubles of national finance; and in every grand- 
stand there is a fan who can tell you all the false moves of the 
losing team. The difficulty in these cases does not lie in the 
fact that the clerk, the local politician, and the fan are think- 
ing about problems concerning which they have no right to 
think. It is well when a man gives consideration even to 
such problems as he cannot for the present hope to solve. 
It is thus that men learn to think. The difficulty arises 
only when men fail to recognize that accurate judgments on 
intricate questions can come only out of broad experience. 
It is such experience that produces the higher forms of intel- 
lectual skill out of simple intellectual habits which are 
based upon still simpler intellectual habits. Without long 
practice in the simpler processes of addition and multiplica- 
tion one cannot possibly make rapid calculations of com- 
pound interest. Without business experience one can hardly 
hope to have accurate and complete opinions about the best 
way of running a business. 


Experience makes us react to things previously ignored. 

When a new habit is formed, we no longer behave just as 
we formerly did. There are several possible types of 
changes in our actions. For one thing, experience may make 
us react to something which previously we have ignored. 


The reaction may be one that we have made, many, many 
times. It may even be one of those inherited reactions, 
called reflexes. But prior to a particular experience it was 
not made in the situation in which it appears after that 
experience. If a fairly strong electric shock be applied to a 
person's hand when he is not expecting it, the hand will be 
quickly withdrawn. In the course of a laboratory experi- 
ment it might easily be possible to surprise our subject in this 
way on a number of occasions. Now let us say that every 
time the shock is applied an electric bell is rung. After 
some time the sound of the bell alone may be enough to 
cause the subject to withdraw his hand. This is a very 
simple illustration of the type of habit formation wherein a 
reaction, which the subject has been able to make for some 
time, becomes connected with a new situation. In this 
case the withdrawal of the hand from a painful stimulus 
was an unlearned reflex response, but it was a reaction that 
did not occur upon the sounding of a bell until after a definite 
series of experiences had connected it with this new situation. 
When a reaction thus becomes connected with a stimulus 
which would not formerly arouse it, it is often spoken of as a 
conditioned reaction. When the reaction that is conditioned 
is a reflex, it is spoken of as a conditioned reflex. 

This type of habit formation, which keeps an old reaction 
intact and simply connects it with a new stimulus, appears 
among learned reactions as well as among reflexes, among 
thoughts as well as among bodily movements, and among 
feelings as well as among thoughts. We early learn the art 
of hand shaking and, although the reaction itself does not 
become essentially changed over relatively long periods, the 
situations in which it operates do change. Most of the 
people with whom I shake hands today would not have 
evoked a handshake from me ten years ago, because I was 


not acquainted with them then. A child learns to say or 
think "four" when he sees four dogs, four blocks, or the 
written 4. Later this speech or thought reaction gets con- 
nected with the written 2 + 2, 6 2, and even with 16. 
The infant shortly after birth is capable of fearing, but at 
first there are very few things (probably only sudden, loud 
sounds, and lack of sufficient bodily support) capable of 
arousing fear. However, as experience follows experience, 
this reflex feeling, or emotion, becomes connected with a 
wide variety of things. The business man is afraid of bank- 
ruptcy, the locomotive engineer is afraid of a red light in his 
path, and the student is afraid of a low mark. The capacity 
to be afraid was born in these individuals, but what they 
learned to be afraid of was a product of their individual 

Experience makes us neglect things to which we previ- 
ously reacted. When a man attains a position of great 
responsibility, such as the presidency of an important bank, 
he usually learns to disregard many trivial matters which he 
formerly allowed to annoy him. After a man has lost some 
hard-earned money in bad investments, he becomes less 
likely than before to read every gold mine and oil well pros- 
pectus that comes his way. In each of these cases expe- 
rience has decreased the power of some stimulus or situation 
to arouse its accustomed reaction. 

But there is an important difference between the ways in 
which this change is brought about in the two cases cited. 
Little symptoms of inefficiency in unimportant employees 
and little extravagances on the part of his family are dis- 
regarded by the bank president, simply because he is con- 
stantly kept busy reacting to more compelling stimuli. 
Questions of business policy grip him until it seems that no 
sooner does he start to think about something of little im- 


portance than something of greater importance distracts his 
attention. Such a stimulus as a giggling clerk loses its 
potency to arouse impatience because the bank president is 
already cogitating on the proper answer to an important 
letter or upon a method of checkmating his largest com- 
petitor's latest enterprise. The manner in which the investor 
comes to ignore questionable business ventures, on the other 
hand, is not quite the same. Before he lost his money he 
examined every investment prospectus with enthusiasm, 
and after that sad experience he carne to neglect such things, 
but there is an intermediate step that must be considered. 
Before reaching a point where he simply ignored impractical 
schemes for money making, he developed the habit of re- 
sponding to them in a changed, but still a very active way 
by fearing and disliking them. Perhaps there was a 
stage in his development when he tore up with vehemence 
any papers on such matters that came into his hands. But 
as time and lack of further losses dimmed his fear and hatred, 
he arrived at a condition where he simply lacked interest 
in these fantastic schemes. Both of these men, then, learned 
to disregard things to which they had formerly reacted. 
One had this change worked in him by the entrance into his 
life of other more important things, while the other developed 
his new attitude only after a period of fear and dislike. 

Experience sometimes changes the character of our 
reactions. Suppose that a person can swing a tennis 
racket and that he also can run. In the development of his 
skill as a tennis player it will be necessary for him to learn 
to swing-his-racket-while-hc-is-on-the-run. Thus, two habits 
which have formerly operated separately must now be made 
to operate together. Under such circumstances something 
more occurs than the mere combination of these ways of 
acting. The separate acts which are put together are almost 


always altered to some degree. The swinging becomes 
slightly changed in form, and so does the running. This 
introduces another type of change which experience is 
capable of effecting in our behavior. In addition to making 
us react to stimuli previously ignored or ignore stimuli 
previously reacted to, experience leads to alterations in 
the very character of the reactions themselves. 

Experience organizes our complex habit systems. 
Learning, as we look upon it in our everyday life, is more 
than the simple matter of fixing a reaction to a stimulus 
formerly incapable of arousing it, of disconnecting a reaction 
from a stimulus which formerly did arouse it, or of blending 
two or more reactions. Skill in typewriting, telegraphy, 
drawing, or driving a car is based upon a previous possession 
of the capacity to make the simpler movements and judg- 
ments involved in the more complicated system of activities. 
The typist, as we have already seen, brings to her first lesson 
with the typewriter a knowledge of letters and numbers, and 
considerable ability to control hand and arm movements. 
The formation of that complex system of habits known as 
skill in typing comes, then, from the organization of the 
simpler capacities, already possessed, in such a way that 
they will produce the results required in work of this kind. 
The development of an intellectual type of skill, like book- 
keeping, for example, is another case where habit formation 
is largely a matter of organizing simpler habits into a complex 
habit system. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, 
and ideas of profit and loss are brought together and made 
to work together in a way essential for the proper conduct of 

The simpler types of learning, learning to react to a new 
stimulus and to neglect an old one, and the modification of 
the reactions themselves are involved in the organization of 


reactions into systems. The chauffeur learns to steer, to 
accelerate, to operate his clutch and brakes so that these 
activities will not interfere with one another, but will make 
of his driving one smooth, organized process. However, 
this is riot all. Even such a simple activity as steering must 
be modified within itself. The learner, unless he has had 
considerable experience in steering a bicycle or other vehicle, 
makes his turns too sharp or too wide, makes great detours 
around objects not really in his path, and fails to avoid the 
hump in the road. His education as a driver, before it is 
complete, must teach him to steer around formerly neglected 
places and to neglect turning or detouring where it is unneces- 
sary. In a like manner, other simple elements in the complex 
habit system of automobile driving require their own modi- 
fication. The unskilled driver lets in his clutch suddenly 
instead of slowly and gently, and jams on his brakes so as 
to lock his wheels and wear off much good rubber. In the 
acquisition of skill, if the learner really progresses, steering, 
braking, and the rest will become more and more perfect in 
themselves as well as better fitted into the system of habits 
that make up automobile driving. 

It was noted in Chapter III (pp. 52) and may well be 
repeated at this point that the simpler changes in stimuli and 
reactions take place, not before, but along with, the larger 
processes of organization. From the first the new chauffeur 
begins to learn, not only how to operate brakes and clutch, 
but also how to operate them together. 


Problems produce new habits. A gentleman had always 
bought his suits and overcoats at one or another of two local 
stores. But one fall he set out for a suit of a particular kind 
of cloth. He went to Number 1 of his regular places, but 


failed to find what he wanted. With little hesitancy he 
visited Number 2, and here again he was disappointed. 
By this time a real problem had arisen to which he must 
adjust himself, either by changing his ideas of what he 
wanted or by looking about until he found it. Having 
chosen the latter alternative, he finally found what he 
wanted and purchased it. His immediate problem was 
solved, but important further consequences developed. 
He had made a purchase in a new store, and the next time 
he needed a suit he felt a tendency to return to that store 
rather than to either of the two where he had once been 
accustomed to buy. His shopping had produced, not only 
a solution for his immediate problem, but also a new buying 
habit stronger than his former ones. Of course, under 
similar circumstances a new habit would not always take 
form; he might conceivably have returned to one of the 
old stores for his next purchase. The significant fact is that 
the problem his inability to get what he desired by going 
where he usually went produced a new act, and that this 
new act stood a very good chance of becoming a strong and 
definite habit. 

One of the best methods for producing more efficient habits 
in an individual consists in making him see that his present 
habits do not produce the results they might. It is com- 
monly said that one improves most in such games of skill 
as tennis if playing against an opponent who is more skillful, 
though not so much so that one can entertain no thought of 
some time beating him or, at least, of giving him a tight 
match. Under such circumstances one is alive to anything 
that is likely to improve his play, whereas if the opponent is 
always easily beaten one is likely to become careless, the 
bad elements in one's play become fixed with the good, and 
there is an end to improvement. Many business houses 


have found it wise to let each salesman know how his sales 
compare with those of company leaders. Such a practice is 
likely to make thoughtful the man who is falling behind and 
to make him modify for the better his habits of selling. If 
he were unaware that anyone were doing better than he, the 
business of selling might present no pressing problems, and 
his chances of developing new and more effective methods of 
work would be slight. 

Prejudice^ and narrow-minded views of things may often 
be supplanted by fairer habits of thought simply by showing 
that they are not solutions for the problems they pretend 
to solve. The salesman out on the road selling goods may 
maintain a habitual attitude of intolerance toward the home 
office because goods are not shipped and letters forwarded 
as promptly as he thinks they should be. The home office, 
on the other hand, may get into the habit of discounting the 
salesman's every complaint without investigating its justice. 
The attitude of each toward the other might be improved if 
the salesman only had a true picture of the problems con- 
fronting the office and if the office only had a true picture 
of the problems of the man on the road. 

Habits are formed through instruction. The salesman 
who realizes that he is not turning in as many orders as he 
should is faced by a problem that can be solved only by 
finding new and better sales methods. Showing him that 
he is not doing as well as some of his colleagues may make 
clear the problem and start him thinking about ways to 
improve. But this is only a beginning. He will probably 
make many mistakes in his efforts to improve unless he be 
given at least a few hints about the sales methods which 
have in the long run proved best for men handling his par- 
ticular commodity and dealing with customers like those 
with whom he deals. In other words, instruction at the 


proper time will greatly facilitate the formation of new 
and useful habits. 

Instruction is most useful where it gives the instructed 
person the benefit, not only of his own past habits, but also 
of those of many other persons. Modern methods of type- 
writing, stenography, bookkeeping, salesmanship, and busi- 
ness management have been worked out from the expe- 
riences of hundreds of people and the best ways of doing 
these things have survived. By means of instruction these 
best methods can be passed on. 

In teaching a child to walk, we usually give him support 
and swing him along in such a way as to produce the neces- 
sary leg movements; in teaching him to throw a ball, we 
grasp his arm and force it to move in an approximately 
proper manner; and even when we teach adults to dance 
or to drive an automobile, provided they are completely 
lacking in previous training of this sort, we are likely to 
take hold of them and secure correct action by physical 
force. This primitive, but frequently very effective method 
of instruction may for convenience be called physical in- 

Especially in the acquisition of manual skill, constant 
supervision is necessary during the earlier stages of the 
learning. Where the pupil is intelligent, however, and 
already has acquired other habits not too unlike the one in 
question, physical instruction may be replaced by verbal 
instruction by telling the learner which of his acts are 
correct and w;hich incorrect. This method has certain 
obvious advantages. It saves effort for the instructor and, 
what is more important, it enables the instructor to stand 
off from the learner, so that a better view of the latter's 
actions can be had. A football coach would not get very far 
with the training of his team if he had to use physical 


instruction as his only method. Because of the possibilities 
of the method of instruction it is possible for him to 
stand off where he can watch the team as a whole and give 
instruction as it seems to be needed, now to this man and 
now to that. Where manual skill is concerned it is, of course, 
seldom possible or desirable completely to replace the method 
of physical supervision. If the halfback's grip on the ball 
or the tackle's method of charging is radically wrong, verbal 
advice is n9t the most effective method. Under such con- 
ditions, the good coach actually places the ball in the correct 
position in the back's hands or pushes the head, shoulders, 
and feet of the linesman into proper positions. 

Habits are formed through imitation. Much learning 
is done by imitation. Young golfers often improve their 
game by watching the strokes of experts and copying them; 
young authors sometimes develop their own literary style by 
imitating first one and then another great writer ; and young 
scientists are found imitating every manner of their master. 
Imitation is a popular method in the business and industrial 
world. New salesmen are in many cases introduced to 
their work by being sent out with an expert in order that they 
may copy* his sales methods. The efficiency of a group of 
machine operators can sometimes be improved by picking 
out that one of them whose production records are best and 
encouraging the others to study his methods of work. 

Acquiring skill through imitation is greatly facilitated by 
photography in its various forms. If the expert performance 
can once be put into a motion-picture film, it can be repeated 
indefinitely for the benefit of many more learners than could 
possibly watch the expert himself. Only a short time ago 
there was presented in the United States a series of motion 
pictures of surgical operations performed by world-famous 
surgeons in one of the great hospitals of Europe. The 


students who saw these pictures were able to study the 
methods of expert surgeons whom they could not otherwise 
have seen unless they had taken a trip of several thousand 
miles, which would for most of them have been impossible. 
Furthermore, they were able to see within a short space of 
time operations which, even in one of the largest hospitals in 
the world, would have been performed only at rare 

It is sometimes difficult to study an act of skill because the 
action runs so quickly. The ordinary motion picture does 
not solve this difficulty, but the so-called "slowed-up" 
pictures help a great deal. The swing of the expert batsman 
reveals, in the a slowed-up" pictures, numerous features 
which are unobservable when the swing is seen at its actual 
speed. Where it is desirable to study with special care 
certain particular points in the execution of a skillful act, a 
series of stationary photographs are of considerable assist- 
ance. By means of one of the highly sensitive cameras 
designed especially for such purposes, rapidly moving ob- 
jects can be brought out almost as clearly as stationary 

While there is no doubt that learning is often aided by 
imitation, there are certain results of this type of learning 
which need to be guarded against. When we watch the expert, 
we are prone to think that every move he makes contributes 
to his efficiency, whereas the truth of the matter is that the 
best machine operator, salesman, executive, or athlete has 
many little habits that keep him from attaining still greater 
success. And in consciously imitating the expert we are 
likely to acquire his faults as well as his virtues. Talented 
men, simply because they were too closely copied, have 
passed on to their admirers such detrimental characteristics 
as rude manners, uncouth dress, and exaggerated self-esteem 


as well as industry, thoughtfulness, ambition, and the other 
traits that have actually made them successful. 

Traits that help one man to great achievements will not 
always do the same thing for other men. An insurance agent 
kept himself in the public eye and undoubtedly increased his 
sales by loud talk and louder clothes. But nine out of ten 
young men who copied such strategy would come to grief. 
This agent succeeded only because he had a keen sense of 
humor and a natural friendliness (traits less easily copied) 
which went along with the loud talk and the loud clothes 
and made them assets rather than liabilities. Golf in- 
structors have long said that imitation is one of the best 
methods of acquiring a good game, but the wiser ones have 
added that we are headed for trouble unless we copy the 
play of those who are not only good players, but also possess 
approximately our own bodily build. The fat man cannot 
use to advantage the swing of the lither one. 

If we propose to learn by imitation, then, we should copy 
only the essential traits of the expert and those only if there 
is reason to believe that they will fit in with our own peculiar 
traits. In other words, such imitation should be thoughtful 
and not blind. 

The best instruction is sometimes very remote. When 
the child's attempts to walk are under the direct physical 
control of an adult, when the football player's moves are 
subjects of verbal comment by the coach, and when the 
salesman learns his sales talk by listening to the actual 
sales talk of a more experienced man, instruction is very 
immediate in nature. But when the coach explains at a 
blackboard a play to be put into execution on the morrow, 
or when one reads, during school days, facts about notes, 
stocks, bonds, rates of exchange, contracts, leases, and the 
like, most of which will not be used until several years later, 


instruction may be said to be of a very remote sort. The 
ability to profit by such remote instruction is, of course, one 
of the marks of an educated man. 

One can hardly become a successful farmer or shoe manu- 
facturer simply by reading books or listening to lectures on 
these subjects, but much can be learned in that way, and 
what can be learned can often be learned quite quickly. 
Such instruction can go on far from the farm or shoe factory 
and still accomplish much. It can so prepare the learner 
that when he goes on the farm or into the factory where more 
immediate methods of learning are possible, he can profit 
better by them. A certain New York banker is constantly 
called upon to exercise his judgment in regard to many kinds 
of businesses. Not long ago he was suddenly requested to 
take a hand in the affairs of a coke company. He knew that 
he would be at a disadvantage unless he learned something 
about coke production and learned it quickly. He had no 
time to go out and actually observe this industry in operation. 
He had to read, and by reading he was able to become at 
least intelligent about this business. He is often confronted 
with similar situations where he has to learn quickly and 
without leaving his own office. In all these cases he learns 
by the remote methods of reading or talking to someone 
who has had first-hand experience with what he wants to 

Too much learning from others is not good. While 
physical instruction, verbal instruction, imitation, reading 
books, listening to lectures are important factors in habit 
formation, they are sometimes employed where it would be 
wiser to present the learner with a problem and simply let 
him work it out for himself. No matter how many useful 
habits are acquired by watching and taking instruction from 
others, there is one very bad habit which may easily be 


picked up at the same time the habit always of expecting 
someone else to decide how a situation is to be met. 

A naturalist who taught elementary zoology furnished 
each of his students with a crayfish and a set of dissecting 
instruments, and directed them to study the creature, but 
no hint did he give as to how they were to make that study 
nor as to what facts they were to give particular attention. 
Now this procedure was, of course, a very foolish one, because 
his students vspent most of their time observing insignificant 
facts. If the naturalist, before giving his students the cray- 
fish to dissect, had talked to them about- similar animals 
and in other ways had furnished them with hints about 
how their study was to be carried on, he might have obtained 
very good results. Learning through problem solving is 
often the best method of learning, but it requires that the 
problem be one that the learner is really prepared to solve. 
Otherwise the method is quite as likely to destroy inde- 
pendence and self-confidence as it is to establish those habits 
of mind. 

Many habits are acquired without our intending to acquire 
them. When there is a desire to learn, habits are, as a 
rule, acquired more quickly, but learning frequently takes 
place without such desire being present. "An Englishman/' 
says Fry, 1 "goes to reside in America or in Ireland, and after 
a few years, or even months, acquires the peculiarities of 
expression, the delicate differences of utterance, which 
separate the speech of his place of residence from that of his 
place of birth. In this case there is no question of volition; 
he probably desires to retain his national pronunciation; 
there is no consciousness, for he is generally surprised, if not 
annoyed, at being told by his English friends that he has 

1 Quoted by Professor E. A. Ross in Social Psychology, p. 124 (The Mac- 
millan Company). 


acquired a new dialect or brogue/' A number of examples 
have been given of how the habits peculiar to a group take 
hold of persons coming into that group (pp. 59). And 
as often as not the newcomer either has no intention of 
forming these habits or has definitely decided not to form 
them. Many of the mannerisms of the young commercial 
traveler, the young doctor, the young minister, or the young 
lawyer are acquired without any appreciation on the young 
man's part of what is happening to him. The high-minded 
man, who enters a political party to reform it, is as astonished 
as anybody when he realizes, after some years have passed, 
that the traits which he had intended to remove from his 
party have become incorporated into his own character. 

In the discussion of learning by means of imitation 
we have noted that, unless one is on his guard, he is 
likely to acquire the faults as well as the virtues of another's 
actions. This is partly due to mistaking faults for virtues, 
to assuming that everything a competent man does must be 
worth copying. It is also due to the fact that we acquire 
these faults without stopping to consider whether they are 
or are not worth copying. 

Useful and important modes of action, as well as eccen- 
tricities and faults, are acquired without effort or intent. 
The child learns to speak his native tongue, to distinguish 
between up and down, to know the ordinary articles of 
food when he sees them, without being aware that he is 
learning or even that he desires to learn. In the acquisition 
of typewriting skill it has been found that many of the little 
details necessary for the rapid production of accurate work 
are picked up without the knowledge of the learner. Some 
time later he may notice that his work is greatly aided by a 
little trick or movement that he did not know he had acquired. 

There are instances where very complex types of skill are 


gained without the learner's knowledge of what is going on. 
The so-called muscle reading, at which some people attain re- 
markable competence, furnishes good examples bearing on 
this point. The procedure in muscle reading, it will probably 
be remembered, is something as follows : The reader is taken 
out of a room full of people and kept under close guard. 
While he is away the people in the room decide upon a certain 
object, let us say a watch in the upper left-hand vest pocket 
of one of their number, which is to be found by the reader 
upon his return. They also select another of their number 
whose arm the reader may grasp, but who is not in any 
conscious way to give a hint of the nature or location of the 
object about which the group is thinking and which the 
reader must find. The one whose arm is held will not, if he 
honestly keeps his mind upon the watch, be able to prevent 
slight and unconscious movements of his arm which will 
guide a skillful muscle reader to the object sought. But 
far stranger than the fact that one can learn to read these 
unconscious movements is the fact that the muscle reader 
rarely knows just how his feat is performed. A woman at 
one time had a high degree of this peculiar skill and little or 
no precise knowledge of its nature. Finally she became 
curious and decided to observe herself very closely while 
she was making the muscle readings. Her efforts, however*, 
were not very successful, for when she paid close attention to 
the movements which were furnishing her cues they meant 
nothing to her. 

Muscle reading is, of course, an extreme example of skill 
acquired and operating without any awareness of its exact 
nature. But even in ordinary life the same general effect 
can frequently be noted. There is a popular but quite 
fallacious belief that anyone capable of performing skillfully 
is, therefore, able to describe the details of that performance. 


No variety of skill has been described more often by expert 
performers than golf playing, and these descriptions, although 
they do contain much truth, are replete with pleasant fairy 
stories. The fairy stories are especially likely to concern 
'those elements in the stroke of which the player himself 
cannot be conscious. 

Important elements of character are often picked up un- 
consciously. The possessor of them may go through life 
without ever being aware of their existence or importance. 
Schools and colleges sometimes invite successful professional 
and business men to tell about their lines of work and the 
requirements for success in them. If a man, before making 
such a talk, sits down and asks himself what features of his 
own character have really been accountable for his success, he 
is likely to find that his knowledge of the subject is extremely 
vague. A successful lawyer once said that he had succeeded 
largely because, in all his career, he had never failed to judge 
correctly anyone with whom he had dealings. One does not 
need to know much about human nature to realize that such 
a record of character judging would be impossible. There 
are two reasons why this lawyer said what he did (and almost 
certainly he himself believed it to be true). In the first 
place, he had not kept accurate account during his life of just 
how good his judgments of character were, and, in the second 
place, being unable to analyze out the genuine causes of his 
success, he picked out this one which, because he saw no 
fallacy about it, seemed to him quite acceptable. 


1. Habits are formed upon the basis of reflexes and habits 
already possessed. In other words, what we are able to 
learn is limited by the nature of our past accomplishments. 

2. As a result of experience we learn to react to things 


previously ignored. In such a case we do not acquire a new 
reaction, but we connect an old reaction with a new situation. 
Reflexes and habits which thus become attached to new 
situations are called conditioned reactions. 

3. As a result of experience we come to neglect things to 
which we previously responded. This may be due to the 
fact that other more urgent matters nc^ay command our 
attention or to the fact that our reactions to certain things 
have had unfortunate consequences. 

4. Experience sometimes brings about a combining of two 
or more reactions in such a way that the reactions modify 
each other. Thus the running we do while swinging a 
racket is not exactly like that done without the swing, and 
the swing we make wiiile running is not exactly like that 
made while standing still. 

5. Learning is favored by problems which our customary 
ways of acting do not enable us to solve. Failure to improve 
our efficiency is frequently the result of our not seeing prob- 
lems which actually confront us. After a person has appar- 
ently stopped learning, it is sometimes possible to start him 
learning again simply by confronting him with a problem. 

6. Learning is usually rendered quicker and more effective 
if aided by instruction. This instruction may take the form 
of verbal advice or of actually forcing the learner to make 
the right kinds of reactions. 

7. Skill is also acquired by imitation. To be successful, 
however, the imitation must be intelligent. Otherwise the 
learner will acquire the faults as well as the virtues of him 
who is being imitated. The imitator must also take into 
account the fact that no two people can accomplish the same 
results in exactly the same manner. 

8. There are many cases in which learning must take place 
under circumstances which are remote from those in which 


the learning is to be put in practice. This type of learning 
is seldom complete, but it is often the only feasible one. 

9. Learning with the aid of others is convenient, but it 
should not be relied upon in too great a measure. One should 
have some practice in figuring out for himself the best ways 
of doing things. The aid of others should be sought chiefly 
where one lacks preparation sufficient for effective inde- 
penjlent learning. 

10. Useful and important kinds of learning frequently go 
on without the learner realizing that he is acquiring new 
habits. For this reason a skillful person may give a totally 
erroneous description of the real nature of his own skill. 


1. What rofiexos and habits must one already possess before he can 
begin to learn to play baseball? 

2. Can a man with good intentions but with little or no special 
experience become an able statesman? Explain your answer. 

3. Enumerate ten conditioned reactions that experience has de- 
veloped in you. 

4. Tell about a stimulus to which you no longer react because of the 
greater importance of other stimuli. Tell about a stimulus to which you 
no longer react because your former reactions to it resulted unpleasantly. 

5. Give an illustration from your own life of where the bringing to- 
gether of two reactions has altered each of them. 

6. In what sense is the memorizing of a poem largely a matter of 
organizing what we already know? 

7. What type of problem will be the greatest stimulant to learning: 
one which is extremely hard, one which is extremely easy, or one which 
is hard, but not so hard as to be beyond the ability of the learner? 

8. Learning can take place without instruction, but why is it difficult 
to acquire expert skill independently? 

9. Where skill is to be acquired by imitation, what kind of a person 
should be selected as a model? Ought skill to be the only basis of selec- 
tion? Or ought account be taken of the fact that someone not quite so 
skillful may be more successfully imitated? 


10. Why are there law schools? Why do we not depend entirely upon 
lawyers learning law in the actual practice of it? 

11. There was once a famous school master of inspiring personality 
whose students, while in his school, had the reputation of being an ex- 
ceptionally well-behaved group. But strangely enough , this same master's 
students also had the reputation of getting into more than an ordinary 
amount of trouble after they left his school. Can you think of a possible 

12. Enumerate several habits that you have acquired without your 
being conscious of the fact that you were acquiring them. 


Hough and Sedgwick, The Human Mechanism,, pp. 85-87; or Readings 
in General Psychology, Ch. IV, Selection 4, p. 91 f. 

Watson, Behavior, An Introduction to Comparative Psychology, pp. 184- 
187; or Readings, Ch. V, Selection 2, p. 108 ff. 

Carr, Psychology, pp. 84-85; or Readings, Ch. V, Selection 3, p. 105 f. 

Book, The Psychology of 8km, 2nd ed., pp. 230-248; or Readings, 
Ch. V, Selection 6, p. 118 If. 







1. What factors determine the nite and limit of habit fixation? 

2. What are the marks of thoroughly fixed habits? 

3. How are habits lost? 


Discovery of a new way of acting only the first stage in 
the learning process. Habit formation is merely begun, 
when, through the solution of a problem, through instruction, 
or in some more incidental fashion, we hit upon a new way 
of acting. Such action, before it can become an established 
part of us, must go through a process of fixation or stamping 
in. This may take a long time or a short time, depending 
upon a variety of conditions, some of the more important 
of which will be considered in the present chapter. We shall 
also discuss in the present chapter how habits are lost. 

The rate at which we learn depends upon what habits we 
already possess. In the first place, the fixation of a habit 
is affected by what other habits have previously been 
acquired. We have already touched upon this subject to the 
extent of showing that certain acts of manual and intellectual 



skill cannot be acquired at all unless the learner has pre- 
viously developed habits which are capable of forming a 
foundation for these later ones. 

Adding is learned more quickly if the child already knows 
how to count, and multiplying is learned more quickly if he 
already knows how to add. This is so evident that \Y teach 
counting first, then addition, and, some time after addition, 
multiplication. Bookkeeping comes many times as quickly 
because it is studied only after arithmetic is fairly well under- 
stood. One movement habit may likewise facilitate the 
acquisition of another. Think of trying to learn to dance 
or to skate before learning to walk! When, as in these cases 
that we have mentioned, an established habit or habit system 
aids us in fixating another habit, we say that there is a positive 
transfer from the first habit to the second. 

It is, of course, important to know where we can expect 
positive transfer and where we can not. While positive 
transfer from counting to adding, from adding to multiplying, 
from ordinary arithmetic to bookkeeping, and from walking 
to dancing or skating is very marked indeed, there are many 
situations where the facts are not so clear. No one would 
question the advisability of teaching counting before adding. 
Not only is the existence of positive transfer evident here, 
but there is certainly nothing which couid efficiently replace 
counting as the forerunner of addition. Difficulties begin 
to arise when two or more habits or systems of habits promise 
to transfer equally well to another habit which is to be 
fixated. Will the study of history or of literature better pre- 
pare a man to learn about human nature as it manifests it- 
self in the banking business? There is a question that is 
hard to answer! 

We are fortunate enough to know, in a general way, how 
this positive transfer operates. The more alike two habits 


are, the more positive transfer there will be from one to the 
other. Both counting and adding involve an elementary 
understanding of the meaning of numbers. Therefore there 
is a marked transfer between them. A knowledge of English 
probably helps more in learning French than does a knowl- 
edge of Greek, because there are hundreds of English and 
French words which are spelled in the same way. 

Transfer often takes place simply because two lines of 
activity are alike in general principle. The actual move- 
ments required to steer a bicycle by means of its handle bars 
and an automobile by means of its wheel are very different, 
but the general principle is the same. For this reason, any- 
one who knows how to steer a bicycle is almost sure to learn 
to steer an automobile quite easily. He who once learns 
thoroughly the principle that large business ventures backed 
by insufficient funds are fundamentally dangerous will find 
that principle helping him to master and evaluate each new 
business with which he comes into contact. 

Very often transfer fails to take place between one habit 
and another, because the general principle of the first habit is 
imperfectly understood. A man may realize that in his line 
of business, ventures which have both the safety and promise 
claimed for the oil investments that are offered to Tom, Dick, 
and Harry are usually offered to only a few. But unless he 
understands this as a general principle, it may fail to transfer 
from his knowledge of his own business to his knowledge of 
oil wells and gold mines. In that case, it may take actual 
financial loss to fixate the fact that the general public is no 
more invited to share in the more profitable undertakings 
connected with oil and gold than it would be in his own line 
of business. 

From these facts it is apparent that the well-trained man 
is he who has mastered, not only a wide variety of habits, 


but also the general principles underlying them. Through 
his understanding of these principles he is able to apply his 
acquired knowledge and power to the gaining of new knowl- 
edge and to the achievement of new ends. 

Old habits, and reflexes too, occasionally interfere with the 
rapid fixation of a new habit. Some people are never able 
to fix the habit of sitting quietly and relaxed in the dentist's 
chair. Just as this habit of calm begins to assert itself, the 
patient either actually experiences pain or expects it, where- 
upon his muscles tighten reflexly and the habit of calm re- 
ceives a definite setback. During the early years of a child's 
arithmetical studies, when he is always dealing with whole 
numbers, the product of a multiplication operation is in- 
variably equal to, or, greater than either the multiplicand or 
the multiplier. Then he comes to deal with fractions, and 
this general principle, which has become a habitual mental 
attitude with him, no longer holds. He has to learn to 
expect the product to be smaller than the multiplicand, and 
his learning is constantly being blocked and interfered with 
by the older and more firmly fixed way of thinking about 
multiplication. This interference of old with new habits of 
thought is even more marked when the child learns division 
by fractions. That the division of a number by any other 
number, even a fraction, should give a result greater than the 
number divided seems incredible to some people all their 
lives. The reason for the difficulty of this apparently simple 
fact lies in the great strength of the habit, fixated when whole 
numbers alone were dealt with, of expecting the result of 
division to be smaller than the number divided. When a 
habit already formed interferes with the fixation of a new 
habit, this effect is called negative transfer. 

It sometimes happens that an athlete, let us say a runner, 
suddenly ceases to improve, although he obviously has not 


reached the limit of his physical strength. Under such 
circumstances the experienced coach or trainer makes a 
careful study of the man's way of running in order to dis- 
cover what habit has been picked up which could interfere 
with the development and fixation of the finer points of 
form upon which later improvement depends. In other 
words, he assumes that a negative transfer effect lies at the 
bottom of the trouble. As soon as he discovers what old 
habit is interfering with progress, he sets the man to battling 
with that old habit until it is so worn down that it no longer 
interferes with the new habits that must be fixated if skill is 
to be increased. 

Habits are quickly fixated if in line with our general 
interests. Slight grammatical errors, if they have been 
present in one's speech since early childhood, are all but 
impossible to correct. Yet a man, well along in the twenties 
at the time, was told by a friend that he habitually said 
"It don't" and "He don't" instead of using the singular 
"doesn't" with those pronouns. Almost immediately his 
incorrect habit became supplanted by a correct one, and the 
promptness with which the new habit was fixed was un- 
doubtedly due to the fact that this man had a very strong 
desire to speak accurately. The necessity of improving his 
speech had not previously been brought to his attention, 
probably because in most ways it was fairly good, but when 
those errors were pointed out to him it seemed as if all the 
force of his ambition to be well educated went into hastening 
the fixation of new and correct habits of speech. Give a 
man an interest in salesmanship, and it is astonishing how 
readily he will develop all the tricks of his trade. The 
slightest hint of a better selling method will be caught up by 
him with apparently no effort at all. 

Most people have a few general interests that facilitate 


their learning in certain fields. The average man becomes 
interested enough in some business, and possibly also in 
some sport, to pick up skill and information along those lines 
quite readily. The average woman, likewise, learns readily 
anything pertaining to housekeeping and to social life. 
But no matter how clever the man or woman may be, more 
and wider interests are required if real intellectual power 
is to be developed, because wide interests assure easy learning 
over a wide x range of subjects. 

It is not difficult to see that a deep interest in banking or 
farming, for example, makes for the ready learning of any- 
thing pertaining to those subjects. It is also clear that, if 
interest is such an aid to learning, it is highly desirable to be 
interested in anything we really wish to master. But how 
are we to acquire this interest before we are acquainted with 
the subject to be mastered? As soon as we appreciate that 
banking is worth understanding, we have the beginning of 
an interest, although not much more than that. Before this 
interest can grow to sufficient proportions to rnnke learning 
really easy, learning itself must be begun. That is, a few 
facts already learned are the best foundation for an interest 
which will make the learning of additional facts relatively 

Many people think they have a strong interest in a business 
or profession, but when they undergo a little training in it, 
they realize that their interest has not actually been in the 
business or profession as it really is, but only in the very 
limited view of it that they have had from the outside. An 
interest in salesmanship, prior to actual w r ork along that 
line, might easily rest upon the fact that, as a salesman, one 
is likely to travel and see much of the country. Such an 
interest might not, however, help the learning of good sales 
methods. Since this interest is in travel rather than in 


salesmanship, it is likely to prove a distraction and a source 
of disappointment, because one's actual interest is not 
really in line with salesmanship as it really is, but as he has 
falsely pictured it. 

Of course there are cases where an interest based upon a 
false or one-sided notion of an occupation does aid to a certain 
extent in getting the beginner started. Sheer love of travel 
might keep the young salesman at his job despite such irk- 
some features of it as learning many facts about his line of 
goods and his customers, until he has acquired enough in- 
formation to form the basis of an interest, not in mere travel, 
but in his w r ork. From that point on, the way is clear. 
Still, such a transfer of interests is sometimes a dangerous 
thing to count on, and it is well, before entering the long 
period of training that is required for success in any line, to 
take stock of the basis of one's present interest, if he has one, 
and to try to foresee just what changes in interest the 
training is likely to require. 

Habits are quickly fixated if their results are pleasant. 
Every animal trainer understands the importance of the 
sugar lump or the piece of meat after a trick successfully 
performed. Experiments have shown definitely that school 
children will learn faster if a reward is offered for unusual 
achievement. Encouragement and praise will stimulate 
the learning of even the most sophisticated adult. 

It is important to note that there are various kinds of 
pleasure and that some of them will carry our learning further 
than others. A stick of candy given for each achievement 
in arithmetic will spur on the little child to greater and 
greater improvement, but a time is sure to come when that 
reward will lose its effect. Words of prais, too, are prone 
to lose their power of stimulation if they are given time after 
time by the same person. Perhaps the most effective 


pleasure in the long run is that satisfaction one gets from 
knowing when his own work is well done. If one is taught 
to take satisfaction in each bit of progress and continually 
to move up his standard so that it takes a little further 
progress before he will again be satisfied, we have a kind of 
pleasure that will spur on the learner even if no one re- 
members to give him a stick of candy or to praise him. It 
is such pleasure alone that can keep a man developing 
himself along lines that others do not appreciate or under- 

The failure of progress to result in pleasure which will 
lead to further progress is sometimes due to erroneous expec- 
tation on the part of the learner. The man who enters a 
business with the idea that every time he increases his skill 
and knowledge he will immediately be rewarded by the praise 
of his superiors, an increase in salary, and a promotion to a 
position of larger responsibility is doomed to disappointment. 
If his learning is dependent upon continuous pleasures or 
rewards of that kind, it is likely to be blocked by the lack of 
them. The world of business is full of young people who 
are drifting around from one job to another because they 
cannot find sufficient rewards for their slightest signs of 
progress. The difficulty does not lie so much in the fact 
that they hope for pleasant consequences from whatever 
progress they make as it does in the fact that they expect a 
type of pleasurable consequences that can come only at 
intervals. They have not acquired the ability to enjoy 
progress for its own sake. The machine operator, working 
on the piece rate system, where he is paid for each article 
produced, may look for an extra amount in each week's pay 
envelope while he is increasing his skill. The highest types 
of ability in industry, on the other hand, bring, while they 
are developing, much less frequent and direct rewards. 


The acquisition of sound business judgment comes slowly, 
and its progress cannot accurately be judged and rewarded 
at the end of each week. If sound business judgment be the 
goal, then, it is especially necessary to realize that the only 
source of daily or weekly pleasure of progress must come from 
one's own satisfaction in the fact that learning is really going 
on and the knowledge that the other more tangible rewards 
are sure to follow in due time. 

Habits are quickly fixated if they save us from unpleasant 
consequences. The animal trainer knows the value 
of the whip as well as that of the sugar lump and piece 
of meat. Whatever we think about the mental and ph} r sical 
punishment of children, we are forced to admit that punish- 
ment has played an important part in the education of most 
people. As life goes on, there are no longer spankings and 
scoldings to protect tho integrity of our better habits, but 
many of our habits continue to become more and more firmly 
fixed because they protect us from the unpleasant results 
which would issue from other forms of action. For the 
adult, there is often unpleasantness enough in the mere 
thought of someone else's bad opinion to keep him developing 
in one direction rather than in another. He may even form 
such strong ideals of what he should achieve, that his failure 
to live up to them will bring him the keenest kind of dis- 
appointment, and turn him, more surely than would anything 
else, toward the cultivation of more efficient habits. 

Few of us would keep on acquiring skill and knowledge 
indefinitely without something corresponding to the sting 
of the animal trainer's whip, and few of us would ever learn 
as quickly as we do, if it were not for such a sting occasionally 
applied. Of course, if one is ridiculed or scolded for every 
little false step, discouragement is almost sure to appear, and 
with its appearance progress is almost sure to cease. But 


as soon as false steps fail entirely to bring at least a mild 
chagrin, then, too, learning is very likely to be at an end. 

One of the best ways to stimulate learning is to gather 
together a number of learners who are progressing at about 
the same rate. First one and then another of them will lead 
or fall behind the rest. Under such conditions errors result 
in enough bitterness to spur on the learner, but not enough to 
discourage him, and successes result in just enough pleasure 
to make him strive for more, and not enough to make him 
self-satisfied. Men have failed to develop their full powers 
because of insufficient competition and also because of com- 
petition that was too much for them. One should first make 
a careful judgment of his own capacity and then get into 
surroundings where competition will be fairly close. 

A fact that we may well keep in mind in this discussion 
is that the unpleasant consequences of a certain type of false 
step will not always continue to affect learning in the same 
way. Men who are being trained as scientific investigators 
may be discouraged and almost weeping at the scathing 
criticism which meets their first piece of research work. If 
they are asked at that time whether such bitter medicine 
can ever act as a stimulant, they will probably all say no. 
But, in the course of time, many of these men learn to stand 
criticism and profit by it. It is not that they learn to enjoy 
it. It still makes them flinch. But they learn to take it in 
such a way that it really helps them. 

The sting of criticism and partial failure is especially hard 
to get used to and profit by, because we are so prone to 
picture the learning process as smooth and comfortable. 
Many young and ambitious authors have the idea that good 
writing is largely a matter of native ability and inspiration, 
and that training has very little to do with the matter. 
When their early compositions are picked to pieces by some 


critic, they feel, therefore, as if an attack had been made 
upon the deep and unchanging foundations of their char- 
acters. It usually takes considerable time before the literary 
apprentice realizes that, no matter what his native endow- 
ment, he still has much to learn and that criticism, though 
somewhat hard to bear, gives him definite and necessary 
clues to surmountable shortcomings that block his path of 

While much of the roaming about from job to job is due 
to discontent over the lack of immediate and tangible rewards, 
it is also due to lack of knowledge about the learning process 
and inability to stand the hard knocks and disappointments 
that are seldom absent from it. Learning means increasing 
one's ability. But in order to increase one's ability, things 
must be attempted which can at first be done only im- 
perfectly. Such a procedure means that a certain amount of 
failure is a part of the business of acquiring skill. Anything 
like criticism, which calls particular attention to each failure, 
is sure to increase its sting, but it is perhaps equally sure to 
make the nature of the failure stand out more clearly and 
thus aid in its future elimination. 

Repetition aids fixation. " Practice makes perfect " is 
an old saw pointing out the fact that repetition is a prime 
factor in fixing a habit. Practice is able to fix undesirable 
habits as well as desirable ones, however, and before indulging 
in repetition it is necessary to be sure that it is really the 
habit we desire that is being repeated. If the beginner at 
tennis has more bad habits than good, continuous practice, 
if indulged in without advice, coaching, or thoughtful analysis 
on his own part of what he is doing, may easily fix his bad 
habits so much more firmly than the good that years of 
proper training will be unable to make him a skillful player. 
Repeated attempts to get along without tobacco are worse 


than no attempts at all unless they are carried through with 
at least some success. If each trial is soon given up, the 
only habit that will be formed will be the habit of giving up. 

Nothing is more necessary for learning than practice, but 
it is frequently necessary to employ all sorts of safeguards 
to be sure that in our practice we are repeating the act we 
wish to fix. One of the best of these safeguards is an under- 
standing of just what we are trying to do. When we have 
this understanding, correct action on our part will result in 
the pleasure of our own approval and incorrect actions will 
result in the displeasure of our own disapproval. All this 
will lead in the end to the more and more frequent exercise 
of the habit we wish to fix. When a habit is so complicated 
that it is impossible for the beginner to tell the difference 
between those things essential for its successful formation 
and those things working against it, it is well to seek in- 
struction so that one may be sure that those essential things 
will really get the greater repetition. 

Repetition should not be too continuous. But let us 
suppose that a person is learning tennis, that he has a good 
understanding of the principles of the game, and that he is 
constantly protected from bad habits by the advice of an 
expert coach. Under such circumstances it might seem 
that repetition could never result in anything other than 
increased skill; but there is still something to be guarded 
against. If one devotes two solid hours to the rehearsal of 
some one stroke, such as the service, he is likely to become 
fatigued. Now, when one is fatigued it is natural for him 
to save himself, and unconsciously he changes the nature of 
his movements. This is clearly observable in heavy work, 
like carrying a large suitcase. As fatigue sets in, the carrier 
changes his gait, brings his arm close to his body, bends 
over, and adopts other means to relieve the muscles most 


fatigued. If one practices a single stroke in tennis for too 
long at a stretch, the same sort of thing will happen, though 
not quite so plainly. The nature of the stroke will change 
as one tries to relieve fatigued muscles. Consequently other 
movements than the correct one get the benefit of repetition. 

In the case of intellectual habits also, too continuous 
practice is prone to fix undesirable habits. It is possible, 
with practice, to increase one's speed of reading without 
decreasing comprehension of what is read. But if such 
practice is too continuous, progress will be much retarded, 
if not completely checked. Reading, especially very rapid 
reading, for too long at a time will bring about both boredom 
and eye-strain; the mind and eye will begin to wander 
periodically away from the page, and shortly some very un- 
fortunate reading habits will receive the benefits of repetition. 

The rule, then, is: Take plenty of practice, but spread it out 
enough to avoid fatigue. It would probably be well to add 
that this spreading should not be such as to make the periods 
of practice too short or too far apart in time. If the periods 
of practice are too short, the learner will not have time to get 
well settled down to work, and if the practice periods are 
too far apart in time, the learner will forget between periods 
and thus lose some of the improvement he has already made. 
It is impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast rule about 
just what distribution of repetitions is best. The learner 
himself has to determine that, but he can help himself con- 
siderably in the regulation of his practice by remembering 
these three important facts: (1) Practice should not be so 
continuous as to bring on genuine fatigue. (2) It should not 
be in siich short periods that the learner has insufficient time to 
get settled down to work. (3) The practice periods should not 
be so far apart in time that the learner has forgotten by one 
period much of what he learned during the previous period. 


Absence of distraction aids fixation. If, while practic- 
ing at tennis or rapid reading, the attention is constantly 
being diverted by sights, sounds, and the like that are, in 
themselves, foreign to tennis or reading, learning will in 
most cases be interfered with. One will react to these dis- 
tractions as well as to ball and opponent, or to book and page, 
and these reactions are almost certain to be irrelevant, and, 
furthermore, actually disturbing to the main purpose. Still, 
it is not always wise to protect the learner from every dis- 
tracting sight or sound. In actual life the automobile driver 
is called upon to exercise his skill in the noise and turmoil of 
the city street. When he is learning to drive, therefore, 
it is well if he be subjected to a certain amount of distrac- 
tion in order that- he may learn, not simply to drive well, 
but to drive well in the face of distracting sights and 

There is another reason why all apparently irrelevant 
stimuli should not be removed from the surroundings of the 
learner. Certain of such stimuli, rather than interfering 
with the task at hand, really make the learner more alert 
and wide-awake. It is easier, as a rule, to study in familiar 
surroundings, even though those surroundings, themselves, 
have no pertinent bearing on what is being studied. If 
one is used to studying there, the familiar walls, furniture, 
and even the harsh noises of the street are important fac- 
tors in putting one in the mood for study. 

Fortunately it is seldom difficult to decide which irrelevant 
stimuli are likely to interfere with learning and which will 
have a negligible or helpful effect. The sights and sounds 
that sharply modify movement and trains of thought are 
the ones to be rid of, unless, as in the case of the automobile 
driver, resistance to such distractions is one of the most- 
important elements in the skill he is to develop. 


Close attention aids fixation. Everyone knows that 
listlessness and inattention to the task at hand seldom 
produce rapid learning. Why this is so is fairly evident if 
we recall our conclusion that one of the best safeguards 
against repeating the wrong rather than the right act 
is an understanding of what we are trying to do and 
how it ought to he done. If we do not pay strict attention 
to our actions, errors may creep in without our knowl- 
edge and, therefore, without our having an opportunity to 
realize their undesirable consequences. In addition, when 
we are not paying attention to the act we are trying to 
improve, we are far more open to the influences of irrelevant 
stimuli (distractions) which call forth thoughts and move- 
ments of an interfering character. 

Proper distribution of attention is important. - Occasion- 
ally an individual who, from most indications, is paying close 
attention to what he is about fails to learn as rapidly as we 
expect. There are golf players whose strength, agility, and 
intelligence should take them far, and yet they do not seem 
able to improve their game, no matter how much they con- 
centrate upon it. In fact, it sometimes appears as if they 
do better when they are less attentive to each stroke. But 
their difficulty does not come from overconcentration. It 
comes rather from the fact that they do not concentrate on 
the right thing. Each stroke in golf, like each act in most 
other kinds of performance, contains a number of features 
any one of which may be the chief object of attention. 
The golfer, as he swings, may have chiefly in mind the ball 
he aims to drive, the green toward which he aims to drive it, 
the fact that he wants to hit hard, the position of his feet, 
the turn of his wrists. Or he may be wrapped up in ideas 
of what the results of his shot are to be. He may have his 
mind fixed upon the anticipation of a beautiful shot or a 


dismal one. His mind may even swing back and forth 
between the good prospect and the bad. Now, surely no 
golfer can concentrate on all these things equally, and even 
those who are not experts realize that some features of 
the golfer's swing deserve more attention than others. 
Anyone who has paid any attention to this sport has heard, 
times without number, that, as the swing is actually being 
made, attention should be almost exclusively on the ball. 
"Keep your eye on the ball," or, as experts have been in- 
clined of late to make it, "Keep your mind on the ball/' 
This is perhaps the major axiom of the game, and yet it is 
just what is disregarded by those players, mentioned a few 
lines back, who do lots of concentrating and still fail to 
improve. They concentrate most probably upon "I must 
hit it hard" or "O! What if I should make a poor play!" 

There are many of these cases where learning is handi- 
capped, not by inattention, but by attention directed to the 
wrong feature of the performance. Pie who would improve 
his ability to talk in public has first to learn to concentrate 
upon what he wants to say. The sight of an audience is 
inclined to bring up hopes of success and fears of failure 
which crowd out every other thought. Only by learning to 
concentrate upon his own remarks can the speaker rise from 
the terrible paralysis of stage fright to free and easy eloquence. 
It is justifiable for a man to pay some attention to the 
prospects of promotion offered by his job, but a mastery of 
that job will be most favored if the principal object of 
attention is the work itself rather than its more remote results. 

Not long ago a student became very much discouraged. It 
seems that some years previously he showed a certain amount 
of literary talent and that he was encouraged by his teachers 
to make a writer of himself. This he was trying conscien- 
tiously to do, but it seemed as if he could not make any 


progress. The reason for this state of affairs, as it turned 
out, was not that he had lost what talent he started with, 
but that his attention was misdirected. Instead of con- 
centrating on such details as getting hold of something worth 
writing about, studying the literary style of successful 
authors, and increasing the range and accuracy of his own 
vocabulary, he was mainly concerned with whether he 
actually could learn to write or not, and what success in that 
field of endeavor would mean to him. There was no harm 
in his thinking of the future, but giving it his chief attention 
made him neglect important details and created in him a 
self-consciousness which had the same disastrous effects as 
the self-consciousness of a public speaker who continually 
wonders, while he talks, what the audience is thinking of 

Best direction for attention changes as learning pro- 
gresses. When a child is in the early stages of learning 
to add, it is probably best to direct a large part of his atten- 
tion to the accuracy of his work. In this way he is likely to 
become aware of the many errors he is sure to make and, 
being aware of them, he will be in a better position to elimi- 
nate them. But as time goes on and his skill increases, 
errors will be so infrequent that there is little danger of their 
being fixated. When this comes about, his attention can 
better be directed to speeding up his work. 

We have spoken of the fact that if a person, trying to 
acquire skill as a public speaker, does not fix his attention 
mainly upon what he has to say, he is likely to get along 
badly. Too much attention to his audience is especially 
likely to interfere with his progress. And yet, after the 
rudiments of public speaking have been mastered, further 
progress often depends upon directing attention to that 
once disconcerting audience and upon learning to modify 


one's remarks according to the facial expressions one is able 
to observe. 

Failure to acquire more than a moderate amount of skill 
is often brought about because of the absence of an essential 
shift in the direction of attention. Billiards furnish an 
excellent example. There are two fundamental considera- 
tions for the billiard player as he steps up to make a shot. 
In the first place, he must score a point and, in the second 
place, in doing so he must strike the balls in such a way as 
to bring them into a favorable position for the shot to follow. 
Now the game is difficult enough so that the beginner usually 
concentrates on making the shot immediately before him 
without particular regard to how he is going to leave the balls 
for his second shot, in case he makes the first. Even though 
he does neglect this second problem of what is called "gather- 
ing" the balls, his scoring power will show considerable 
improvement for some little time. But finally he will reach 
what seems to be the limit of his capacity to improve. 
Whether or not he goes beyond that point will depend 
largely upon whether he ceases to give all of his attention to 
the play immediately before him and begins to take into 
serious account the business of "gathering" for the succeed- 
ing play. If he does, he may at first be distracted and seem 
to lose in skill, but in the end this shift in attention will 
open to him possibilities for progress which would have 
been closed without it. 

What sets the limit of our learning? It is a striking 
fact that much of our learning seems to run up against a 
fairly definite limit, beyond which it will not go. As we have 
pointed out above, this failure to improve may be due to the 
fact that a somewhat radical change in procedure is necessary 
after learning has advanced beyond a certain stage. In 
the cases cited, this change in procedure necessary for 


continued progress was essentially a change in the object 
of principal attention. There are also other ways in which 
progress that has apparently stopped may be renewed. A 
North American who has learned to speak Spanish reason- 
ably well, but who has apparently reached the limit of his 
capacity to attain further skill in this direction, will almost 
immediately resume his improvement if he is thrust into a 
South American community where he constantly hears 
Spanish and where he is constantly forced to speak in that 
language. In tennis the casual practice furnished by an 
occasional friendly match will bring one's skill only up to a 
certain level. The ambitious player who wishes to go on 
improving long after he has reached a level where the 
average player would be content to rest is forced to go at the 
business in a very different way. His practice must be 
regular and well distributed; he must study his short- 
comings and seek patiently and methodically to eliminate 
them; in brief, he must substitute a professional for a purely 
playful attitude toward the undertaking. 

So complicated is the skill involved in such pursuits as 
novel writing, banking, railroad management, politics, 
and numerous others, that it is perfectly possible for a man 
who sets out to acquire such skill to improve throughout his 
whole lifetime without ever seeming to approach the limit 
of learning. Of course, most men working in these fields 
do not increase their skill indefinitely. One reason for this 
is the fact, described above, that to keep on learning it is 
frequently necessary to make changes in one's methods of 
work which would not occur to the average man. Therefore 
his progress stops while there are yet many things to be 
learned and many things which he would be quite capable of 
learning if he knew how to go about it. 

Each of us has limitations set by inheritance. There are 


individuals in great number who could not become wonderful 
painters, scientists, or acrobats, no matter how carefully their 
learning were regulated. But few make maximum use of 
their capacities. This is partly due, as we have said, to 
inefficient learning methods. There is a more homely fact, 
however, which should not be left out of account. Few 
people go at the acquisition of skill with anything like a full 
measure of persistence. And yet, has it not been said that 
genius, itself, is mainly a willingness to take great pains! 
There is reason to marvel at the native talent of the expert, 
but let us still remember that no inherited foundations for 
achievement can render unnecessary much patient and per- 
sistent practice. 

Mr. Irving K. Pond, in an essay on the circus, 1 shows us 
how much more than knack or freak gift of nature is the 
art of the acrobat. Let us follow for a moment Mr. Pond's 
description of a particularly brilliant act by the brother 
performers, Ernest arid Charles Clarke: 

. . . Charles is pendent, head downward, from a rhyth- 
mically swinging trapeze some yards away from and facing 
his brother. At a signal from Charles, Ernest, who is poised 
on the distant perch, attuning himself to the rhythm, grasps 
with both hands the bar of his trapeze, which moves through 
a longer arc than does that of his brother, and, with a vig- 
orous initial movement, makes a rapid swing at the end of 
which he leaves his bar, makes two complete backward 
revolutions in the air, that is, throws a double back somer- 
sault, follows with a pirouette or full turn on a vertical axis 
at right angles to the axis of the somersaults, and catches, 
and is caught by, his brother, who returns him with a pirou- 
ette to the bar and thence to the perch or pedestal from which 
he started; and this without a break in the complex and 
synchronized rhythm of the factors in this entrancing 
equation of movement . . . 

1 A Day Under the Big Top, published by the Chicago Literary Club, 1924. 


Mr. Pond immediately assures us that 

... an act such as just described does not come all at 
once full blown and perfect out of a clear sky, but its final 
accomplishment involves travail of spirit and discipline of 
mind and body almost beyond belief . . . 

The real facts of the case are brought out in an interview 
with one of the performers : 

. . . "Ernie," I make bold to say, . . . "you must have 
had a few falls into the net before you got that trick to per- 
fection. Five hundred, say?" "Well," he answers quietly, 
"five hundred would hardly be a circumstance. We tried 
that at every rehearsal for a year, and no fewer than ten 
times at any rehearsal before ever our hands came together' 7 
(and every try meant a drop into the net). "Then we caught 
and held, and in three and one-half years more four and a 
half years in all longer than a college course we reached 
the point where we thought we could be justified in letting 
the public see the act." 


Rate of learning shown by learning curve. Some people 
learn rapidly and others learn more slowly. Furthermore, 
a person acquiring skill in typewriting or telegraphy, let us 
say, will learn faster on some days than on others. 

These facts about the rate of learning are best demon- 
strated by means of so-called learning curves. Figure 10 is a 
learning curve for telegraphy and Figure 11 is a learning 
curve for archery. All such curves are constructed in 
essentially the same manner. The base line is divided so as 
to represent different amounts of practice, the hours, weeks, 
trials, shots, or what not. The vertical line is divided so as 
to represent different degrees of efficiency, the amount 
done, time required, errors made, and so on. In Figure 10 
the higher points on this line represent the greater degrees of 




5 10 15 20 25 30 85 40 

Courtesy of Psychological Bulletin 


The vertical axis represents the number of words the learner could telegraph in five min- 
utes The horizontal axis represents the number of successive days of practice. (From Swift, 
Psychological Bulletin. ) 



efficiency because the units are letters written. In Figure 11, 
on the other hand, the lower points on the vertical line 
represent the greater degrees of efficiency, because the units 
ore inches away from the buWs eye. In Figure 10, then, the 
rising curve shows that with more and more practice there 


300 400 

Courtesy of the J. B. Lippmcott Company 


The vertical axis represents the average error, or distance in inches from the bull's eye. 
The horizontal axis represents the number of shots the learner has had. From Watson, 
Behavior. (After Lashley.) 

is an increase in the numoer of letters telegraphed in 5 min- 
utes and, therefore, an increase in skill. In Figure 11 the 
falling curve shows that with more and more practice there 
is a decrease in the average distance of the shots from the 
bull's eye and, therefore, an increase in skill. 


The steepness of the learning curve signifies the general 
rate at which the learning is progressing. In Figures 12 and 
13 we have two curves showing the number of words which 
could be typewritten in 5 minutes, as more and more practice 
was given. Each curve represents the learning of one 

50 100 100 

Courtesy of the Jouitml of Applied Pbijtkoloyij 


The vertical axis represents the score in a five-minute test of typewriting The horizontal 
axis represent? the number of hours of praetiec (From Chapman, Journal of Applied 
Psychology, 1919.) 

individual. After 20 hours of practice F and G are able to 
type about 50 words in 5 minutes. But while it takes F 
considerably more than 100 hours of practice to reach a 
point where he can type 200 words in 5 minutes, G attains 
that degree of skill after considerably less than 100 hours of 
practice. Notice how much more steep is the rise of G' scurve 
than that of F! 



Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language or 
acquired some form of manual skill knows that learning does 
not always progress smoothly. On some days an advance 
seems to be made, while on others it seems more as if skill 
were being lost. All of the learning curves we have thus far 

100 160 200 

Courtesy of Journal of Applied Psychology 


Tho explanation of Figure 12 applies to tins figure also. (From Chapman, Journal of 
Applied Psychology, 1919 ) 

examined indicate that this is the actual state of affairs and 
not a mere impression. In general, these curves show that 
learning is progressing, but if examined in detail they show, 
by their marked irregularities, that this progress is a matter 
of fits and starts. There are numerous reasons why learning 


should go on in this way. The facts that the learner never 
feels exactly the same on two successive days, and that 
practice cannot possibly be given at different times under 
identical external conditions (the weather, the street noises, 
and the like are bound to differ from time to time) are two 
very evident causes of irregularity in the progress of learning. 

50 100 150 200 

Courtasy of Journal of Applied Pnycholoyy 


The explanation of Figure 12 applies to this figure also (From Chapman, Journal of 
Applied Psychology, 1919 ) 

Besides these daily irregularities in the rate of learning, 
there occasionally appears a prolonged period of no progress 
or very slow progress. The individual whose rate of learning 
is represented in Figure 14 improved steadily for about 
50 hours of practice. From then until he had had over 
100 hours of practice no evident improvement took place. 
Following this period, however, improvement was resumed 



at its former rate. A similar effect is shown by the curve of 
Figure 15, which represents the acquisition of skill in re- 
ceiving telegraphic messages. Such temporary, but rela- 
tively long, periods of no progress or extremely slow progress 
are known as plateaus. We have already dwelt at some 
length upon the fact that learning is often seriously retarded, 
if not brought to a complete stop, because the learner has 


'pt Main Line Rate 

Courtesy of the P*>y{holoyical Review 


Tho vortical axis represents the number of letters per minute in receiving connected dis- 
course The horizontal u\is represents the number of weeks of practice. (From B>ran arid 
Hurtcr, Psychological Review, 1890 ) 

gone as far as he can by means of the direction of attention 
and the methods of procedure which he has been employing. 
Sometimes he quickly hits upon the shift of procedure neces- 
sary for a resumption of progress. In that case no plateau 
appears in his learning curve. Sometimes he never discovers 
how to continue his improvement. In that case the learning 
curve simply ceases to rise or fall, as the case may be; it 


shows no plateau. But there are other times when the 
learner, after apparently progressing as far as he can, finally, 
as a result of continuing his practice, hits upon an improved 
way of going about the task at hand. In that case progress 
is resumed at something like the rate it had before the 
temporary barrier w r as encountered, and the result appears 
in the learning curve in the form of such a plateau as those 
of Figures 14 and 15. 

We have said that the rate of learning is shown by the 
slant of the curve. If the slant is gradual, learning is rela- 

60 80 100 

Courtesy of Journal of Experimental Psychology 


Tho vortical axis represent .s the amount of typo sot por hour. The horizontal axis repre- 
sents the mimbor of hours of practice. (From Kelloy and Carr, Journal of Experimental 
Psychology, 1924 ) 

tively slow, and, if the slant is steep, learning is relatively 
rapid. Look again at the curves of Figures 11 and 12. You 
will notice that the slant of these curves becomes less and 
less steep as the learning goes on. This means that learning 
started off rapidly and gradually slowed down. This nega- 
tive acceleration is one of the most prevalent characteristics 
of curves of learning. (Acceleration means change in rate 



of speed, and negative acceleration, therefore, means slowing 
down.) It represents the fact that, as higher levels of skill 

are attained, it becomes 
increasingly difficult to 

The rapid progress 
typical of the early stages 
of learning does not 
always appear at the 
very start. Sometimes 
we must have some little 
practice before any real 
progress shows itself. 
Figure 16 is a learning 
curve for typesetting. 
During more than 20 
hours of practice, there is 
a loss in skill rather than 
a gain. Figure 17 is 
another curve for type- 
writing. The gain in 
skill between 20 and 60 
hours is very much less 
than that which comes 
from the next 40 hours of 
practice. The increase in 
rate of learning that often 
occurs early in the learn- 
ing process is called initial 
positive acceleration. 
It is not hard to see why there should frequently be some 
delay before learning really gets started. When we begin 
practicing a new act of skill, we may have to get used to the 

Courtesy of Journal of Experimental Psychology 


The vertical axis represents the score in a type- 
writing tost. The horizontal axis represents the 
number of hours of practice (From Chapman and 
Hills, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1916.) 


surroundings in .which the practice is carried on. We may 
have previously acquired habits under other circumstances 
that interfere with the acquisition of skill along this new 
line (see page 93). Then, too, we may have to master 
certain general principles of the new act before we can do 
anything with it. 


Firmly fixed habits have special characteristics. When 
a child first "stretches out his hand and catches a ball, he is 
performing a habitual act, if we consider as habitual any act 
that is largely the product of experience. The same is true 
when the adding-machine operator runs off his first sum. 
The first stage in habit formation is devoted largely to the 
discovery of a fitting way of acting. We paid particular 
attention to that stage in Chapter IV. But before an act 
can become a habit in the usual sense of that term, it needs 
fixing or stamping in. We have been discussing in the 
present chapter the best conditions for hastening this 
fixation process and, in connection with learning curves, the 
rate at which fixation takes place. Now we have this addi- 
tional question to raise: What happens to a habit as it 
becomes fixated? There are several answers to this question. 

1. The very word " fixated 77 suggests that after practice 
under favorable conditions a habit is much harder to break. 
(a) He who has firmly fixed the " ball-catching " habit will 
still fail to make a catch now and then, but the more firmly 
fixed the habit, the less often will the misses occur. (6) Fur- 
thermore, a well-fixed habit will still work well after a pro- 
longed period of inactivity. A man who has once learned 
to swim well can go for years without swimming, and yet, 
when he does get into the water again he will have very little 
to relearn. 


2. If a habit serves a useful purpose, its. fixation usually 
increases the efficiency with which that purpose is served. 
The learning curves told the story of the increase in efficiency 
of habits as practice fixated them. It should be remembered, 
however, that undesirable habits are just as capable of being 
fixated as are desirable ones. A girl who allows herself to 
break into tears every time things fail to go just as she would 
have them will soon find herself with a firmly fixed habit 
that interferes seriously with her efficiency. We might say, 
then, that the fixation of a desirable habit increases efficiency 
arid the fixation of an undesirable habit decreases efficiency. 

3. The better fixated a habit becomes, the more powerful 
it seems to him who possesses it. To the man who has 
smoked for years, his tobacco habit is usually a terribly 
compelling force. This is shown by two sorts of facts. In 
the first place, the habit asserts iiself on the slightest provo- 
cation. The mere sight of another smoking is enough to 
make the inveterate smoker reach for a cigar or cigarette. 
Jn the second place, anything that keeps him from smoking 
at such customary times as after meals makes him exceed- 
ingly uncomfortable. 

4. As a habit becomes more firmly fixed it requires less 
attention, effort, and thought. In other words, it becomes 
increasingly automatic. Many of the habitual facial ex- 
pressions and other mannerisms which we see from day to 
day are so fixed that they operate without the person in 
whom they appear being aware of them. Walking, under 
most circumstances, is so well fixed that it is quite automatic. 
Only when we are in a crowd or faced with some other un- 
usual situation do we pay any attention to the manner of 
our walking. Some other acts rarely, if ever, become well 
enough fixed to be completely automatic. Boxing, auto- 
mobile driving, and typewriting are not apt to go on uncon- 


sciously. Still, as skill in those lines is more and more 
highly developed, certain elements in them do become 
automatic. The sight of the exposed chin of his opponent 
calls out within the smallest fraction of a second an uppercut 
from the experienced boxer. The opening is there for such 
a short time that, unless the punch occurred automatically, 
it would not get home. This does not mean that the ex- 
perienced boxer is unconscious of what he is doing. Just 
let him bid the boxing take care of itself and engage in day- 
dreams as he steps around the ring with a capable rival! 
He will not last long under such conditions. As his skill 
increases, the punching, ducking, blocking, and the like 
work without his paying any attention to his own movements, 
but he never reaches a point where he can take his eye and 
his mind off his opponent. 


How habits are lost. A story is told of a missionary 
who, after a number of years in China, learned to speak the 
Chinese language witli some fluency. In the course of time 
he returned to his native land, and during the years imme- 
diately following, he had no opportunity to speak Chinese. 
And, what is more, he soon felt that his ability to converse 
in that language had entirely disappeared. One day the 
opportunity came to return to China and he accepted it. 
In a way he dreaded his return, for he believed that he would 
have to learn the language all over again. But, greatly to 
his surprise, as soon as he found himself in the old surround- 
ings, with Chinese sights and sounds on every hand, he 
began to speak Chinese with all the skill he had formerly 
possessed. Many of the habits that we think are lost are 
no more lost than this missionary's skill in speaking Chinese. 
Habits and systems of habits are ways in which we learn to 


react to certain stimuli. If sufficient stimuli of the right 
kind are lacking, the habit simply will not operate. All the 
missionary's speaking of Chinese had been done with the 
sights and sounds of China about him, and these stimuli 
had become indispensable for the operation of his habits of 
Chinese speech. 

In a lesser degree we have all experienced this type of 
occurrence. Shortly after my arrival as a freshman at 
college, I was walking across the campus with some new 
acquaintances. Suddenly we came face to face with a man 
who had been a classmate of mine during the four years of 
high school. We stopped to talk and I prepared to introduce 
the old acquaintance to these other men I had so lately met. 
But instead of carrying out my purpose I became horror 
stricken, for the name of my classmate, a name that had 
been on my lips hundreds of times, would not come. The 
difficulty was due to the fact that my classmate's name had 
always been used in high-school surroundings, and those 
surroundings had been part of the stimulus required to call 
it forth. 

In forming a habit it is well to guard against getting it too 
closely connected with stimuli that are not always going to 
be on hand when we want to use the habit. Of course it 
would have been difficult for the missionary to prevent his 
Chinese language habits from becoming connected with the 
customary sights and sounds of China, and it would have 
been difficult for me to have prevented my classmate's name 
from becoming connected with the scenes of high-school 
days. But there are many situations where undesirable 
connections can be prevented and where the desirability of 
their prevention is clear. At one time an author was 
accustomed to do all his writing with a soft pencil on yellow 
paper. So ingrained did this procedure become that he 


was not able even to think satisfactorily without those 
particular tools before him. Since it was slow and difficult 
work for a typist to read and copy his penciled manuscripts, 
he was at some disadvantage. It would have been better if 
he had got used to doing his thinking at a typewriter, and 
better still if he could have got used to thinking while dic- 
tating, while typing, and while writing in long hand, because 
then he would have been able to work satisfactorily under 
a wide variety of conditions. The man who cannot work 
without a cigar in his mouth furnishes another example of 
what we are discussing. The reason that he needs his cigar 
is that he has always had it while working, and his work 
habits simply will not operate without this seemingly irrele- 
vant, but to him essential, stimulus. 

When a habit fails to operate because of the lack of 
sufficient stimuli to set it off, the habit itself is really not 
broken up. As soon as the right stimuli are introduced (the 
Chinese surroundings, for example) the habit will work as 
well as ever. There are other cases where habits are actually 
broken up so that they will not operate efficiently, even under 
conditions identical to the ones under which they are formed. 

A motorist has described a situation which has no little 
importance for us. "The gear shift on my father's car arid 
that on my own are almost opposite in arrangement. His 
high is in the same position as my low arid his second is in 
the same position as my reverse. Usually I can shift gears 
quickly, when driving my own car, and without giving the 
matter a thought. But after I have visited my father and 
driven his car for a day or two, I am unable upon my return 
to shift gears with the old ease. Sometimes I try to shift 
my gears as his should be shifted, and at other times I seem 
to be blocked and unable to decide in which direction to 
push the shift lever. Evidently the experience with my 


father's car tends to disrupt the habits I have formed of 
operating my own." 

In the course of a lifetime many of our habits are broken 
up by habits subsequently formed. Now and then we hear 
of some old gentleman who can still repeat almost word for 
word an oration he learned in college and to which he has 
not given a thought for a long period of years. But the 
chances are that few, if any, orations, especially of a similar 
nature, had been learned in the meantime. If they had, 
the college oration would almost surely have been wiped out. 

In general, later formed habits interfere with arid break up 
earlier formed habits only if there is some resemblance 
between the two. Learning a new way of shifting gears is 
far more likely to destroy an old habit of gear shifting than 
learning a new shot at billiards would be. Learning to swim 
would not blot out one's ability to repeat an oration, but 
learning another oration might. Further, learning an 
oration about the great poets would be more likely to break 
up the ability to repeat another previously learned oration 
on poetry than it would a previously learned oration on the 
wonders of modern industry. We are often struck by the 
fact that many habits such as swimming and skating are 
never lost, no matter how long we go without putting them 
to use. This is partly because no other habits are formed 
which are sufficiently similar to swimming and skating to 
cause the kind of interference we have been describing. 

The less thoroughly a habit is mastered, the more likely it 
is to be broken up by the subsequent acquisition of similar 
habits. If you wish to retain the ability to repeat a bit of 
verse which is much like other verses that you will read in 
the future, you will have to learn it more thoroughly than 
you would a verse of unusual character. It is possible for a 
person to retain at the same time a number of habits which 


would naturally be expected to conflict with each other, 
but in this case the habits must be very firmly fixed. 

How to break bad habits. There are times in the 
lives of all of us when we discover that it is necessary or 
highly desirable to work a radical change in some habitual 
way of acting. The man who shifts from an outdoor life 
to the sedentary existence of the office finds that he must 
remodel his eating habits. He finds that to maintain his 
health he must eat less food and lighter food. The boy 
whose bragging has been tolerated by parents and early 
companions may discover, when he gets out into the world, 
that this habit is held definitely against him. The bright 
person who has always achieved success with little effort 
often moves into circles where keen competition shows him 
habits of laziness which he hardly realized he possessed. 
Under such circumstances there is a need for discarding old 
ways of acting. When this need arises there are a number 
of practical points that may well be kept in mind. 

1. Breaking a habit is not simply discarding one way of 
acting. It is also a matter of forming a new habit. Elim- 
inating laziness means establishing habits of industry. 
Eliminating bragging means establishing habits of modesty. 
Now the chances of successfully doing away with the old, 
undesirable habit depend upon how clearly one gets in mind 
the new habit which is to replace it. It is seldom enough to 
say to oneself, "I shall no longer brag/ 7 or "I shall no longer 
be lazy." One must define for himself just how he is going 
to speak of his achievements in the future and just how and 
when he is going to be industrious. 

2. It is well to seize the earliest opportunity to put the 
new mode of conduct into operation. Thinking about being 
industrious is a necessary first step, but it is not enough. 
Remember that " practice makes perfect," The new habit 


will not begin to be fixated until it is put into practice. It 
is possible to do so much thinking about not overeating that 
one gets into the habit of thinking on that subject instead of 

3. The less thought given to the old habit the better. 
Many people fail to break such habits as smoking, because 
they concentrate upon not smoking rather than upon their 
daily tasks. Thoughts of not smoking are almost as likely to 
lead one to break his resolution as are thoughts of smoking. 
The safety in such a case lies in neglecting the subject as 
much as possible by throwing oneself heart and soul into 
some kind of work or play. A change in surroundings is 
often a very effective way of reducing one's thoughts about 
the old habit. 

4. The more motives that can be brought to bear upon 
the contemplated change in habits the better. If we would 
cultivate habits of industry, it is well to commit ourselves to 
a certain amount of work which others will thereupon expect 
of us, arid to get into surroundings where others are hard at 
work and not accustomed to tolerating idlers. 

5. Once embarked upon a new way of acting, it is folly, at 
least at first, to allow an exception to occur. This is one of 
the things we have most to guard against. It is so easy for 
us to invent excuses and to convince ourselves that this is 
really an exceptional occasion and, therefore, should not 
count as a breach of our new resolution. And yet we know 
that repetition fixates bad habits as readily as good, and 
any' exception is bound to add to the strength of the habit 
we are trying to break down. 

6. As a rule it is more effective to plunge into the new 
program of conduct than to let go of the old habit gradually. 
Tapering off only prolongs the struggle and provides oppor- 
tunities for the old habit to increase its hold. The new 


habit, if it is to survive, must be favored in every possible 
manner and repeated in complete form as often as possible. 


1. The discovery of a new way of acting is only the first 
step in the establishment of a habit. There remains the 
fixation or stamping in of that way of acting. 

2. The rate at which a habit is fixated, like the discovery 
of a new type of action, depends upon what habits have pre- 
viously been formed. When one habit makes the fixation 
of another more rapid, there is said to be a positive transfer. 
When one habit makes the fixation of another less rapid, 
there is said to be a negative transfer. 

3. Those habits that are in line with our general interests 
are more quickly fixated because of that fact. An interest 
that will really speed up our learning seldom exists, however, 
until we have already learned something in that line. 

4. Habits that bring satisfying results are fixated more 
quickiy because of that fact. Some kinds of satisfaction 
can be more permanently relied upon to aid progress than 
others. For instance, satisfaction in accomplishment, itself, 
will aid learning of almost any kind and will make the 
learner independent of whether others praise him or reward 
him in some tangible mariner. 

5. Habits are more quickly fixated if they prevent un- 
pleasant consequences. This is one reason why com- 
petition and criticism, if fair, stimulate learning. They 
keep us aw r are of mistakes and thus make it easier for us to 
fixate an efficient habit rather than an inefficient one. 

6. Repetition is a prime factor in the fixation of habits. 
We must always remember, though, that repetition will fix 
inefficient habits as well as efficient ones. For this reason 
mere repetition should not be relied upon until we are sure 


that the act being repeated is exactly the one which we wish 
to fix. 

7. In order for repetition to be most effective it should not 
be so continuous as to cause fatigue, but it should be con- 
tinuous enough to allow the learner to get well settled down 
to work, and it should occur often enough so that the learner 
does not lose wliat he has learned between one practice 
session and the next. 

8. Fixation proceeds best in the absence of distracting 
stimuli. But if the habit is later to operate in the presence of 
a certain amount of distraction, then even during the learning 
it is well to get accustomed to such distraction. Not all 
irrelevant stimuli are distractions. Those to which one is 
accustomed may actually be aids to efficient learning. 

9. Close attention to the habit being fixated is helpful for 
at least two reasons. It insures our repeating the correct 
act rather than an incorrect one, and it keeps us from being 
affected by distracting stimuli. 

10. We cannot pay attention equally to every element in 
an act that we are endeavoring to learn. Fixation is often 
rendered difficult because the element which is attended to 
is not the one that really needs our attention. 

11. As learning progresses it is often necessary to shift the 
direction of attention in order to secure the best results. 

12. Learning occasionally reaches an end because the 
learner lacks the capacity for further improvement. More 
often, however, the limit of learning is set by a failure to 
make some essential shift in the direction of attention, a 
failure to change to more effective practice conditions and 
surroundings, or a failure to exercise sufficient p'ersistence. 

13. The learning curve gives a graphic picture of the rate 
at which learning progresses. The study of curves of this 
kind gives us the following facts: (a) Learning proceeds 


irregularly, considerable progress often being shown at one 
practice period and none, or an actual loss, at the next. 
(6) Some curves show relatively long periods of no progress, 
called plateaus, (c) In general, progress is relatively rapid at 
first and then gradually slows down, (d) Occasionally there 
is a period of slow progress preceding the early rapid 

14. A habit which is thoroughly fixated has a number of 
well-marked characteristics. Such a habit is not easily lost ; 
if it serves a purpose, it does so more effectively; it seems to 
its possessor a strong impulsive force; and it operates fairly 
independently of attention, effort, or thought. 

15. There are two fundamental ways in which a habit 
can be lost. If a habit always operates under a very limited 
set 'of conditions, anything in the way of a change in our 
surroundings may make it impossible for the habit to function 
properly or, indeed, at all. The acquisition of certain kinds 
of new habits may also interfere with the operation of a 
habit previously formed. 

16. When it becomes desirable to disrupt an established 
habit, there are a number of practical points to be kept in 
rnind. There should be a decision as to what new habit is to 
replace the old one; the new habit should be given frequent 
repetition; the old habit should be neglected as much as 
possible; a strong set of motives should be lined up on the 
side of the new habit; there should be few, if any, exceptions 
to the new way of acting; and, finally, the reformation should 
be started without delay. 


1. How far has one gone in the establishment of a habit when he has 
worked out the solution of a complicated problem in mathematics? How 
far is he likely to go in the fixation of this type of act? Explain, 


2. Cite a case from your own experience where the possession of one 
habit aided you in fixating another. Cite a case where the possession of 
one habit interfered with the fixation of another. 

3. Do young men who are beginning the study of medicine have, as a 
rule, a strong interest in the/r/r/,s that they are going to study, or is their 
interest more general? Explain. 

4. What is the danger in giving children money or candy every time 
they show signs of progress in their school work or in other useful di- 

5. What are some of the attitudes which people commonly take toward 
criticism of themselves? What effect, do such attitudes have upon 

6. How would you modify the saying, "Practice makes perfect"? 

7. If you were forming a habit which would later be called upon to 
operate when you were tired as well as when you were fresh, would you 
or would you not avoid fatigue while acquiring this habit? Explain your 

8. Would it ever be desirable to remove from the learner's surround- 
ings all stimuli not directly related to what lie is learning? Justify your 

9. Why is it especially important to pay attention to a habit still in 
the process of fixation? 

10. Would it be good or bad procedure for one learning to drive a car 
to keep his attention constantly fixed upon not running into anything? 

11. Describe some habit that you have acquired and show how, from 
time to time during its acquisition, there was a necessity for shifting the 
direction of your attention. 

12. Consider some activity of your own, such as handwriting, which no 
longer is improving. Why has this improvement come to a stop? 

13. On each of ten successive days a man fires 25 shots at a target. 
The following table shows the number of hits on the different days: 

Day 123 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 

Hits 2 8 9 11 10 11 11 10 15 16 

Construct a learning curve on the basis of these data. What does the 
form of this curve tell us about the progress of the man's learning? 

14. We have said that an act that serves a useful purpose generally 
does so more effectively if it becomes a well-fixated habit. What about 
an act which has harmful consequences? 


15. Show how the two fundamental causes of lost habits are illustrated 
by the fact that much of what was learned iu the schoolroom is apparently 
forgotten as soon as the schoolroom is left behind. 

16. Suppose that you had decided to break the habit of using slang. 
Describe just what steps you might take to make your resolution effective. 


Angell, Educational Review, 190S, pp. 4-S; or Readings in General Psy- 
chology, Ch. V, Selection 7-A, p. 122 ff. 

Thorndike, The Principles of Teaching, pp. 243-245; or Readings, 
Ch. V, Selection 7-B, p. 126 ff. 

Starch, Educational Psychology, pp. 141-143; or Readings, Ch. V, 
Selection 5, p. 113 ff. 

Stout, Analytic Psychology (4th ed.), Vol. 1, pp. 258-263; or Readings, 
Ch. V, Selection 8, p. ' 128 ft'/ 

James, Principles of Psychology , Vol. 1, pp. 120-127; or Readings, Ch. V, 
Selection 9, p. 132 ff . 






1. Does efficiency increase and decrease only as habits are formed or 

2. What are the most definite meanings of efficiency? 

3. How do methods of work, surroundings of the worker, motives for 
working, and the physical condition of the worker affect efficiency? 

Growth and decay of habits affect efficiency. In the 

past three chapters we have had a good deal to say about 
habits and their effects upon human efficiency. We have 
shown how the formation and fixation of desirable habits 
increase efficiency and how the formation and fixation of 
undesirable habits decrease efficiency. We have shown also 
how the loss of a useful habit reduces our capacity for effi- 
cient action and how the loss of an undesirable habit may be 
necessary for the maintenance or increase of efficiency. We 
have discussed other, more detailed, influences upon effi- 
ciency, such as methods of instruction, methods of practice, 
and environmental conditions, but we have been concerned 
with these only in so far as they affect efficiency through the 
growth or decay of habits. 

Efficiency affected by factors other than the growth and 
decay of habits. There is, perhaps, no other influence 



which plays such a great part in determining the efficiency of 
human thought and behavior as the building up and breaking 
down of habits. But there are other influences of an ex- 
ceedingly important sort. It is to these that we shall 
devote the present chapter. If one is very tired, some of his 
habits will operate at less than their usual level of efficiency. 
This is plainly not a matter of ordinary habit decay, nor is it 
a matter of the sudden formation of bad, conflicting habits. 
Tiredness to ouite a large extent is independent of learning 
and forgetting. If one suddenly discovers a strong reason for 
doing well, his efficiency is likely to be as suddenly increased. 
Still, this is hardly to be interpreted as learning or forgetting. 
We shall continue to discuss habits in the present chapter, 
but our concern will be with their operation rather than with 
their growth and decay. Some of the factors that influence 
the operation of habits also influence the acquisition and 
loss of those habits. The presence of distracting stimuli, 
for example, is capable of affecting the formation and fixation 
of a habit as well as its operation after fixation. It is per- 
fectly possible, however, to consider such influences as 
distractions independently of the part they play in learning 
and forgetting. This procedure is the one we shall follow 
in the present chapter. 


What is efficiency? We might have inquired some time 
ago about the exact meaning of the term "efficiency." But 
it is as well to have waited until this point because we are 
now approaching questions the treatment of which hinges 
largely upon what is meant by efficient and by inefficient 

One element in efficiency is the accuracy or quality of the 
work produced. In many cases accuracy or quality is of 


far greater consequence than anything else. No one cares 
too greatly how long Shakespeare took to write Hamlet. 
Certainly, if he had taken twice as long as he did to write the 
play, no one would think of him as much less efficient. Nor 
is anyone primarily concerned with the effort which Shakes- 
peare put upon this play. The one thing of real importance 
is the quality of the famous playwright's work on this oc- 
casion. Compared to this issue of quality, other issues are rel- 
atively insignificant. Numerous instances could be cited from 
the performances of ordinary individuals to illustrate how 
accuracy or quality of achievement is often of predominant 
importance. Now and again each of us is called upon to 
make some decision which is likely to affect his whole sub- 
sequent life. It may be a decision about marriage, about a 
job, or about a place of residence. Action in such cases is 
not usually evaluated in terms of speed or in terms of the 
effort which goes into it. The crucial question pertains to 
the accuracy or correctness of the decision. 

While there are instances in which quality of work is 
very much more important than speed, unquestionably 
speed is another element in efficiency. Furthermore, there 
are many types of performance where speed is the major 
factor. The athlete may run gracefully or awkwardly, 
but the real question is, "How fast does he run?" If the 
coach should pay any attention to the athlete's form, it is 
not because of a direct interest in graceful running. Form, 
which in the case of the runner is equivalent to accuracy or 
quality, is important only in so far as it becomes expressed 
in speed. To the athlete, the soldier, or the man of business, 
there come times when delay means disaster and where 
almost any quick action is more desirable than the most 
accurate action that is slow. 

Efficiency is not always either speed or accuracy alone. 


Work is often evaluated according to some combination of 
these two. The tennis player must make his return quickly 
or not at all. He must also make it accurately, because a 
quickly executed shot into the net or over the back line will 
gain him nothing. The rapid addition of a column of 
figures can scarcely be called efficient, if the result be badly 
in error. But neither will the arrival at the correct sum be 
considered efficient calculation if an extraordinary amount 
of time be consumed in the process. 

Occasionally still another standpoint is adopted in deciding 
the efficiency of a given performance. We may ask our- 
selves not only how quickly and how accurately the work is 
done, but also how much effort is expended upon it. One 
man may lay as many bricks in an hour as a fellow- 
craftsman. He may also lay them as well. If, however, 
he uses more muscular energy, if he tires himself out more 
than his co-worker, his work will not be called so efficient. 
Although this matter of effort expended is harder to de- 
termine than accuracy or speed, it is nevertheless of much 

Do accuracy, speed, and lack of effort merely represent 
efficiency? Sometimes we gauge efficiency by speed, 
sometimes by accuracy, sometimes by a combination of the 
two, and sometimes by the ease with which the work is done. 
Now, the question arises as to whether these merely represent 
a real efficiency which lies behind them or whether they, 
themselves, actually constitute efficiency. The answer is 
simple. The accuracy, speed, and ease with which work is 
done are what we definitely know about efficiency. They 
are not, therefore, to be considered mere signs of efficiency. 
They are, themselves, kinds of efficiency. 

This point is unlikely to cause argument so long as we are 
dealing with types of work which are generally judged in 


terms of some one of the factors just mentioned. The 
efficiency of the poet is almost solely the quality of his 
poetry, and the efficiency of the runner is almost solely his 
speed. But where work requires consideration of its ac- 
curacy and its speed together, or even these two plus the 
effort involved, the case is not quite so simple. Think of 
performance on a school examination. Which should be 
given more weight, the accuracy, the speed, or the ease with 
which the examination questions are answered? One 
person will say accuracy is most important, another will 
say the same of speed, and still another of the ease of the 

In the presence of such differences of opinion we should 
do well to ask each debater why he considers one of these 
factors more important than the others. The answers would 
almost surely reveal that back in his mind each one of them 
possessed a hazy notion of an efficiency that is not accuracy, 
speed, or ease of work, but rather something to which a 
proper combination of these would correspond. But our 
dealings with efficiency cannot, of course, be aided by hazy 
notions. We know with some deftniteness what is meant by 
accuracy, speed, and effort, and it is to these notions that we 
must pin our faith. If a given type of work demands the 
consideration of all three of these factors, we shall be nearer 
the truth to speak, not simply of the efficiency of that work, 
but of its three kinds of efficiency. 

Where more than one kind of efficiency is important, it 
may be inconvenient to deal with all of them separately. In 
an arithmetical test we may treat a problem which is not 
solved correctly because of a student's lack of speed in the 
same way that we treat a problem not solved correctly 
because of carelessness. Thus a grade of 80 per cent is an 
expression partly of speed and partly of accuracy. kSuch a 


procedure has a certain justification in its convenience, but 
a really adequate knowledge of the student's work in arith- 
metic would demand more than this single grade. It would 
demand that separate account be taken of the various effi- 
ciencies which are important in arithmetical work. 

Accuracy, speed, and effort have different meanings for 
different kinds of work. While accuracy, speed, and ease 
of performance are, themselves, kinds of efficiency, they do 
not always m^an exactly the same thing. The term accuracy 
may refer to the orator's selection of just the right word to 
convey his meaning, to the archer's shot next the bull's eye, 
or to the musician's detection of a very slight difference in 
pitch between two tones. Speed, likewise, is an affair of 
various meanings. The sprinter's speed in the one-hundred- 
yard dash is dependent upon a type of muscular capacity 
quite different from that upon which depends the distance 
runner's speed in the two-mile event. The speed of the 
stenographer in recording dictation has little in common 
with the speed of the wit with his repartee. Effort has even 
a wider variety of specific meanings, perhaps, than either 
accuracy or speed. " The difference is very great between the 
effort required to lift a forty-pound box and that required to 
keep awake when bored by an opera or a speech. 

In the final analysis, then, there are many more than three 
kinds of efficiency. The term accuracy, if we use it without 
specifying just what type of work we have in mind, stands 
more for a class of efficiencies than for one particular kind. 
In this class are included the efficiency of the orator in 
choosing words, the efficiency of the archer in hitting the 
bull's eye, the efficiency of the musician in discriminating 
between tones, and a host of other special varieties of effi- 
ciency which for one reason or another we see fit to speak of 
as accuracy. In the same way speed and effort, when con- 



sidered in general, are classes of efficiencies rather than 
efficiencies of special kinds. 


Work curve shows effects of continuous work. If one 

works continuously and without rest upon a certain task, 


The vertical axis represents the average number of taps m 5 seconds. The horizontal axis 
rr presents the successive 5-hecond periods of tapping (Dra^n from data of Wells, American 
Journal of Psychology, 1908.) 

that fact will affect efficiency. The changes in efficiency 
which take place during continuous work are best shown by a 
type of graphic figure known as the work curve. Figures 18 
and 19 are curves of this kind. The first represents the 
changes that occur in a subject's rate of continuous tapping 
on a telegraph key during a thirty-second period. The 


number of taps made in each successive five seconds was 
recorded electrically. The change in efficiency shown by 
this curve is just what we should expect from our everyday 
experience. The longer the subject keeps up his tapping, the 
less able he is to tap with great rapidity. Such a loss in 
efficiency resulting from continuous work is spoken of as a 
general decrement or work decrement. The second curve 
represents what happened to the efficiency of a subject who 

I I I i i I I I I I 1 1 1 1 1 1 L 

1234 56789 10 


Tho vortical axis represents the number of t-phu-p bv -1-plaee examples worked per hour of 
working time The hon/ont:tl axis represents the sureessive hours of work from 11 A.M until 
11 p M (Drawn from data of Ai:u, Columbia Contributions to Education, No. o4 ) 

performed mentally four-place by four-place multiplications 
continuously for a period of about twelve hours. Here 
again the most general change is a loss in efficiency, shown 
by a decrease in the problems solved in each unit of time, 
as the work continued. 

General decrement the most constant feature of curves 
of work. If we should examine a large number of curves 
of work, we should find such a general decrement, or gradual 
loss in efficiency, as appears in the above curves to be quite 
the usual thing. Occasionally even relatively continuous 



work is of such a nature that the subject has an opportunity 
to recover from "fatigue," even while working. In this 
case the work might go on for a long time without showing a 
loss in efficiency. The beating of the heart is one activity 
which continues for years without showing anything like a 
general decrement. But the fact remains that most forms 
of work, if continued for a long time without interruption, 
do show a decrement. 

Decrement depends upon continuity of work. Since 
the general decrement is characteristic of curves representing 



Lifting the middle finger pulls up the \\eight at the end of the cord 
AH the cord is moved the marker, M, record-* the amount of movement 
by making a lino on a piece of smoked paper that it touches. 

continuous work, it stands to reason that the more continuous 
the work, i.e., the less chance there is for rest, the more 
marked the decrement should be. And conversely, the less 
continuous the work, the less marked the decrement should 
be. That we are assuming this to be the case is evident from 
the fact that in our last paragraph we accounted for the 
absence of a decrement from some kinds of work by saying 
that that work must permit a certain amount of resting, 
even while the work seems to be going on. This relationship 


between the continuity of work and the decrement is, how- 
ever, considerably more than an assumption based upon 
casual observation. There is a well-known experiment 
performed by means of an apparatus called the ergograph 
(Fig. 20). The subject is required to lift a weight with 
one finger in a manner shown by the accompanying illus- 
tration. The lifts are made periodically at the beat of a 
metronome. Now with a fairly heavy weight, a subject who 
is required to perform the lifts at very frequent intervals 
intervals allowing scarcely any time for recovery will 
show a marked decrement in the height to which he can lift 
the weight. Indeed, he will shortly be unable to lift the 
weight at all. But lengthen the intervals between the lifts, 
and the same subject will show a much less marked decre- 
ment. With intervals of sufficient length, the subject will 
be able to lift the weight to its maximum height for an 
astonishing period of time. 

The practical bearing of this whole matter has been demon- 
strated in industry on any number of occasions. The 
establishment of regular rest periods throughout the working 
day often decreases the general decrement to a notable 
degree. Of course, these rest periods make the total working 
day shorter, but by virtue of their tendency to eliminate or 
minimize the decrement, the introduction of the rests may 
make the shorter day more productive than the longer one. 
One manager had workmen who were producing sixteen 
pieces an hour. He arranged a rest of five minutes every 
twenty-five minutes. As a consequence they produced 
eighteen pieces an hour, although the actual working hour 
was now only fifty minutes in length. Another manager 
more than doubled the number of rivets which his workers 
drove by putting in rest periods of two minutes duration 
every ten rivets. This result was achieved despite the fact 


that the actual working time was cut from ten hours to five 
hours and twenty minutes a day. 

Without being clearly conscious of it, the ordinary worker 
protects himself against too marked a decrement by adopting 
rest periods of more or less regularity. These periods may 
be so short as to be unnoticeable. They may consist merely 
in an intermittent slowing-down which allows for a con- 
siderable amount of recovery from "fatigue," without 
introducing apparent breaks into the continuity of the 

Decrement often more marked where work is simple. 
In the ergograph experiment the work performed is relatively 
simple. The finger to which the weight is attached is flexed 
over and over again at a fixed rate. Most of the tasks at 
which one works continuously for any length of time are 
much more complex. The baseball pitcher throws ball after 
ball, but there is variety in the manner of his throwing. In 
no two consecutive pitches does he employ exactly the same 
muscles in exactly the same way. To a limited extent there 
is variety in ergographic work, but that in pitching is more 
marked. When we consider the higher forms of intellectual 
work, we find even greater variety. A business man may 
dictate letters for three hours at a stretch, and yet there may 
be little repetition in that work. 

Now, when work is so complex that there is little repetition 
involved in it, we have what really amounts to discontinuity. 
The work of the pitcher or of the dictator of letters is con- 
tinuous in the sense that the pitching or dictating is continu- 
ous. But it is relatively discontinuous from the standpoint of 
the individual movements and the ideas which make up the 
complex activity. Since work which is continuous shows, 
as a rule, a more marked decrement than work which is less 
continuous, and since complex work involves the less con- 


tinuous operation of the simpler acts composing it, we 
should naturally expect a less marked decrement in complex 
work. In order to demonstrate this relationship, we should 
have to compare the decrements in a number of kinds of 
work which are alike save for the matter of simplicity or 
complexity. This situation has been attained by a labor- 
atory experiment. The subjects in this experiment per- 
formed one of two kinds of work continuously for a ten- 



5 10 15 20 


The broken lino represents the writing of a two-letter sequence The unbroken line rep- 
resents the writing of a six-letter sequence. The vertical axis bhows the number of letters 
written per one-half minute. The horizontal axis shows the successive half-minute periods 
of work 

minute period. They wrote repeatedly a two-letter sequence 
such as ab ab ab ab, or a six-letter sequence, such as abcdef 
abcdef. In Figure 21 are exhibited the work curves for 
the two tasks. The base line is divided into twenty parts to 
represent the successive half-minutes of the work. The 
height of the curve at each point shows the number of letters 
written during each half-minute period. Although, at the 
beginning, they were able to perform at the simpler task, i.e., 
at the task involving only two elements, as rapidly as at the 


more complex task, a much more marked decrement can 
be seen where the work was simpler. 

Decrement depends upon the kind of efficiency that is 
being measured. Continuous work has different effects 
upon different kinds of efficiency. Professor Thorndike 
conducted two experiments which illustrate this fact. In 
one case he had eighty-nine university students write poetry 
continuously for about four hours. The work consisted 
specifically of completing one hundred and eight couplets, 
the first lines of which are given. The following lines are 
samples of those used in the experiment: 

Glittering with ice here hoary hills are seen 

The fourth day rolled along arid with the night 

The couplets were divided into nine consecutive sets of 
twelve each. The quality of the sets was rated by several 
judges. The speed with which each set was completed was 
recorded. And each subject, as he completed a set of twelve 
couplets, estimated the enjoyment or satisfyingness of the 
work. The results show that so far as speed was concerned, 
efficiency improved during the four hours of writing. The 
quality of the work remained unchanged. But there was 
a decided falling off in satisfyingness. Iji a second experi- 
ment, twenty-nine people worked at grading compositions 
for approximately two hours. During this period of con- 
tinuous work the subjects lost much more in enjoyment 
obtained from the work than in speed or accuracy with which 
the work was done. 

In most cases of continuous work, enjoyment is the first 
thing to show a loss, quality or accuracy is next, and speed 
is least affected. There are exceptions, however. The 
existence of a great interest may make possible the enjoy- 


ment of work connected with that interest long after speed 
and accuracy have shown serious impairment. 

Causes of decrement in work curve only partly under- 
stood. All work, even that which we call intellectual, 
involves the activity of muscles and nerves. When any type 
of bodily tissue is active, a certain amount of energy available 
in that tissue is used up. If the activity is such that no 
opportunity is afforded for rebuilding the energy supplies 
that are dissipated during work, the capacity of the particular 
tissues concerned will, of course, be reduced. Undoubtedly 
the general decrement, as seen in some kinds of work, is 
partly to be explained in terms of this consumption of 
energy with its consequent lowering of working capacity. 
When the energy of muscles or nerves is utilized in work, 
there are produced certain chemical substances called ' ' fatigue 
products. " These products have a poisonous effect upon 
the tissues in which they are produced, and interfere with 
the proper activity of those tissues. This is a second factor 
which probably enters into most general decrements. A 
third factor is the discomfort which continuous work brings 
about. It is possible to make a subject who is hypnotized 
believe that he has no muscular pain, even though he has 
been performing a difficult muscular task. Under these 
conditions he will often continue with a task such as sup- 
porting a heavy weight long after the time when he would 
have given up if he had been aware of his '* feelings of fatigue/ 7 
It is common knowledge that an athlete, spurred on by the 
excitement of the contest, may ignore aches and pains which, 
under less distracting conditions, would interfere with his 
activity or put it to a complete stop. 

We began this section by saying that the causes of the 
general decrement are imperfectly understood, and then we 
proceeded to give three definite and important causes of this 



phenomenon. The limitations of our knowledge in this 
direction are clearly evident, however, when we attempt to 
tell just what part each of these causes plays in some specific 
decrement. The decrement shown in the ergograph experi- 
ment may be partly a matter of energy depletion. It may 
also involve the effects of "fatigue products " and of muscular 
pain. Yet we are unable to say how important these dif- 
ferent factors are. We are still less able to state the relative 
importance of these factors in decrements which occur in such 
complex activities as mental multiplication. 

Initial spurt occasionally shown by work curves. 
Although the general decrement is the most frequent feature 


5 10 15 20 25 30 

Courtesy of American Journal of Psychology 


The vortical axis represents the score on addition test The horizontal axis represents the 
successive half minutes of work. (From Chapman and Nolan, American Journal of Psychology, 

shown by the curve of work, there are other features frequent 
enough to be given special consideration. One of these is 
initial spurt. This may be defined as a high degree of effi- 
ciency present for a short time at the beginning of a period of 
continuous work. It is a degree of efficiency which for 


some reason the worker cannot maintain. The curve of 
Figure 22 shows such an effect in arithmetical work. The 
subjects of this experiment began with scores which they 
were able to maintain for only a few moments. After this 
initial spurt they dropped to a lower level of attainment 
which fell off very gradually. 

Curves showing initial spurt and curves showing a general 
decrement are both marked by a drop. The difference 
between them lies in the fact that the initial spurt is repre- 
sented by a suclden drop at the beginning of the work, while 
the general decrement is represented by a more gradual drop, 
such as those seen in the curves of Figure 18 and Figure 19. 
It would be perfectly possible to have a work curve showing 
both initial spurt and general decrement. In that case the 
curve would start at a high point and then drop rather 
suddenly to a lower level. After that there would be a 
more gradual falling off which would represent the general 

There are two explanations of initial spurt which are 
worthy of note. According to one of these, the worker 
tends at the beginning to overestimate his capacity. He 
soon realizes that he will quickly dissipate his energy if he 
does not lessen his effort. This he does and, as a result, his 
curve shows its early drop. According to another explana- 
tion, the worker at the beginning is fresh and his mind is free 
from anything which would tend to be confusing in the 
performance of his task. After a few moments, however, 
confusions begin to occur which have a decided effect upon 
his efficiency. It is easy to see how this might be true in 
arithmetical work. After having done one or two problems, 
it is as if the mind were full of numbers which get in each 
other's way. Of course, this is only a figurative way of stating 
the matter, but something like this often does take place. 



Warming-up is another feature of some curves of work. 

What is known as the warming-up effect is shown by a rise in 
the work curve. This rise occurs early in the work, though 
of course, if initial spurt were also present, the rise would 
not be apparent at the very beginning. In Figure 23 we 
have a work curve representing the continuous recitation of 
the alphabet backward for a period of twenty minutes by 








The vertical axis represents the number of letters recited in 30 seconds. The horizontal 
axis represents the successive 30-second periods of work These values represent the averages 
for four subjects (Adapted from Robinson and Heron, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 

a practiced subject. This curve shows neither initial spurt 
nor general decrement, but it most clearly does show warm- 

When one enters upon a given task for the first time on 
that day, his muscles are likely to be stiff, and even the in- 
tellectual activities concerned are likely to have a certain 


sluggishness. But after the work has been under way for a 
time, these handicaps are overcome. 

Some psychologists have questioned the importance of 
the warming-up effect, because work curves obtained from 
experimental investigations have in many cases failed to 
manifest this feature. This simply shows, however, that 
not all types of work and perhaps not all workers require this 
short period of adaptation every time a certain task is 
undertaken. There are other work curves which show the 
warming-up effect as plainly as does our Figure 23. And 
in the practical affairs of life this effect is assumed to be of 
very general occurrence. Of course, we must admit that 
few, if any, accurate tests have been made to ascertain just 
how prominent this phenomenon is in everyday life. Yet 
none of us would doubt that there is a genuine warming-up 
effect, at least in such predominantly muscular work as 
characterizes athletics. Only after he has thrown a number 
of balls is the pitcher capable of either maximum speed or 

End-spurt occurs only when worker knows work period 
is about completed. It frequently happens that there is a 
rise in the level of efficiency near the end of the work curve. 
This rise takes place only if the worker has some notion as 
to when his work will be completed. As he realizes that the 
end is near, he apparently settles down to his task with 
new interest and ardor. Perhaps the most important fact 
demonstrated by end-spurt is the degree to which the level 
of the work curve can be changed by the introduction of 
some additional incentive. 

Performance at one kind of work affects capacity for 
others. Up to the present we have been talking about 
the effects which continuous performance at one kind of 
work have upon the efficiency of that work itself. Thus it 


was the doing of mental multiplication that caused a general 
decrement in efficiency for mental multiplication (Fig. 19); 
it was the too energetic performance of arithmetical work 
that caused the falling off of the early high efficiency (Fig. 
22); and it was the actual recitation of the reversed 
alphabet that led to the increase in efficiency in that parti- 
cular work (Fig. 23). A moment's consideration makes 
clear, however, that efficiency in a given type of work is also 
capable of being affected by performance at other kinds of 
work. After a very long walk one may find himself too tired 
to read effectively, or after a strenuous day of trying to sell 
life insurance a salesman may be unable to play billiards 
with his usual accuracy. There is a possibility, too, that 
warming-up for one task may increase one's efficiency for 
certain others, although this case is not so familiar as that 
of the transfer of decrement from one task to another. 

There has been a good deal of thought about how working 
at one task may decrease efficiency for another. One 
theory was to the effect that the loss in efficiency which 
results from continuous work, i.e., the general decrement, is 
caused by the depletion of some general supply of energy at 
the worker's disposal. Whether continuous performance 
of one kind of work would affect efficiency for another 
would depend, then, simply upon the amount of this 
general supply of energy used on the first task. This 
theory is not acceptable, because there is no general energy 
supply which is drawn upon for all kinds of work. Each 
special kind of work utilizes energy stored up in the particular 
nerves and muscles involved in that work. 

There is a somewhat better theory, to the effect that loss of 
efficiency in one kind of work will carry over to another only 
to the extent to which the two tasks have certain features 
in common. For example, one psychologist found that the 


capacity to judge weights lifted by the right hand was lowered 
if the subject first tired out that hand by squeezing a metal 
grip. The capacity to judge these weights was not affected, 
though, by a half-hour spent in translating difficult German. 
It is evident that there was more in common between weight 
judging with the right hand and squeezing the grip with the 
same hand than there was between weight lifting and 
translation. The basis for some cases of transferred decre- 
ment is not i\early so plain, but this matter of the factors in 
common between two tasks must always be taken into 
account when seeking the explanation of how the continuous 
performance of one kind of work affects the efficiency of 
another kind. 

There are, of course, some types of activity which involve 
almost every part of the body. This is true of violent 
physical exercise and emotional excitement. Prolonged 
activity of these types is likely to leave one in such a con- 
dition that any kind of work is difficult. 


Efficiency determined by work methods. We have 
already seen how the method of procedure in a given task 
affects the rate of learning and the limits of improvement. 
But, leaving aside the question of learning, the method of 
work still has an important bearing upon efficiency. Every 
one of us has better and worse methods of performing at 
the same task. Sometimes we employ a better method and 
sometimes a poorer one, and our efficiency varies accordingly. 

For most tasks there is one speed of work that will result 
in a greater degree of accuracy than will other speeds. 
Ordinarily we assume that the greatest accuracy is attained 
where the work is performed very slowly. This may be 
true when the work is highly complicated. It is not true 


when the work is relatively simple. An experiment was 
carried out in which the subjects were required to judge 
the differences between pairs of lifted weights and also the 
differences between the lengths of different lines. The 
results show that these comparisons were made most accu- 
rately at a medium speed. Accuracy was low when the work 
was done too slowly, as it also was when it was done too 
rapidly. Anyone who has ever fired a rifle knows that there 
is an optimal time for aiming. Poor shooting may result 
from aiming either for too long or for too short a time. 

Speed is only one of many elements in the method of work. 
We may try harder to succeed at one time than at another, 
and this fact is also capable of affecting efficiency. The 
situation here is something like that in the case of speed. A 
medium degree of effort is often better than too much or too 
little effort. Many a task is poorly performed because the 
worker is too anxious or riot anxious enough to do well. 
The rhythm with which work is done, the particular muscles 
used, and the direction of the worker's attention are other 
factors of method which have their effects upon efficiency. 

The worker's surroundings determine his efficiency. 
In an earlier chapter (p. 103) we showed how learning can 
be affected by distractions. This is true also of tasks at 
which our efficiency is no longer improving with practice. 

The influence of surrounding conditions can best be con- 
sidered by a classification of those conditions. We are at all 
times acted upon by a large number of stimuli. Some of 
these are vital to the performance of the work at hand. The 
objects in the street, the "feel" of the steering wheel and 
the brake are essential elements in the environment of the 
chauffeur. So long as he is affected by these things, efficient 
driving is possible. But anything that acts to cut off these 
vital factors will seriously interfere with his ability to drive. 


There are always present other factors also that have no 
such evident relationship to his work of driving. Among 
these are the talk of the passengers in the back seat, the 
sights along the sides of the street, and so on. If he is 
accustomed to these relatively extraneous factors, they 
may not interfere with his work; they may even be of a 
certain amount of assistance. On the other hand, he may 
tend to react to them in a way which disturbs the efficiency 
of his driving. In that event we speak of them as distracting 

Motives determine efficiency. When a worker who has 
been performing at one level of efficiency for some time 
realizes that the end of his work is approaching, he is likely, 
as we have seen, to increase his efficiency. The knowledge 
that he is about through supplies him with a new interest in 
the task. Now anything that can strengthen our interest 
in the work we are doing can similarly bring about an increase 
in efficiency, unless, of course, we are already working at the 
limit of our capacity. The fact of the matter is, however, 
that we rarely are working even near the limit of our capacity. 
For this reason, new and stronger motives for doing well 
almost always have some effect. 

It would be quite impossible to list all of the motives which 
are capable of affecting human efficiency. There are as 
many motives capable of affecting performance at any task 
as there are interests which can be brought into relationship 
with that task. There are certain motives that have very 
widespread effects. Among these are rivalry and financial 
gain. There are others which are more temporary and 
which are chiefly effective for a limited number of tasks. 

With strong enough motives great difficulties can be 
surmounted. Nowhere has the effectiveness of strong 
motivation been better illustrated than in psychological 


experiments which have been conducted for the purpose of 
discovering the influence upon efficiency of certain unwhole- 
some conditions, such as loss of sleep and starvation. The 
subjects of these experiments have felt the deprivation of 
sleep or food, and in their casual reactions they have shown 
that their efficiency was being affected. But when they 
have been subjected to formal laboratory tests (when, for 
instance, they have been called upon to work at mental 
multiplication), they have demonstrated the most astonishing 
ability to pull themselves together. Several experiments 
were conducted a short time ago in which persons went 
without sleep for several days. At the end of that time they 
felt badly and in their conversation and other ordinary 
activities they made many slips, but when put to a difficult 
task, where they knew their performance was to be scored, 
they worked as well as usual. 

The power of strong motivation has similarly appeared 
where workers, in their enthusiasm, have overcome the 
handicaps of poor health. Many a brilliant career in art, 
science, and business has been possible only because the 
desire to do well has enabled the worker to overcome great 

There is some danger of underestimating the importance 
of poor health and unwholesome habits merely because of the 
fact that we have such a capacity for surmounting difficulties. 
We may be as able as ever to do the day's work after having 
gone without sleep, or during a period of bad health, but 
there are definite limits to what mere motivation will ac- 
complish. If we deprive ourselves of proper rest habitually, 
there are likely to be long-run effects which cannot be so 
easily overcome. Furthermore, we can look at it in this 
way: Even though a man handicapped by bad health may 
work efficiently, his efficiency will be attained only at the 


expense of greater effort. And no mechanic would consider 
it good policy to run his engine at full speed to accomplish 
what it ought to accomplish at half speed. 


1. Although the growth and decay of habits are responsible 
for much of the variation which occurs in human efficiency, 
there are other factors of first-rate importance. There are, 
in other words, influences which affect the operation of 
habits as well as influences which affect their acquisition and 

2. Efficiency has different meanings. Accuracy or quality, 
speed, and ease of performance are important ones. These 
meanings of efficiency do not merely stand for some ultimate 
kind of efficiency which lies behind them. They are, them- 
selves, real efficiencies. 

3. Accuracy, speed, and ease of performance are general 
rather than special kinds of efficiencies. Each of the terms, 
accuracy, speed, and ease of performance, has many special 
meanings according to the type of work considered. 

4. The work curve represents the changes which take place 
in efficiency as a result of continuous performance at the 
same task. The most frequent fact indicated by such 
curves is a loss in efficiency known as the general decrement 
or "fatigue" effect. 

5. The amount of decrement which a given period of work 
will produce depends upon the continuity of the work, its 
simplicity, and the particular meaning of efficiency con- 
sidered. In general, the more continuous and the more 
simple the work, the more marked the decrement. As a rule, 
satisfyingness is lost before accuracy, and accuracy dim- 
inishes earlier than speed. 

6. There are several factors which probably enter into the 


production of the general decrement. Continuous work 
may utilize supplies of energy in the body tissues faster than 
these can be rebuilt again. In the consumption of these 
energy supplies there are produced certain waste products 
which may have a poisonous effect upon tissues and diminish 
the efficiency of their action. And there are also produced 
by continuous work sensations and feelings which render 
further performance extremely disagreeable and difficult. 
Our knowledge about the relative importance of these 
different factors is vague. 

7. The work curve sometimes shows an extraordinarily 
high level at its very beginning. This is known as initial 
spurt. It may be due to a tendency of the worker to over- 
estimate his actual capacity, or to the fact that, at the 
beginning of the period, his mind is fairly free of anything 
which would interfere with his performance. 

8. While not all work curves indicate a warming-up or 
early rise in efficiency, many show this effect clearly. Warm- 
ing-up is essentially a matter of getting settled to the work. 
It is a phenomenon which is very generally recognized in 
everyday life. 

9. End spurt is a rise in efficiency at the very end of the 
work period. It is dependent upon the worker's knowing 
that the work period is approaching a close, and its chief 
importance lies in the illustration it affords of what the 
entrance of a new motive can do to the level of efficiency. 

10. The continuous performance at one task will affect 
our performance, not only at that task, but at certain others 
as well. The transfer with which we are most familiar is of 
the general decrement. The possibility of such transfer has 
been explained by some as due to the dependence of all 
work upon some general source of energy. This theory is 
untenable, because the energy used in work is drawn from 


the tissues actually involved in that work. This means 
that there can be a transfer of "fatigue" only when two 
kinds of work involve certain factors in common. 

11. Efficiency is, of course, affected by factors other 
than continuous work. Prominent among these are the 
method of working, the surroundings, the motives for 
working, and the health and general fitness of the worker. 


1. The efficiency with which you road this chapter will depend upon 
how much psychology you have already learned and upon how much of 
that subject you have forgotten. Upon what other factors will it depend? 

2. What determines whether accuracy, speed, or ease of performance 
will be considered the most important meaning of efficiency for a given 

kind of work? 

3. Cite a case where accuracy is more important than speed for a 
certain task performed under one set of conditions and speed more 
important than accuracy for the same task performed under different 

4. Let each student have before him on his desk six to eight large 
sheets of paper. These should be numbered consecutively, and in the 
experiment to follow they should be piled according to number and used 
according to number. Let each student also have two pencils with good 
points, but not points which are so sharp as to be easily broken. The 
class is to be divided into halves. When the instructor .says, "(Jo!", one 
half of the class will write as fast as possible abababababab and so on, and 
the other half will write abcdefabcdcf and so on. The writing will continue 
for ten minutes, after which the instructor will say "Stop!" During the 
writing the instructor will say, "Now!" at the expiration of each half- 
minute and each student will thereupon draw a line through his writing 
at the point he has reached. Plot from the results two work curves, one 
showing the average number of letters written by one half of the class in 
each of the successive half-minutes of work, and the other showing the 
performance of the other half of the class. Interpret these curves. 

5. Can you think of any other factors which may determine the amount 
of decrement in a curve of work besides the continuity of the work, its 
simplicity, and the meaning of efficiency considered? 

6. Why do you suppose that hard "intellectual" work shows a less 
marked decrement than hard "muscular" work? For instance, an oars- 


man who started rowing at top speed and who tried to continue this for 
twelve hours would show a much greater loss in efficiency than was shown 
by Miss Arai, a psychologist, who worked as fast as she was able for the 
same length of time on the mental multiplication of four-place by 
four-place numbers. 

7. Which is considered the more* important factor in athletic per- 
formances, initial spurt or warming-up? What bearing upon this question 
has the fact that baseball players practice before the game? 

(S. Why would it be impossible to have end spurt if the worker had no 
idea of when the work period was to end? 

9. Which would affect one's ability more widely, listening to a lecture 
until bored or running until badly out of breath? Why? 

10. What are some of the motives which are capable of affecting almost 
anything you do? What are some which are capable of affecting only a 
limited number of your activities? 


Readings in General Psychology, Oh. XXII, Selection 1, p. 638 ff. 
Coriat, Abnormal Psychology, pp. 88-96; or Readings, Ch. XXII, 
Selection 2, p. 658 ff. 







1. How do wo learn to know what is going on around us? 

2. To what sorts of things do we pay attention? 

In Part II we dealt with habit. We showed how ex- 
perience modifies, sometimes for better and sometimes for 
worse, every type of human activity. In the remainder 
of this book we shall not forget for one moment that habit 
formation is fundamental throughout the whole domain of 
psychology. But we shall turn now from the general 
principles of learning to some special types of human activity. 

One special type of activity is overt bodily movement, the 
sort of movement that can be readily observed. We shall 
not, however, give overt bodily movement any special treat- 
ment in the pages to come, for the reason that this subject 
has already had fairly full discussion in the chapters on 
habit formation and learning. 

Another special type of activity is knowing or cognition. 
Knowing is of two basic types. One of these is called 
perception. It is the knowing of objects and events which 
are, at the time of our knowing them, acting upon our sense- 
organs. Perception will be the main topic of the two 
chapters which make up Part III. The other type of 



knowing is called ideation. It is an activity in which we 
are able to know objects and events even though they are 
not at the time acting upon our organs of sense. Part IV 
is reserved for the treatment of ideation. 


Perception is going on during all waking hours. Except 
when asleep or absorbed in thought, we are perceiving 
something or other. Scarcely had I opened my eyes this 
morning when 1 perceived the cloudiness of the sky. Then 
I turned my eyes toward the clock and perceived that it was 
seven. A moment later 1 perceived that I was still in bed. 
And so it goes through the day. I perceive the balmy 
autumn breeze, the people going by, the sounds of the 
chimes floating out from the chapel tower, the cramp in my 
arm held too long in one position, and, at noon, the fact that 
I am hungry. 

As I pass from the perception of one thing to that of 
another, the transition is usually not sharp. One act of 
perception fades gradually into the next. Look at a coin for 
several moments. If you observe yourself carefully, you 
will see that you have not made a single prolonged per- 
ception. First you perceive the coin as a half-dollar, then 
you perceive the figure on it, then its roughened edge, then 
its date; and these acts of perception so run into each other 
that you are unable to tell precisely when one act of percep- 
tion begins and the other leaves off. 

Perception is active understanding. A few moments 
ago I heard a clanking and roaring. I perceived this noise 
as that of a steam shovel operating a block away. In order 
to account for this perception we must realize, first of all, 
that this sound acted upon the sense-organs of hearing which 
are in the ear. From the ears nerve impulses must have 


We had chocolate pudding for dinner. Late in the after- 
noon, I went to the refrigerator and got out a bowl of 
the pudding. I put sugar and cream on it and began to 
eat it. I was swallowing the first mouthful when I noticed 
that something was wrong. Immediately what I had in 
my mouth tasted salty and greasy, and I realized that it 
was gravy. I cannot say that it tasted just like the pudding 
before this, but it had certainly tasted much more like it 
than it had like gravy. 

In each of these cases we have two perceptions, a first one 
which proves false and a second one which proves correct. 
The difference between the false and the correct perception is 
not, however, simply between the meanings attached to sense 
data under different conditions. There is also a marked dif- 
ference between the apparent nature of the sense data, them- 
selves. The snow looked blue while it was considered to be 
smoke, but the blue faded out when the perceiver realized 
that he was looking at snow. The gravy did not taste a bit 
like gravy until the perceiver realized that it was gravy. 

Perceptual reactions are habits. Consider for a moment 
that you are looking at a closed book for the first time in your 
life and that previously you have never even heard of a book. 
What would your perception be like? One thing is clear, 
and that is that you would not perceive the object before 
you as a book. If you had had considerable experience with 
solid blocks you might perceive the book as solid. If, on the 
other hand, you had had considerable experience with small 
boxes, the chances are that you would perceive the book as 
hollow. And, finally, if your experience had not yet taught 
you the distinction between solidness and hollowness, you 
would not perceive the book as possessing either quality. 
Knowing a book when you see one is an intellectual habit, 
acquired like any other habit, as a result of definite past 



We all have such firmly fixed habits in regard to books 
that it is somewhat difficult for us to conceive of ourselves 
as ever having been unable to perceive such things. But 
there is evidence of another sort which proves equally well 
that what we are able to perceive depends upon experience 
and training. " Among different persons viewing the same 
point in a landscape under exactly similar outward con- 
ditions/' says Professor Seashore, "the 
botanist sees the cause for the shape of 
the overhanging trees, the artist sees 
effective shadows for the setting of a 
sketch, the carpenter sees a good loca- 
tion for a cottage, the farmer sees the 
rich clover going to waste, and the 
summer girl sees the location for a 
romance/' 1 He goes on to quote an- 
other author who is discussing the 
different ways in which different people 
perceive an irregular ink-blot. "To the 
hunter it is a beaver or a woodchuck; to 
the naturalist, a hedgehog or a flounder, 
according as his mind has been directed 
to land animals or fish; to the mason, a 
trowel; to the keeper of pets, an Angora 
cat." 2 The proper conclusion to be 
drawn from these facts is that our manner of perceiving 
things is as much the result of particular experiences as is 
our skating or typewriting. 

Another good illustration comes from the blind. You 
have probably heard it said that blind people have a re- 
markably keen sense of touch and that they can judge things 

FIG. 21 

1 Elementary Experiments in Psychology, p. 146 (Henry Holt and Company). 

2 Ibid. 


by their "feel" in a way that would be impossible for most 
of us. Now, it is interesting that the actual sense-organs in 
the skin of the blind man's fingers are no more sensitive than 
those of the rest of us. But lack of eyesight has forced the 
blind man to utilize touch to a great degree. As a result of 
this special training, he has gained an unusual capacity to 
interpret minute details about the "feel" of objects which 
seeing people have never learned to notice. 

Illusions are sometimes due to habits of perception. 
Although, as a rule, our habits of perception make us better 
able to size up situations promptly and efficiently, they 
sometimes lead us astray. Out upon the water we learn 
to perceive the distant, hazy, white object as a sail, but 
one of these days it turns out to be a cloud. Dr. Breese 
had an experience the general principle of which has prob- 
ably been illustrated in the lives of all of us. "Several 
years ago I was very much annoyed for several weeks by 
the explosions of dynamite, which was being used to blast 
out the rock for a sewer on the avenue in front of the Uni- 
versity. A year after the work was completed I was startled 
one day by hearing an explosion of dynamite directly in front 
of the University building. I immediately went to the win- 
dow to see if the work had recommenced on the sewer line, 
but I was unable to locate any workmen on the street. It 
was empty. Within the next half-hour I distinctly heard 
several explosions, I was, however, unable to account for 
them until I discovered that the sounds that I had perceived 
as explosions came from a French casement window which 
had been opening and closing in the wind. m Thus the habit, 
established a year before, of perceiving loud sounds as 
dynamite explosions led the perceiver to misinterpret the 
sound of the slamming window. 

1 Psychology, p. 199 (Charles Scribners Sons). 



Off at the side of my workroom there is a square-topped 
table. From where I sit the table looks, as it really is, 
perfectly square. If, however, I should draw a picture of 
the table, as viewed from where I sit, and if I should 
represent the corner angles by right angles, the table would 
appear all out of shape. Very young children do represent 
by a right angle any angle that is perceived as a right angle, 
and we all know how distorted their drawings appear. 
From where I sit two of the angles of the table top come to 
me as obttise angles 
and the other two 
as acute angles. 1 
perceive them all as 
right angles because 
past experience has 
taught me that 
obtuse and acute 
angles seen as these 
are seen are really 
right angles. This 
illusion of perceiving 
certain acute and 
certain obtuse angles as right angles differs from Dr. Breese's 
explosion illusion in that everybody experiences it. Most 
people have not had and never will have a tendency to per- 
ceive all loud sounds as dynamite explosions, because they 
have not had sufficient experience with dynamiting. Every- 
one who can see, on the other hand, soon has enough ex- 
perience with angles to set up the table-top illusion and 
many others similar to it. 

These illusions, that everybody can be counted upon to 
have, serve useful purposes in the theater and in drawing and 
painting. Experience gives us the habit of perceiving deep, 

TIo\v many angles of (his table top look like right angles? 
How many aro actually light angloa? 



prolonged, rumbling noises as thunder. If a similar sound 
is produced by metal plates behind the scenes, it does very 
well as thunder. Experience has taught us to perceive a 
shower of white particles as snow. A shower of white 
paper on the stage, therefore, does very well as a snowstorm. 

Experience has 
taught us that when 
the edges of a side- 
walk, let us say, 
tend to come closer 
and closer together, 
it is not because 
they actually do 
converge, but rather 
because they are 
getting farther and 
farther from the eye. 
This principle can 
be taken advantage 
of in drawing. The 
edges of the walk 

and the seams on 
the side wall in 
Figure 2(5 actually 
do converge, but we 
are so accustomed 
to perceive converg- 
ing lines as receding 
into the distance that we interpret the lines in this drawing 
in the same way. Experience has taught us that although 
certain objects are actually the same size, the nearer ones 
appear larger. We allow for this in perception. The posts 
in Figure 26 are in reality of the same height, though the 


(Reprinted by permission from Luokeish, Visual Illusion* ) 



more distant one is perceived as larger than the other two. 
If it were really more distant it would have to be larger 
than the other two in order to make the same impression on 
the eye. 

We perceive what we expect to perceive. Figure 27 
can readily be perceived as the head of a rabbit or as that of 
a duck. If we have in mind a rabbit as we look at the figure, 
we perceive the rab- 
bit's heac(; but if 
we have a duck in 
mind, we perceive a 
duck. Figure 28 is 
at first perceived as 
a brain, but if one 
is told that it is a 
group of infants he 
will readily perceive 
it as such. Most 
children when they 
look at the full 
moon, expect to see 
the front view of a 
face, and that is 
exactly what they 
do see. It is a well-known fact, however, that there is also 
a side or profile view of a face which can be seen in the 
moon, if one expects to see it. Thus we perceive what we 
expect to perceive; that is, our perception depends upon 
the general state of mind we are in. 

One day, just as I was coming out of a drug store, I saw 
two men pass immediately before me. They were running. 
A moment later I saw a large red flame beside a motor truck 
which was standing in the street. Naturally I was puzzled 

Fid. 27. AND WHAT is Tins? 

(Drawn from Fhegende Blatter.) 


and, as I looked more closely, I realized that the flame wa 
simply a splash of sunshine on the side of the red truck 
Now what was the caiise of my first erroneous perception 
Of course there is, after all, a remote resemblance between j 
red surface and a flame. But there were many facts whicl 
were apparently against the flame interpretation. Fo 
instance, the "flame," as I perceived it, was coming righ 
out of the cement pavement. Evidently something mus 

FIG. 28. WHAT Do You SEE? 

(Drawn by R. Gudden; taken from Titchener, Textbook of Psychology.) 

have influenced me to perceive the red splash as flame, 
Probably the determining factor was the state of mind thai 
I was in as my eyes turned upon the truck. Two men had 
just passed me. They were on the run, which is slightly 
unusual for men in a city street. When one sees grown 
people running he is quite likely to think of fire, robbery, 
and other matters of that type. Now, so far as I remember 3 
I did not consciously ask myself w r hether these men were 


running to a fire, but, having seen them running, I was 
prepared to entertain ideas about fires. This readiness 
was in all probability the real reason why my perception 
took the form it did. 

Expectation plays an important part in determining the 
nature of perception, especially when the sights or sounds 
that confront us are of such a doubtful nature that they may 
be interpreted in any one of a number of different ways. 
That was true of the rabbit head (Fig. 27) and it is also 
true of the staircase of Figure 29. The lines in the latter 
figure will represent either a staircase viewed from above or 
one viewed from below, and which of these two is perceived 
is governed to a marked extent by what one expects to see. 
We have all experienced the illusion that the railroad car 
in which we are seated is moving, when what is actually 
moving is the train on the next track. When we look out 
of the car window in such a way as to see only the moving 
cars of the train on the next track, the impression made 
upon our eyes is the same impression as that which would 
be made if our car were moving and those on the next track 
stationary. Under such circumstances we could perceive 
ourselves as moving or the other train as moving. The 
probable reason why we usually perceive our own car as the 
moving one is that we are actively expecting it to move at 
any time, while we are thinking scarcely at all about whether 
or not the other train is going to pull out. 

There is an old saying that he who goes around looking 
for trouble is sure to find it. Knowing, as we do, what a 
great effect expectation has upon perception, we can well 
understand why this is so. The " touchy" individual who 
is in constant dread of being slighted will read a slight into 
the best-intentioned actions of those about him. The 
opposite extreme to the touchy person is also interesting. 


He is the individual who is blessed (or cursed) with per- 
petual confidence that others simply cannot help but com- 
pliment him. Always expecting compliments, he perceives 


Docs this represent the upper 01 the under aide of a stairway? 

them in every reference made to himself. Such individuals 
are almost incapable of being insulted. 

But expectation does not always produce illusory or false 
perceptions. There are certain kinds of situations where, 


it is vitally important for accurate perception to take place 
without a moment's hesitation. The physician, the fireman, 
the soldier, the sea captain, and the business executive face 
some conditions which simply cannot be reasoned about. 
Their nature must be perceived at once. The physician, 
therefore, must be on the lookout for disease, the fireman for 
the collapsing wall, the soldier for the surprise attack, and 
the business executive for the source of financial loss, so 
that these things, when they do occur, can be appreciated 
without delay. 

While perceiving we are aware of only a part of that 
process. When we wish to account for why we perceive 
Figure 27 as a rabbit's head, we have to take into con- 
sideration the fact that we have previously seen rabbits and 
pictures of rabbits. Without our present attitude and past 
training our perception would not be what it is. It is natural 
to suppose that when we are perceiving, we are consciously 
comparing present sense impressions with past experience and 
with what we were expecting. Nevertheless, self-observation 
fails to reveal any such conscious comparisons. At the 
moment of perceiving we are aware that what we perceive 
is a rabbit's head, but we are not aware of past experience 
with similar objects or of our state of expectancy just before 
perceiving. A certain kind of past experience and, some- 
times, of expectancy, are necessary before we can perceive 
a rabbit's head, an orange, a sunset, or anything else; but 
that does not mean that we are conscious of them while we 
are perceiving. 

It is one of the virtues of perception that it is affected by 
our past training without our needing consciously to run 
over all of that past training. Suppose that every time an 
old friend appeared, one had to recall consciously all pre- 
vious meetings with him before one could accurately perceive 


that it was a friend. Think how much time it would require 
to be an intelligent person! As it is, those past meetings 
have their effect-, and without one's stopping to recall their 
previous occurrence. 

Sometimes past experience does not act so smoothly and 
unconsciously; sometimes one does have to stop and think 
where he has seen this object or person before. This is 
usually where the past experience has been superficial. 
Where one has had much experience with a particular object 
or person, one perceives immediately and does not have to 
stop and think. 

In order to attain great skill in any walk of life, it is 
necessary for a man to learn to perceive many things, to 
know them when he meets them without having to stop 
and figure out what they are. The expert silk dealer can 
evaluate a fabric immediately upon feeling it and the expert 
cattle dealer knows a good steer almost at a glance. Of 
course it takes time before one can know the nature of a 
complex object or situation at once arid without much 
thinking, but such ability is worth the time it takes to 
acquire. When you were first learning to read you had to 
stop and think about almost every word. But now that you 
have attained skill in reading, you are able to take in whole 
phrases and sentences in a single act of perception. As a 
consequence you can read faster, and you therefore have the 
time at your disposal to consider the meaning of what you 
read and to wrestle with the problems that are really difficult 
enough to deserve thought. The same is true of the daily 
tasks of the man in a profession or business. It is only 
because he has learned to perceive, to take in at a glance, 
so to speak, most of the things that come up during the 
day, that he has the time and energy necessary for thinking 
about his more difficult problems. 


How much can we perceive at once? As I sit here at 
my desk, I clearly perceive the typewriter before me. In a 
vague way I am aware of the presence of the desk upon which 
the typewriter rests, of the feel of my feet resting upon the 
floor, of the light just above and to my left, of the slight noise 
of someone moving about in the next room, but these I can 
scarcely be said to perceive. I sense them, I am faintly 
affected by their presence, but I do not at the moment 
actively knpw what they are. Of course I can perceive each 
of these in turn ; the point is simply that, at the moment of 
perceiving the typewriter, I am not also perceiving all the 
other objects affecting my senses at the same time. 

We have seen that a single act of perception is limited in 
scope. It does not take in everything in our immediate 
vicinity. But how much can it take in? That is a question 
which has been raised many, many times. Experiments 
have been conducted to settle it, and we may do well to 
examine one of them. The experimenter has printed on a 
white card the following group of letters : 


He covers this card with another card and tells his subject to 
watch closely. Suddenly he, uncovers the group of letters 
just long enough for the subject to have a momentary glance 
at them. Then the subject writes down as many of the 
letters as he is able to perceive. You may be sure that, at 
most, he is able to write down only a very few of them. 
Now the experimenter has still another card upon which are 
written the same letters, but in a somewhat different order. 
Let us say that the order is as follows : 


This card is exposed in the same way as the first and the 
subject is again asked to write down the letters he was able 


to perceive. This time he is almost sure to write all of 

The experiment we have just considered tells us a good 
deal about how many things can be perceived at once. It 
tells us that the number of things which can be perceived at 
once is great when those things are arranged as we are 
accustomed to having them, and that the number of things 
which can be perceived at once is small when they are 
grouped together in some unusual way. This does not hold 
for letters alone. If one glanced at a familiar machine 
which had been taken apart, his perception of it would be 
fragmentary and inadequate. In the same length of time, 
however, a very good perception could be had of the ma- 
chine in an assembled state. 

Philadelphia is perceived promptly and accurately in a 
single act of perception, because we are familiar with that 
grouping of letters. liaedlhappfd requires a number of 
distinct acts of perception, because we are unfamiliar with it. 
From this we can see that it is experience and experience 
alone which can increase our capacities to perceive. We 
came to the conclusion that the man of great skill in any 
walk of life must, as a result of experience, have learned 
to perceive the nature of situations that the less skillful 
are required to think about in order to identify. In 
the development of intellectual skill it is necessary to do 
more than to acquire the capacity to size up a wide variety of 
situations at a glance. It is necessary to acquire the capacity 
to take in at a glance situations of great complexity. Al- 
though almost all grown people in this country are able to 
read, some are very much more efficient readers than others/, 
Perhaps the main reason for this is that some are able to take 
in perceptually larger groups of words than others. Inefficient 
readers often pronounce to themselves every word that they 


read, whereas efficient readers comprehend a whole phrase or 
sentence in a single act of perception. The same sort of 
difference exists between the efficient and inefficient in many 
other lines of endeavor. The skilled football player, chauf- 
feur, banker, and lawyer are able to take in at a glance highly 
complex situations. As we have said, this kind of capacity, 
like most others, requires experience and training for its 
development. A complex situation must be met again and 
again before we can hope to take it in at a glance. 


Perception and attention are closely related. When I 
want to perceive a printed page, a voice, or any other object or 
occurrence, I pay attention to it. Without paying attention 
to an object I cannot perceive it clearly. This attending 
to an object means getting oneself into a condition where 
the object is best able to have an effect. Consider the 
case of looking at the coin. First you pay attention to 
the object as a whole and you perceive it as a half-dollar. 
Then you pay attention in turn to its roughened edge, its 
date, and so on. Under these circumstances the shifts in 
attention, which bring about the perception of first one and 
then another thing about the coin, are mainly shifts in the 
focus of the eyes. The eyes focus upon different parts of the 
coin, and each fixation makes possible a new act of percep- 
tion. But one can pay attention to sounds as well as sights, 
and it is not possible to focus the ears in quite the same way 
in which one focusses the eyes. Still, there are a number of 
things that can be done to make one ready to perceive 
sounds. One can sit quietly and make a mental preparation 
to hear. One can think about the voice one is listening 
for, and that in itself will, as we have seen, aid in the act 
of perception. Similarly one can prepare to perceive a 


touch upon the skin, the taste of a morsel, or the odor of a 

While we are considering attention, it should be said that 
paying attention prepares the way for reasoning, imagining, 
and remembering as well as for perceiving. We may so direct 
our attention that thoughts of the past or future completely 
dominate us and we are practically unconscious of what 
is affecting our sense-organs. The genius in literature or 
scientific pursuits has been pictured as a man who is usually 
very absent-minded. In other words, his attention is 
accustomed to take a direction favoring a ready flow of 
thought and making him relatively unmindful of the com- 
monplace objects and events about him to which most of us 
would be quite ready to give attention. 

Attention is continually shifting. Under ordinary condi- 
tions, as soon as a clear perception of an object has taken 
place, attention shifts in such a way as to bring about the 
perception of something else. That something else may be 
another object or, as in the case of the coin, another char- 
acteristic of the same object. When I look out of the window 
for some time, my attention shifts without effort from a 
tennis court to the brown autumn lawn, then to the white 
flagstaff in the center of the campus, then to the great towers 
of the university library, then to a roof just beneath me, and 
finally to the hissing steam in the power house, which I have 
been sensing all this time but not attending to and con- 
sequently not perceiving. When I look at the chair on the 
other side of my workroom, my attention just as naturally 
shifts from the leather seat to the back, then to the braces 
that hold the back in place, then to the legs, then to the braces 
that make them staunch, and so on, until I exhaust the 
possibilities of the chair or until something more striking 
compels me to turn my attention in a new direction. 


Even when one is concentrating, as we say, his attention is 
continually shifting from one thing to another, but each 
thing attended to in that case is related to some one problem. 
The rapt attention of the art critic concentrating upon a 
fine picture is shifting rapidly from one feature of the work 
to another. The attention of the man concentrating upon 
how best to invest a sum of money is shifting from the 
thought of one security to that of another. The attention 
of the art critic, however, does not turn upon persons 
objects, or occurrences that are unconnected with the 
picture upon which he is concentrating, nor does that of the 
investor turn upon thoughts unrelated to the question of 
how he is to invest his money. When we concentrate, our 
attention is as shifting as ever, but it shifts from one object 
or thought to other closely related objects or thoughts. 

If one tries to prevent attention from shifting, he readily 
observes, in the difficulty of his task, the strength of the 
shifting tendency. If one keeps his eyes focussed upon an 
object, such as a letter or a simple geometrical form, for some 
length of time, that in itself is no guarantee that attention 
will remain upon the object. In all likelihood one will at 
least think of something besides the object being looked at. 

Under certain conditions and with certain subjects the 
natural shifting of attention can be checked. A person who 
has sufficient self-control can concentrate for a long period 
upon a point of light, upon a monotonous sound, or upon 
images of sheep jumping a fence. But while attention can 
be maintained for some time upon a single object, the per- 
ception of that object cannot be held in a stationary con- 
dition. As soon as a perception is clear it tends to break 
down. If one stares at a familiar word and abstains from 
wandering thoughts, the word soon appears empty and 
devoid of meaning. Under more extreme conditions the 


prolonged attention to a single simple object results in 
breaking down temporarily all mental activity. That is to 
say, the subject falls asleep. We have here an explanation 
of why persons afflicted with insomnia are advised to count 
imaginary sheep or in some other manner to restrict that 
natural shifting of the attention which is necessary for 
active experience. Hypnosis, which is a kind of sleep, is 
also induced by restricting the subject's attention. 

There is little difficulty in understanding the importance 
of a shifting attention. The individual is at every moment 
surrounded by a multitude of objects and occurrences. His 
ability to keep adapted to his complicated surroundings is 
greatly facilitated by the fact that, just as soon as one 
element in his environment is fully appreciated, his attention 
almost invariably shifts to another. 

Experience affects attention. Our attention turns natur- 
ally and with little or no feeling of effort to any object that 
affects our senses vigorously. The bright light, the loud 
sound, the strong taste or odor is no sooner present than 
we turn our attention toward it. Such an object compels 
our attention even more powerfully if it comes suddenly and 
by itself. In the still of night a slight sound commands our 
attention, while, amid the many noises of the daylight hours, 
such a sound would be completely neglected. Ordinarily 
the sudden boom of a single cannon draws our full attention, 
but the soldier on the field of battle is likely to pay attention 
only to a cannon shot of unusual loudness. 

We do not have to learn to give our attention to bright 
lights, loud sounds, strong odors, and the like. It seems to be 
born in us to pay attention to these things. We can, how- 
ever, learn to disregard many objects which at first strongly 
attract our attention. I occasionally drive on a street over 
which are the tracks of an elevated electric railway. Now, 


really there is no use paying attention to the trains which, 
every so often, go crashing along overhead. Yet, just 
because they make such a dreadful racket, I do pay attention 
to them. This is a handicap in driving; the street itself is 
a crowded place and deserves one's complete attention. 
But those who drive along that thoroughfare every day do 
not pay attention, as I do, to the trains on the overhead 
track. They have had sufficient experience to teach them 
to disregard everything but what is going on in the street 
itself. Doubtless there was a time when they gave attention 
to the noise of the elevated as naturally as I do now. 

Odd and unfamiliar objects also tend to catch our atten- 
tion. Many a man, surrounded by distracting duties and 
responsibilities, has fled to the country or to another city 
where he can think out some problem without the usual dis- 
turbances of everyday life. But having got there, he is 
very likely to be less able than ever to concentrate upon his 
own thoughts. There are too many odd and unfamiliar 
objects making demands upon 'his attention. The most 
sequestered country nook makes great demands upon 
attention unless we are accustomed to its peculiar sights 
and sounds. At one time, when I had a long Latin poem to 
translate, I tried to do the work while seated in a canoe 
drifting down a quiet river. It seemed as if one should be 
able to study more effectively in such peaceful surroundings 
than in a library in a city apartment where trolley cars were 
constantly rumbling past. That this was not the case is an 
easy guess from what has already been said. Although one 
naturally turns his attention toward noises, I had become 
accustomed to the sound of trolley cars and usually paid no 
attention to them. On the other hand, the gentle dipping 
of the canoe, the quiet lapping of the water, and the occa- 
sional calls of wild birds, while they had no vigorous effects 


upon my senses, were strange enough to draw attention 
from the book. With experience I might have learned to 
neglect the sights and sounds of the river and to have 
studied there with an efficiency equal to or greater than that 
with which I studied at home. But that could never have 
been brought about without frequent efforts to work upon 
the river. 

Experience trains us to pay attention to things we should 
naturally neglect, as well as to neglect many things, such as 
noises, toward which attention seems naturally drawn. The 
bird-lover suddenly comes to a halt in his walk through the 
woods and turns his attention to a little bunch of dry grass in 
a prong overhead. Most of us would pass by without stop- 
ping to perceive the nest. Not long ago a man was walking 
across a vacant lot in the upper part of New York City with 
an artist friend. As they were passing what to the casual 
glance was an unlovely pile of rusty cans, the artist stopped 
and looked at the dump with great care. Then he turned to 
his companion and remarked that the particular color 
scheme- presented by the rusty cans, the bare ground, and 
some bits of rags and paper was very beautiful. An ordinary 
mortal would never 'have thought of paying any attention to 
the colors presented by a pile of cans in a vacant lot, but the 
artist had learned to pay attention to colors wherever they 
might appear. 

Interests are habits of attention. The naturalist who 
turns his attention to anything related to bird life is said to 
be interested in birds. The artist who pays attention to 
color, wherever he finds it, is said to be interested in color. 
From this we may conclude that to be interested in any- 
thing is to have acquired the habit of paying attention 
to it. 

The acquisition of interests, or habits of attention, takes 


place in much the same way that other habits are acquired. 
The young child turns his attention to food, bright lights, 
loud sounds, strange objects, moving objects, and that is 
about all. The powerful interests that people show in 
business, art, politics, science, are developed largely as a 
result of their experiences and training. It is not fair for a 
person to condemn any subject as uninteresting, simply 
because it does not compel his attention. He may not 
have had enough experience with it to develop an interest 
for it in "himself. It is especially true of complicated things 
such as banking, symphonic music, chemistry, and inter- 
national politics that only a great deal of experience can 
produce real interest in them. 


Attention prepares for perception and perception prepares 
for movement. As he is approaching an intersecting 
street, a chauffeur catches a glimpse out of the corner of his 
eye of a fast-moving but indistinct object. Instantly his 
head turns toward the object and his eyes adjust themselves 
to get a clear view of it. He perceives that it is another 
machine and that it is displaying no signs of slowing down in 
its rush toward his street. His left foot throws out the 
clutch, his right foot presses on the service brake, and his 
right arm throws the emergency brake. The first thing 
that happened in this situation was that the chauffeur sensed 
a moving object which at the moment could not be perceived 
clearly. Next, he turned his attention to that object. We 
may guess that this involved more than turning the eyes. 
It probably involved a kind of sudden questioning what the 
object was. And, finally, after a clear perception of the 
situation had taken place, larger bodily movements, appro- 
priate to the circumstances, put in their appearance. We 


might make a scheme such as the following to represent the 
sequence of events. 

Something is Something is _ Something is . 

, >- ,. , , , >~ . , >- movements 

sensed attended to perceived , , , 

take place 

Unless our attention is directed toward an object, we 
cannot perceive it clearly. It is not true, however, that 
every time we pay attention to an object we perceive it. 
If the chauffeur were expert enough, he might throw on his 
brakes as soon as his attention was drawn to the other car. 
More than likely he would not perceive just what he was 
avoiding until after the movements were made. Indeed, 
it might be enough for him to catch a vague sidelong glance 
at the other car. In other words, appropriate movements 
might follow immediately the mere sensing of an object. 
This is distinctly the case among reflexes. The sensing of 
food in the throat is followed by swallowing without any 
processes of attention or perception intervening. We may 
well add the following schemes, then, to the one given above* 

Something is Something is Overt movement? 

sensed attended to take place 

Something is Overt movements 

sensed take place 

As we have already hinted, the more accustomed one is to 
performing certain movements in the presence of certain 
objects (throwing on the brakes, for instance, to avoid 
striking another car), the less likely are attention and per- 
ception to occur. The mere sensing of the curbing at the 
street corner is enough to cause us to step over it. As a 
rule we do not have to attend to it and perceive it in order to 
act efficiently. But if a novel obstacle appears, such as a 
wire across the walk, we stop, pay attention, and seek to get 


a clear perception of it. On that basis we are able to decide 
whether to stoop under it, step over it, or go around it. 

Does perception always result in overt movement? 
Percepts prepare for bodily movement. It does not follow 
from this, however, that every act of perception is followed 
immediately by a bodily movement. When I perceive that 
the long figure across my path is an old rope and not a snake, 
I may abstain from making any movement in response to it. 
When I perceive a word or phrase upon the printed page, I 
may simply turn my attention to the next word or phrase 
without making any overt movement in response to the 

Still, the fact remains that mental activity of all kinds 
(perceiving, thinking, remembering, imagining, feeling) is 
chiefly important because of the ways in which it can affect 
movement. The perception that the figure on the path is a 
rope does not arouse important movement on my part, but 
if the act of perception had revealed a snake, important 
movements of attack or avoidance would have taken place. ' 
The word or phrase perceived upon a page may not now have 
an effect upon my movements, but at some later time it 
may have a very great effect. The railroad time card read 
today may have a very important effect upon my bodily 
movements tomorrow. 


1. Perception, which is the knowing of objects and occur- 
rences presented to our senses, is going on during most of 
our waking life. This practically continuous perceiving is not 
made up of disconnected acts of perception. One percept 
fades gradually into the next. 

2. In perception there is an active interpretation of what 
is presented to sense. This interpretation does more than 


give meaning to sensory data. It may even alter the 
apparent character of those sensory data. 

3. Perceptual reactions are habits acquired as a result of 
definite experiences. This is shown by the fact that what 
people perceive in a given situation depends largely upon 
their past life and training. 

4. Illusions also show the close dependence of perception 
upon past experience. Some of these illusions illustrate 
the effects of experiences peculiar to certain individuals, 
while others illustrate the effects of universal experiences. 
Illusions of this latter type are so constant in character 
that they can be relied upon in the theater and in drawing 
and painting. 

5. Perception is markedly affected by what one expects 
to perceive. A state of expectation may make one more 
susceptible to an illusion. It may also make one more 
likely to perceive both accurately and promptly. 

6. It is clear that an act of perception is influenced by 
past experience and expectancy. Nevertheless, at the 
actual time of perceiving, the perceiver is usually unaware of 
the past upon which his interpretation is based and unaware 
also of any definite expectation. Only when perception is 
difficult do all the factors entering into it tend to become 

7. How much we can take in during a single act of per- 
ception depends upon the manner in which the objects 
present to sense are organized. If they are organized into 
larger wholes of a sort with which we have had some dealings, 
our perception has a large scope. But if the objects are not 
organized in a familiar manner, the scope of perception 
becomes much restricted. 

8. Attention is a state of preparation for perception (or 
for thought or movement). It consists in turning the head, 


focussing the eyes, and otherwise securing a maximum effect 
upon the senses. It also consists in such mental preparation 
as a state of expectancy toward what one is going to perceive. 
9. Attention is a constantly shifting process. Even when 
we are concentrating, attention shifts rapidly from one to 
another aspect of the matter to which we are attending. If 
the shifting of attention is sufficiently checked, mental 
activity becomes so disorganized that sleep or some such 
similar state as hypnosis occurs. When the complexity of 
events within us and around us is considered, the advantage 
of this shifting of attention is evident. 

10. Through experience we come to pay attention to many 
things which previously would have been neglected and also 
to neglect many things which previously would have com- 
manded our attention. We are interested in matters to 
the degree to which we have formed habits of paying atten- 
tion to them. 

11. A typical sequence of events is this : something affects 
our senses, we pay attention to it, we perceive it, and we 
react to it with overt movements. This sequence is, how- 
ever, frequently short-circuited. Overt reaction may follow 
immediately upon sensing without the intervention of 
attention and perception. Or attention may remain and 
only perception be absent from the sequence. 

12. Perception typically prepares for overt movement. 
Often, though, this movement is considerably delayed in 
appearing and often no movement of any special conse- 
quence develops out of a particular perception. 


1. Make a list of ten perceptions which you have had during the past 
few hours. 

2. The first few days spent in a new place brings about a marked change 


in the way the streets, the houses, and the people look to you. Why is this 
the case? 

3. Upon whom would you expect the skyscrapers of New York to 
make the greater impression: upon a savage who had never seen buildings 
larger than crude huts, or upon a person who had lived all his life in a small 
town and who was familiar with office buildings, but not with very large 
ones? Why? 

4. Describe an illusion of your own which was caused by some ex- 
perience more or less peculiar to yourself. 

5. Why is it that everyone gets an illusion of movement while looking 
at motion pictures? 

G. It frequently takes some little time before one is first able to per- 
ceive the children in Figure 28. But after they have once been perceived, 
they are readily perceived on later occasions. Why is this the case? 

7. There are expert automobile mechanics who can perceive in the 
sound made by a motor whether anything is wrong and, if so, what. As 
often as not, such men are unable to explain what is involved in these 
perceptions. How do you account for this? 

8. There seems to be much greater confusion in the crowded streets 
of a strange city than in the equally crowded streets with which one is 
familiar. What underlies this illusion? 

9. What are some of the signs that an audience is paying close atten- 
tion to a speaker? What are some of the signs of inattention? 

10. When we speak of a person as being inattentive, do we mean that 
he has actually ceased paying attention or merely that he has changed the 
direction of his attention? 

11. Why is it that the attention of children seems to shift more than 
that of adults? 

12. What are some of the things which you have learned to pay attention 
to during the past year? How were these new habits of attention acquired? 

13. Does attention come first? Does interest come first? Or do they 
both come hand in hand? Why? 

14. State a case in which there is an advantage in having overt move- 
ment follow sensing immediately and without intervention of attention 
and perception. Under what conditions is a short-circuit of this type 
a source of danger? 


Binet, The Psychology of Reasoning (3d ed. tr. by Whyte), pp. 4-8; or 
Readings in General Psychology, Ch.-XI, Selection 1-A, p. 239 ff. 


Witmer, Analytical Psychology, pp. 1-6; or Readings, Ch. XI, Selec- 
tion 1-B, p. 241 ff. 

Seashore, Elementary Experiments in Psychology, pp. 146-148; or 
Readings, Ch. XI, Selection 1-C, p. 245 f . 

Stratton, Experimental Psychology and Its Bearing Upon Culture, 
pp. 115-121; or Readings, Ch. XI, Selection 2, p. 247 ff. 

Storring, Mental Pathology in Its Relation to Normal Psychology (tr. by 
Lovcday), pp. 19-21; or Readings, Ch. XI, Selection 3, p. 250 f. 

Buswoll, in Readings in General Psychology, Ch. XI, Selection 4, p. 251 ff. 

Pillsbury, Attention, pp. 1-11; or Readings, Ch. X, Selection 1, p. 226 ff. 

Pillsbury, Attention, pp. 64-71; or Readings, Ch. X, Selections 2 and 3, 
p. 228 ff. 

Ribot, The Psychology of Attention (6th ed. tr.) pp. 11-19; or Readings, 
Ch. X, Selection 4, p. 232 'ff. 

Ribot, The Psychology of Attention, pp. 29-34; or Readings, Ch. X, 
Selection^ 5, p. 235 ff. 





1. What information can be secured through a single sense? 

2. What are examples of information depending upon the co-operative 
activity of a number of senses? 


Perceptions may be classified according to the senses. 

Perceptions, as we have seen, are acts of knowing in which 
we interpret immediately, and without any extended think- 
ing, that which is presented to our senses. Now there are 
a number of different ways in which we might classify our 
perceptions, but perhaps the most fundamental classification 
is in terms of the senses involved. Thus there are visual 
perceptions, auditory perceptions, cutaneous perceptions, 
and so on. And within each of the senses further distinctions 
can be made. Our visual perceptions may be perceptions of 
white, of black, of red, of blue. Our auditory perceptions 
may be of noise or tone, of a high tone or a low tone. 

When we have enumerated our perceptions according to 
the senses affected, we have marked off the limits of per- 
ceptual experience. There are no perceptions for which 
there are no sense-organs. This does not mean, however, 
that every perception will be included in our list. Many 
of our perceptions depend immediately or remotely upon 




the operation of more than one sense or upon the operation 

of the same sense in more than one way. The perception of 

a lemon may seem to be purely a matter of vision, hut in the 

act of perception there may be contained a reali- 

zation that the lemon is sour. This element 

depends upon our having previously tasted a 

lemon as well as upon our having seen one. 

But we cannot undertake the task of listing 

every one of these complex perceptions. To do 

so would require more knowledge than anyone 

possesses, and the list would be too long to be 

useful. We shall, therefore, content ourselves 

with an account of perception as it is found in 

the various senses, and to this we shall add a 

few words about some of the more general cases 

of complex perception. 

Brightness and color. By means of percep- 
tion through the eye we become acquainted with 
two fundamental sets of qualities : ( 1 ) achromatic 
qualities, and (2) chromatic qualities. We think 
of the achromatic qualities as lying along such a 
straight line as that of Figure 30 which runs 
from the whitest possible white through medium 
gray to the blackest possible black. The transi- 
tions along this line are very gradual; in fact 
they represent transitions that are just barely 
distinguishable. We can think of the chromatic 
qualities as arranged in an approximate circle 
after the fashion of Figure 3 1. 1 The transitions 


Grayish white 

Lightish gray 

Middle gray 

Darkish gray 

Grayish black 


FKJ. 30. 



is a great deal of disagreement as to whether the chromatic qualities 
ought to be represented by a figure approximately a triangle, a square, or by a 
circle. However, that need not trouble us. The essential fact is that the 
series of chromatic qualities returns upon itself. This fact is represented 
equally well by triangle, square, or circle. 






in the chromatic series (Fig. 31), like those in the achro- 
matic series, represent just distinguishable differences. Per- 
haps the most striking difference between the two series is 
that the color series returns upon itself, while the white- 
gray-black series does not. Start at red and go through 
purple, violet, blue, green, yellow, and orange, and back 
you come to red again. Similarly, if you start from yellow, 

green, blue, violet, or 
purple, and move in 
either direction you 
will gradually make 
your way back to the 
color from which you 
start. This is not 
true for the achro- 
matic series. If you 
start from any shade 
of gray and move in 
one direction you 
come to white, and 
FIG. 31. THE COLOR CIRCLE that is the 'end of the 

series. Move in the 

other direction and you come to black, and that is the other 
end of the series. From black or white movement is pos- 
sible in only one direction. 

The color spindle. There are many visual qualities 
which do not find a place either in the line representing the 
whites, grays, and blacks, or on the circumference of the 
circle representing the colors. Where, for instance, should we 
look for pink in either of those series? Naturally we should 
look for it in the neighborhood of red in the color circle, 
but it is not there. If we move from red toward orange we 
fail to locate pink. If we move in the other direction from 



Blue Green 

Green Blue 




red, we run into purple and again we fail to locate pink, 
because certainly pink is not between red and purple. 
Pink is red with light 
gray or white in it 
and must lie, therefore, 
somewhere between 
red and white or light 
gray. But red is a 
chromatic quality, 
while white arid gray 
are achromatic. Evi- 
dently it is necessary 
to show how the two 
series, chromatic and 
achromatic, are re- 
lated. This is done in 
the color spindle of 
Figure 32. The great- 
est length of the spin- 
dle is the achromatic 
line already described 
and the greatest cir- 
cumference is the chro- 
matic circle. 

Within this color 
spindle are represented 
all of the known visual 
qualities. Its nature 
will be clearer if we 
delve into it and make 
some explorations. Let 

us start with red, which is located on one side of the spindle 
at its thickest part. If we move directly into the center of 





the spindle, the red fades out and grows more and more gray. 
If we move up toward the top of the spindle, the red grows 
whiter and whiter. (It is along this line that we find pink.) 
If we move from red down toward the lower point of the 
spindle, the red grows blacker and blacker. A continuation 
of such exploration would reveal many thousands of visual 

Skill in color perception depends both upon heredity and 
personal experience. Although color blindness is sometimes 
the result of illness or of the excessive use of certain drugs, 
in by far the majority of cases it is an inherited defect in the 
sensitivity of the eyes and is incurable. In rare cases there 
is a complete inability to distinguish colors. If one color is 
brighter than another the two can be distinguished on the 
basis of brightness, but if such colors as red, yellow, green, 
and blue have the same brightness, they all look alike. In 
most cases of color blindness, however, only certain colors 
are confused. One of the most frequent and striking errors 
of the color blind is the mistaking of red for green and vice 
versa. The following, taken from Dr. Jeffries' book on color 
blindness, is illustrative : 

If railings were painted red, I could not distinguish them 
from the grass. The grass in full verdure appears to me 
what other people call red ; and the fruit on the trees, when 
red, I cannot distinguish from the leaves, unless when I am 
near it. A cucumber and a boiled lobster I should call the 
same color, making allowance for the variety of shade to be 
found in both; and a lock in luxuriance of growth is to me 
more like a stick of sealing-wax than anything I can compare 
it with. 1 

We noted in the paragraph before the last that the color 
blind are able to perceive differences in brightness 

l Color Blindness, p. 45. 


achromatic differences. It is seldom that objects differing 
in color or chromatic quality do not also differ in brightness. 
For this reason the color blind are able to get along better 
than one would suppose, and often very marked cases go 
through life without knowing the real nature of their dif- 
ficulty. One color-blind man knew fresh-cut grass from 
bleached grass only because the former looked more brilliant 
to him. Having distinguished the fresh-cut from the 
bleached grass, he would call one green and the other yellow, 
simply 'because other people applied these names to them. 
To him the difference was solely one of brilliance. Other 
differences, too, help the color blind to hide their weakness. 
The man just referred to made the following statement 
about how he identified various kinds of corn : 

At home we raised three kinds of corn : red, yellow, and 
white. Red was red, white was smooth, and yellow was 
rough, and it was years before I could convince myself that 
a thing could be yellow, and not rough. 

A paper hanger was recently putting a plain green paper on 
the walls of a room, and he ran out of paper. Taking a 
sample he went back to the shop. No one was there, so he 
matched the sample to his own satisfaction and took two 
rolls to finish his job. The next day the owner of the house 
came into the shop furious because one corner of the green 
room had been papered red. Up to this time the paper 
hanger had not suspected that his color vision was unlike 
that of other people. Since many color-blind individuals 
do not reveal their weakness even to themselves, it is im- 
portant to have some test more rigorous than that supplied 
by color experiences of everyday life. A railroad engineer, 
for example, would be a menace to safety if his color vision 
were imperfect, and a painter with the same weakness would 
hardly be reliable. A well-known scientific test for color 


blindness is the Holmgren wool test. The subject of this 
test matches skeins of wool of varying shade and color. He 
is directed to make the matches entirely on a color basis and 
to disregard differences of shade. Color blindness which 
has never been suspected is often detected by this test. 

So far, we have spoken of inherited color blindness. A 
certain amount of inefficiency in dealing with colors is due 
simply to lack of practice. Errors are made in naming colors 
by individuals who can accurately distinguish between colors 
if they are placed side by side. Purple is frequently called 
" violet/' orange "yellow," and certain greens "blue" by 
persons whose eyes are normally sensitive to colors. The 
difficulty here lies in the fact that these persons have had 
insufficient practice in calling colors by their correct names. 
Women, because of their customary preoccupation with rib- 
bons, dress goods, and the like, are, as a group, superior to 
men in naming colors accurately. It is probable, however, 
that most men, with the benefit of similar experience, could 
increase to a marked degree their ability to name colors. 

Ether vibrations are the basis of visual qualities. Light 
passes through space in the form of waves or vibrations of 
what is called the ether. We do not know a great deal about 
this ether, 1 but it is convenient to believe that such a thing 
exists, because, otherwise, we should not know how to ac- 
count for the fact that light passes through space which is 
unoccupied by any known substance. You can see that it 
would be difficult to imagine how waves or vibrations could 
occur in nothing at all. 

These ether vibrations are unbelievably rapid. Those 
which are capable of affecting the human eye range from 
about 417 trillion per second to about 755 trillion per second. 
And their length is unbelievably short. The slowest vibra- 

1 This is not the kind of ether used as an anaesthetic. 


tions or waves which affect the eye are about 760-millionths 
of a millimeter in length and the fastest about 390-millionths 
of a millimeter. There are ether vibrations above and below 
this range, but they do not play a part in vision. 

Light from the sun and from many artificial sources con- 
tains vibrations of various rates and lengths. When such 
mixed light affects the eye it gives rise to achromatic qualities. 
Whether they be white, gray, or black depends upon the 
strength or energy of the light. If the light is very strong, 
white i seen. If it is less strong, gray is seen. And if it is 
very weak, black is seen. 

When we see a rainbow it is because small drops of moisture 
in the air have so acted upon the sunlight as to break it up 
into the different kinds of light of which it is composed. 
The short-wave light and the long-wave light are separated, 
and different colors are seen, corresponding roughly to the 
wave lengths of the light. If sunlight is passed through a 
glass prism, all of the colors of the rainbow are visible. 
The following table gives an idea of the wave lengths cor- 
responding to the various colors. There is no particular 
reason to memorize the table. 

Wave length 

(miUionths of Color 
a millimeter) 

760-046 Red 

647-5S7 Orange 

588-549 Yellow 

550-491 Green 

492-454 Blue 

455-390 Violet 

You may notice that purple is not given here. That is 
because purple is obtained only as a result of mixing the long 
waves that produce red and the shorter waves that produce 
blue. There is no one length of w r ave capable of producing 


While red, orange, yellow, and the other colors given in the 
table can be produced by a single type of wave, they also 


can be produced by mixtures of longer and shorter waves. 
Thus orange can be obtained by mixing light which produces 
red with light which produces yellow, and bluish green by 



mixing light which produces green with light which produces 

The human eye and its parts. In Figure 33 we have a 
cross-section view of the human eye. Light, entering the 
eye, first passes through the bulging front surface. This is 
called the cornea. But not all the light that penetrates the 
cornea gets into the eyeball itself, because back of the cornea 















This drawing is not intended to he an accurate Dicture of the brain, but to show the 
important figures and lobes in the primary visual, auditory, and body sense areas. (From 
dates, Elementary Psychology, The Macmillan Company ) 

is a membrane, the iris (it is the colored portion of the eye), 
which allows only such light to pass through as can be taken 
care of by a little hole in its center. This hole is called the 
pupil The pupil is small in a brilliantly lighted room, but 
in a dim light it enlarges and permits more light to enter the 
eye. Behind the iris is a lens which is so adjustable that it 
can under normal conditions bring the entering light to a 
good focus on the back, inner surface of the eye. When the 


eyeball is too short or too long, when the lens fails to adjust 
itself readily, or when the surface of the cornea or lens is un- 
even, it is necessary to help the eye focus by means of glasses. 
The back, inner surface of the eyeball is called the retina. 
The optic nerve, which enters at the back of the eye, spreads 
out in an intricate network throughout this retina. The 
nerve fibers have at their ends tiny sense-organs, called rods 
and cones, which convert the light that is focussed on them 





OLFACTORY' * " ................ " 




This drawing, also very schematic, shows tho parts concealed in Figure 34. From Gates, 
Elementary Pt>i/cholo(/i/, The Macmillan Company.) 

into nerve activity. The longest of these sense-organs are 
about ^su of an inch in length, and the thickest are about 
TUFoir of an inch in diameter. 

The optic nerve carries the nerve activity produced by 
light at the rods and cones to the brain. This activity 
reaches the outer surface or cortex of the brain in a region 
called the visual area (see Fig. 34). From there it finally 
goes to other brain centers and thence out to the muscles. 


Noise and tone. The fundamental sets of visual quali- 
ties are the achromatic and the chromatic. Similarly there 
are two fundamental sets of qualities perceived by means 
of the ear. They are (1) noises and (2) tones. Noises 
are either very short in duration to the point of being abrupt 
or, if longer in duration, they have a roughness and irregu- 
larity about them. Tones must last for a certain length of 
time or they are not tones, but noises. A tone has a smooth- 
ness about it that endures even though its loudness waxes 
and wanes. In everyday life tones and noises are very 
much mixed together. The best violinist cannot eliminate 
all noise from his instrument, and even the rumble of a 
distant cannon has in it an element of tone. 

No one knows how many different noises can be perceived. 
It is difficult even to classify them in any satisfactory 
fashion. Some psychologists adopt the practice of dividing 
noises into two large groups or classes, the explosive and 
continuative. "For the former," says Professor Titchener, 
"we have such words as crack, pop, snap; for the latter, such 
words as hiss, sputter, rumble." 1 Although pitch, that is, 
highness and lowness, is, as we shall see in a moment, pri- 
marily a characteristic of tones, it is never absent in noise. 
It is possible therefore to arrange different noises according 
to their pitch. The noise of a large cannon, a steamboat 
whistle, or a wagon crossing a wooden bridge is decidedly 
low in pitch, while that of hissing steam, a squeaky spring, 
or the snap of a cap pistol is decidedly high. 

The perception of tone is a much more definite matter. 
First, and most obviously, the tones we are capable of 
perceiving can be classified according to pitch. There are 
low tones, medium tones, and high tones. We can go farther 
than that and say that there are something over ten thousand 

1 Textbook, p. 95 (Macmillan). 


different tones which can be distinguished on the basis of 
pitch. That is to say, in passing up the scale from the lowest 
tone that can be perceived to the highest tone that can be 
perceived, there can be found over ten thousand perceptibly 
different pitches. Most of these tones are heard but rarely. 
Our tonal perceptions are largely confined to the world of 
music, and music makes use of only about one hundred 
pitches from the middle range of hearing, that is, pitches 
that are neither extremely high nor extremely low. 

We have no difficulty in distinguishing between tones of 
identical pitch, let us say middle c, when they are sounded 
on the piano and on a horn. Neither have we any difficulty 
in distinguishing tones of identical pitch if they are sung 
by two voices. How is it possible to make such dis- 
tinctions when pitch remains the same? It might be sug- 
gested that the tones differ in loudness and that that is how 
we tell them apart. A very little experimentation, however, 
will demonstrate that this explanation is not the correct one. 
The middle c of the piano may be either louder or softer than 
that of the horn and still we shall have no difficulty in 
knowing which is which. The same is true of two voices. 
The real explanation is not quite so simple. It so happens 
that each of the actual tones we deal with in music and in 
everyday life has, itself, more than one pitch. When 
middle c is sounded on the piano, the simple middle c pitch 
is most clearly heard, but there are other higher pitches 
that go along with it. When middle c is sounded on a horn, 
the same simple middle c pitch is most clearly heard, but 
the higher pitches that go along with it are not the same 
as in the case of the piano. This kind of difference which 
makes possible the distinction between piano and horn, or 
between one voice and another, is called a difference in 


Some persons discriminate pitch more accurately than 
others. Some persons are extremely efficient in perceiving 
pitch, others are only fair, and still others are extremely poor 
at it. Ability to discriminate between one pitch and another 
seems to be largely a matter of inheritance. It seems to 
depend upon the sensitivity of the ear itself rather than upon 
special experience with tones. Training will increase one's 
ability to discriminate between tones of different pitch, but 
usually not to any great extent. The testing of tonal dis- 
crimination is a relatively simple task. The tests are 
carried out by means of tuning forks. Some of the forks are 
similar in pitch, and in other cases the differences are marked. 
When two forks are sounded in succession, the subject of the 
test has to tell whether the second tone was higher or lower 
than the first. In this way it can soon be discovered just 
how different in pitch two tones have to be before he can 
discriminate between them. 

Before devoting valuable time to the serious study of 
music, it is wise to have tested one's capacity to perceive 
tones. With relatively poor tonal discrimination it is 
possible to enjoy music, because loudness and rhythm as 
well as pitch are involved. But it is practically impossible 
to attain great skill as a singer or instrumental performer 
without good tonal discrimination. 

Hearing depends upon vibrations. In order that an 
object give off a sound, it must be in a state of vibra- 
tion. When one draws a bow across the string of a violin, 
the string is set into vibration; when one blows upon a 
trumpet, the column of air within the instrument is set into 
vibration ; and when one sings or speaks there are vibrations 
in the vocal organs of the throat. These vibrations are 
imparted to the air around the source of the sound and 
spread out as air waves or vibrations. When the air waves 


come into contact with the ear of a listener, they arouse in 
him the perception of sound. 

The waves that give rise to hearing are very much slower than 
those ether waves upon which vision depends. They range 
from about 25 to 30,000 a second. They are also very much 
longer than ether waves. The longest waves have a length 
of about forty feet and the shortest of about half an inch. 

Just as color depends upon the length or rate of the ether 
waves, so the pitch of a sound depends upon the length or 
rate of the air waves. The longer and slower the waves or 
vibrations of the air, the lower is the pilch of the sound we hear; 
and the shorter and more rapid the air vibrations, the higher the 
pitch. The lowest tone on the grand piano has a vibration 
rate of 26% a second, and the highest tone a vibration rate 
of 4,096 a second. 

The human ear and its parts. - Air waves coming to the 
ear enter first into the auditory canal (A) (see A in Fig. 
36). They pass through this canal to the ear drum or, as it 
is technically called, the tympanum (/?). The ear drum itself 
is then set into vibration. Now, attached to the ear drum is 
a little chain of bones, or ossicles, which stretches across the 
small open space (C) called the cavity of the tympanum. Vi- 
brations of the ear drum are at once transmitted to this little 
chain of bones and are thus conveyed across the cavity. 
Opening off the far side of the cavity and connected with 
the far end of the chain of bones is a small canal (F), the 
cochlea, which curves around in the bone of the skull like a 
snail shell. In Figure 36 we have an interior view of it, and 
in Figure 37 we have an exterior view of it. Vibrations 
which have crossed the chain of bones are transmitted to a 
fluid contained in the cochlea. Within the cochlea are cells 
especially sensitive to vibrations, and these are affected by 
the vibrations in the fluid of the cochlea. 



The Eustachian tube (7), Fig. 30) leads from the cavity 
of the tympanum down into the throat. Although not as 
directly involved in hearing as some of the other parts of 
the ear, it is, nevertheless, of great importance. Its purpose 
is to keep the same degree of air pressure on both sides of the 
ear drum. If you have ever descended from one of the 


upper floors of a skyscraper in a fast, express elevator, you 
have probably noticed a feeling of pressure in the ears. This 
is due to the fact that the pressure of the air at a low altitude 
is very much greater than that at a high altitude. When 
you make a descent in an elevator, the pressure of the outside 
air which is bearing in upon the ear drum is changing more 
rapidly than that of the air within the cavity of the ear. 
But a few vigorous swallows will force air of greater pressure 



through the Eustachian tube, and then the pressure on both 

sides of the ear drum will be equalized and you will not be 

conscious of any pressure at all. 
The semi-circular canals (A, 5, and (7, Fig. 36) are sense- 

organs, but not for hearing. We shall speak of their purpose 

a little later. 

When the sensi- 
tive cells of the 
cochlea are set into 
vibration ((?, Fig. 
37), the auditory 
nerve becomes ac- 
tive and nerve im- 
pulses are conducted 
along it to the brain. 
The nerve impulses 
set up at the sensi- 
tive cells of the 
cochlea reach the 

f\v rrvfcw 


A, B, and C are the semicircular canals, and 7), E, and F 
are the whorls of the cochlea (f shov,$ where the vibrations 
of the bones are transmitted to the cochlea. 

called the auditory area (Fig. 34). From there they are 
conducted to other brain centers, and finally out to the 

The sense of smell. While the odors of many flowers, 
foods, chemicals, and so on, can be accurately identified, 
scientists have so far been unable to determine how many 
odors can be perceived. They have also failed to organize 
odors into a satisfactory system comparable to those of 
tone and color. Recently the suggestion has been made 
that there are six elementary types of odors. These are 
(1) spicy, (2) flowery, (3) fruity, (4) resinous, (5) foul, 
and (6) scorched. 



O/ factory bu/b 


One of the most striking facts about the perception of 
odor is that it is usually accompanied by a strong feeling of 
liking or disliking. Very few odors are indifferent; they are 
either pleasing or displeasing. This has led some to say that 
there are two kinds of odors, the pleasant and the unpleasant. 
It must be admitted that there are very great differences, 
however, even among pleasant odors. Carnations and 
frying ham are both 
pleasant to most 
people, but they are 
quite unlike. An- 
other fact of import- 
ance is that the same 
odor may be pleasant 
when present to a 
weak or moderate 
degree and unpleas- 
ant when present to 
a strong degree. 
The same perfumery, 
which in moderate 
amounts is pleasing, 
may, in large quanti- 
ties, be obnoxious. 

The sense-organ for smell (Fig. 38) lies in the upper part 
of the nasal cavity. It is about the size of a dime, and its 
appearance is simply that of a brownish-yellow patch. 
Odorous objects give off gases, and these are breathed or 
sniffed up into the nasal cavity where they come into contact 
with the sense-organ. Just as there is an auditory nerve 
that conducts nerve impulses from the ear to the brain and 
an optic nerve that conducts impulses from the eye to the 
brain, so is there an olfactory nerve that conducts impulses 



from the nasal cavity to the brain. These impulses reach 
the cortex in a region, which lies on the lower, middle 
surface of the brain (Fig. 35). 

Perceptions of sights, sounds, and odors put us in touch 
with objects at a distance. - You will remember (Chapter II) 
that the eye, the ear, and the sense-organ of smell are among 
the cxleroccptors or sense-organs that let us know what is 
going on outside of us. The other exteroceptors are the 
sense-organs in the skin that give us touch, temperature, 
and certain pain sensations. The eyes, ears, and sense- 
organs of smell are sometimes given another name, which is 
not applied to the sense-organs in the skin. They are some- 
times called distance receptors. This is really a good name, 
because these senses put us in touch with objects and events 
w r hich are at some distance from our bodies. We see the 
mountain, hear the bugle, and smell the rose, although what 
we perceive does not actually come into contact with our 
sense-organs. Ether waves, air waves, and gases are links 
between our sense-organs and the objects we perceive, but 
the fact remains that we perceive the mountain, the bugle, 
and the rose, and not the ether waves, air waves, and gas. 

The distance receptors play a large part in making us as 
intelligent as we are. Perception, as we have remarked on a 
number of occasions, is essentially a means of getting ready 
for action. Because of our distance receptors, we are able to 
perceive objects and prepare for meeting them before they 
get to us or before we get to them. Because we are able to 
perceive the storm clouds on the western horizon, we can 
scamper for shelter. If we waited to perceive the cool drops 
of rain upon hand or cheek, it might easily be too late to 
escape a drenching. Because we are able to perceive the 
honking automobile before it reaches us, we can avoid being 
run down. And because we are able to perceive the foulness 


of spoiled meat before putting it into our mouths, we can 
abstain from tasting it and running the risk of being poisoned. 
Pressure or contact. Through sense-organs in the skin 
and in underlying tissues we become aware of two funda- 
mental pressure qualities, light pressure and heavy pressure. 
The difference between these is not a simple intensity differ- 
ence, such as a difference in loudness between two tones of 
identical pitch and timbre or a difference in brightness 
between two otherwise identical colors. It is a qualitative 
difference, like a difference in pitch or in color. The nature of 
light pressure is best observed when we touch the skin ever 
so gently with a feather or hair. The light pressure quality 
can also be obtained in a fairly pure slate if one brushes a 
finger over the hairs on the hand or arm. In order to 
observe the heavy pressure quality by itself, it is necessary 
to apply an anaesthetic to the surface of the skin. If this is 
not done, any stimulus which arouses heavy pressure 
will simultaneously arouse light pressure, and the mix- 
ture of the two is very difficult to analyze. An applica- 
tion of an anaesthetic to the surface of the arm will remove 
practically all. possibility of perceiving light pressure. If, 
then, a heavy, blunt object is applied to the arm, we get in 
relatively pure form the perception of heavy pressure. The 
perception of heavy pressure occurs when the movements of 
our muscles stimulate the sense-organs that lie within them. 
For this reason heavy pressure is an important factor in our 
control of movement. The perception of hardness, softness, 
smoothness, roughness, wetness, dryness, and stickiness are 
only special cases of perception of light pressure, heavy pres- 
sure, or, as is more frequently the case, of some particular 
combination of the two. Sometimes temperature and pain, 
which we shall presently see to be other fundamental quali- 
ties, occur in conjunction with pressure. 



Light pressure is perceived by means of little sense-organs 
scattered throughout the surface of the skin. Heavy 
pressure depends upon the stimulation of sense-organs of 


A, /?, C\ and D represent end organs in the skin. E represents nerve endings in muscles 
and tendons a, a, a, represent the nerve supply. 


another type which are imbedded in the deeper layers of 
tissue which lie beneath the skin. The nerve impulses set 
up at these light pressure and heavy pressure sense-organs 
are conducted to the spinal cord or to the base of the brain, 
and finally arrive at a region of the cerebral cortex called, in 
Figures 34 and 35, the body-sense area. 

Temperature. There are two distinct kinds of sense- 
organs in the skin by means of which we perceive temper- 
ature. One kind is for warmth, the other for cold. So far 
as the physical condition of the stimulus is concerned, 
warmth and cold are only two different degrees of the 
same thing. The individual molecules of a warm object are 
in rapid vibration, and those of a cold object are vibrating 
more slowly. But the sense-organs affected in the two cases 
are quite distinct. For this reason there are said to be two 
temperature qualities, warm arid cold. All other tem- 
perature qualities depend upon the activity of more than 
one kind of sense-organ. 

In the perception of bitter cold the sense-organs for both 
cold and pain are stimulated. In the perception of burning 
hot the sense-organs for warm, cold, and pain are stimulated. 
The following table shows what sense-organs are active for 
different temperature perceptions: 

Pain organs 


Impulses set up at the temperature sense-organs follow 
the same general route as those set up at the pressure organs, 
and they also arrive at the cortex in the body-sense area of 
Figures 34 and 35. 

Hitter cold 

Warmth organs 
. . 

Cold organs 

Cold cool 


Lukewarm, warm . 

. . + 


Burning hot .... 

. . + 


After Titchener. 


Pain. There are many kinds of pain sensation, but 
just how many we do not know. Pain at the surface of the 
body is aroused by the stimulation, not of special sense- 
organs, but of the ends of nerves. Besides this skin or 
cutaneous pain, there is the ache of tired muscles, various 
kinds of headache, the griping pain of colic, and many 
others. Just where the nerve impulses involved in pain go to 
in the brain is not very clearly understood. 

We usually look upon the perception of pain as a dis- 
agreeable experience. The pain quality at low inten- 
sities may, however, be neutral or even pleasant. There 
were, especially in the period of history known as the Middle 
Ages, religious fanatics who believed that the endurance of 
pain was one of the greatest of human virtues. Accordingly 
they inflicted all sorts of physical tortures upon themselves. 
There is no doubt but that some of them, after following this 
practice for a long period, got so that they really enjoyed 
pain. Nevertheless, our every day attitude of consider- 
ing pain as being disagreeable is fundamentally correct. 
When pain is perceived, it is, as a rule, high time to take 
warning, to discover the source of the pain, and to take 
steps for its riddance. 

Taste. There are, surprisingly enough, only four 
fundamental taste qualities; sour, salt, bitter, and sweet. 
The perception of these qualities depends upon four distinct 
types of sense-organs in the tongue. The manifold qualities, 
which in everyday speech we call flavors, are in reality quite 
complex. Almost always they depend upon odor and 
taste together, and frequently pressure and temperature 
enter into them. If the nostrils are plugged with cotton so 
that odors are practically excluded, one cannot tell the dif- 
ference between the flavor of an apple and that of a raw 
potato. When we are suffering from a bad cold in the head 


eatables seem to lose their flavor. We can still taste their 
sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and sweetness, but we are 
unable to smell. The brain region where taste impulses 
reach the cortex is probably in the neighborhood of that for 

Perception affected by adaptation of sense-organs. 
Probably everyone has noticed that his coffee no longer 
tastes sweet after he has taken a few bites of sirup-covered 
griddle cake. The coffee is really unchanged, but his 
capacity to perceive its sweetness has changed. When we 
first dive into the water we perceive its temperature as 
intensely cold, but after we have been in for a few minutes 
the cold is likely to seem less marked. Here again what is 
perceived does not change, but the capacity to perceive it 
does change. In such cases as these the capacity to perceive 
an object or quality is diminished as a result of the fact that 
our sense-organs have been continuously exposed to it. This 
lowering of sensibility is called sensory adaptation. 

Another illustration of what amounts to essentially the 
same fact appears in a psychological principle known as 
Weber's law. Let us suppose that we give a person a weight 
of 100 grams to lift. Now we wish to know how much 
heavier a second weight must be in order that our subject 
can just barely perceive the second as heavier than the first. 
We shall assume that after a certain amount of experi- 
mentation we find it necessary to get a second weight of 
105 grams before the subject is able to perceive any dif- 
ference between the two. After this determination, let us 
take away these two weights and give the subject a first or 
standard weight of 200 grams. Again we wish to know how 
heavy a second weight must be in order to be appreciated as 
heavier. In our first determination we discovered that in 
order to secure a just noticeable difference in perception 


we had to have a difference of 5 grams between the two 
weights. But in our second determination we find that 
a difference of 5 grams does not cause a difference in per- 
ception. A difference of 10 grams is now required in order 
to give a perceptible difference. Evidently the heavier the 
standard weight, the greater the difference between it and 
the second weight required to make a difference in their 
perception. Weber's law states the facts more precisely: 

In order to secure a just noticeable increase in the 
intensity of a perception, it is necessary to increase 
the stimulus arousing that perception by a constant 
fraction of itself. 

The constant fraction for lifted weights, according to our 
example, would be ^V The fraction varies according to 
the senses involved, and also according to the general range 
of intensity within a given sense. But the important fact 
for us to remember is that our capacity to distinguish between 
two perceptions is not so much a matter of the absolute dif- 
ference between their stimuli; it is rather a matter of their 
relative difference. 

Sensory adaptation is aid to adjustment. In the pre- 
ceding chapter we said that the general tendency of atten- 
tion to shift is of considerable advantage to us. Within 
us and around us there are always a great number of stim- 
ulating conditions. . If any one of these conditions could 
arouse the same perception for an indefinite period, we should 
be at the mercy of the other conditions that we had not 
perceived. As it is, no sooner does a clear perception of one 
fact occur, than our attention so shifts as to make possible 
the clear perception of another. Now, one of the main 
reasons why our attention shifts as it does is because of the 
fact that the exposure of a sense-organ to one stimulus soon 


decreases its sensitivity to that stimulus. And as soon as 
that decrease in sensitivity takes place, we tend to perceive 
new things to which the sense-organs are not yet adapted. 
Thus, sensory adaptation is one reason why attention shifts 
in the highly desirable way in which it does shift. 

While sensory adaptation is an exceedingly important 
factor in the shifting of attention, we must be careful not to 
assume that it is the only factor. Sensory adaptation to 
pain is very slight. Yet one can get used to bearing pain, 
and can almost completely disregard it. 

Perception affected by sensory contrast. Prolonged 
exposure of a sense-organ to a particular stimulus results in 
more than a decrease in our capacity to perceive that stim- 
ulus. Such exposure, in reducing sensitivity for one stimulus, 
very often increases our sensitivity for other stimuli. If one 
looks at a red surface after the eye has become adapted to 
green, the surface will be perceived as redder than usual. 
An interesting experiment can be performed with three 
basins of water, one fairly hot, one fairly cold, and one of 
approximately the temperature of the air. If the hand is 
dipped directly into the last basin the water will be perceived 
as neither warm nor cold. But if the hand is put into 
the cold basin for a moment before being put into the 
neutral one, the water in the latter will be perceived as 
distinctly warm. Conversely, if the hand is put into the 
hot basin and then into the neutral one, the neutral will be 
perceived as distinctly cool. We have mentioned the bit- 
terness of coffee when tasted after sirup. This is due to the 
fact that sensitivity for bitter is increased by exposure to 
sweet, as well as to the fact that sensitivity to sweet is 
decreased by that exposure. 

As a matter of fact, sensory contrast can be said to operate 
hand in hand with sensory adaptation, and to further the 


processes of adjustment in much the same way. By the 
principle of adaptation a stimulus has its most powerful 
effect only for a very short time. After that it loses its 
capacity to arouse a perception. By the principle of sensory 
contrast other stimuli (particularly those of an opposite type) 
get their capacity to arouse perception increased. Both of 
these make the shifting of attention more inevitable. 


Perception of bodily position depends upon several senses. 

The perception of the position of one's own body arid its 
parts is aided by vision, by sense-organs in the muscles 
and at the joints, and by a special sense of equilibrium, 
the organs for which are in the ear. The last are called 
the semicircular canals (see Figs. 36 and 37) and the 
vestibule. The vestibule is the bulb-like structure with 
which the semicircular canals are connected. Usually 
these three senses operate together in our perception of 
bodily position. This is well demonstrated by the alteration 
which occurs in our perceptions if one of these senses is 
prevented from operating in its normal manner. In the 
disease called locomotor ataxia the nerve impulses from the 
sense-organs in the muscles are unable to reach the brain, 
owing to the destruction of certain pathways in the spinal 
cord. The characteristic thing about the sufferer from this 
disease is a peculiar, hesitant walk which is caused by his 
inability to get the u feel" of his legs. If vision is interfered 
with, the perception of position is also less efficient. There 
are many stories of military flyers who, when caught in 
dense clouds so that no familiar objects, such as the earth's 
surface, were visible, did not know whether they were flying 
right-side-up or up-side-down. Disturbance of the semi- 
circular canals in man by the application of an electric 


shock to the skull near the canals causes staggering and 

The perception of size. The perception of size, big- 
ness, or extent also involves a number of the senses. If 
they are equidistant from the eye, large objects affect a 
larger area of the retina than small objects. As a rule large 
objects, when touched, affect a greater area of the skin than 
smaller objects. It is usually true also that the exploration 
and examination of larger objects involve more extensive 
movements than the exploration and examination of smaller 
objects. Naturally the muscular sensations set up vary 
with the amount of movement. Hearing is not so important 
in the perception of size, but it is involved to a certain degree. 
Large objects, if they make any sound at all, usually make 
sounds which are louder and of lower pitch than those made 
by small objects. 

The perceptions of size which take place by means of the 
different sense-organs are closely interrelated. In fact, one 
kind of sense-organ seldom works alone in the perception of 
size. When we perceive an object visually, our eyes do not 
remain fixed upon one part of that object. They move 
about, fixing first one point and then another. Thus we 
get data for the interpretation of the object's size, not only 
from vision, but also from the muscles employed in eye 
movements. Furthermore, our interpretation of the size of 
a seen object is rendered more complete because of the fact 
that we have handled and explored the same object or similar 
objects on other occasions. 

Perception of distance. This brings us to the perception 
of distance, which involves especially the eyes and the sense- 
organs in certain muscles controlling eye movement and the 
adjustment of the lens. The muscles controlling eye move- 
ment are shown in Figure 40. 



When an observed object approaches us our eyeballs must 
turn inward toward the nose. This turning of the eyes arouses 
nerve impulses in the muscles of the eyes. In order to keep 
an approaching object in clear focus it also is necessary 
for the lens to bulge. This bulging of the lens probably 
arouses other impulses, and they, with the impulses from 
the eye muscles, give an indication of the distance of the 
object at which we are looking. It is possible to see the 
sides as well as the front of a near object, unless it be very 

large, and this also 
helps us to perceive dis- 
tance. Near objects 
have the property of at 
least partially cutting 
\ off our view of objects 

Epi c This, of course, gives a 
valuable clue to dis- 
tance. On the water it 
is often very difficult to 


,, , , . .. , ., . perceive distance accu- 

This drawing shows some of the muscles that move r 

rately because the view 

the eyebaii 

is so unobstructed. One other factor of importance in per- 
ception of distance is the clearness of vision. The farther 
away objects are, the more clothed they become in an atmos- 
pheric haze. This even changes their natural colors. The 
distant green hills appear blue. In the Rocky Mountain 
country the air is exceptionally clear, and distant objects do 
not have the haze about them that they do in the east. For 
this reason easterners, upon first going out there, are likely 
to perceive a mountain which is in reality many miles 
away as if it were within easy walking distance. 

But the perception of distance is not entirely accounted for 


by the factors just mentioned. There is reason to doubt 
whether we should perceive distance if it were not for our 
habits of moving about in space. If we kept our bodies in 
the same place all the time our eyes might be affected by 
distance, but we should never pay any attention to distance, 
and consequently we should never learn to perceive it. 

We have named only a few sairiples of the qualities that 
can be perceived. In the present chapter we have men- 
tioned only a few of the multitude of perceptible qualities 
that exist. If we were to enumerate them all, we should 
have to include location, speed, strangeness, and perhaps 
several hundred or thousand others. But in mentioning 
brightness and color, noise and tone, odor, pressure, tem- 
perature, pain and taste we have considered the simplest 
perceptible qualities. They are simplest because the per- 
ception of any one of them depends almost entirely upon 
the operation of only a single sense-organ. Most perceptible 
qualities, on the other hand, depend upon the operation of 
two or more senses. Take the case of size, which we were 
just considering. It seems as if one simply sees how large 
an object is, but it is doubtful whether we could perceive 
size at all if it were not for the sense-organs in the muscles 
of the eye which indicate the movement and position of the 


1. A classification of perception according to the different 
senses will give a good idea of the extent of this variety of 
mental activity. Such a classification cannot, of course, 
enumerate every perception possible, because, if we count 
those perceptions depending upon the operation of the 
same sense in different ways or upon the operation of a 
combination of senses, the variety of perceptions is prac- 
tically endless. 


2. Through the eye we perceive achromatic qualities 
and chromatic qualities. The former can be represented by 
a series of values lying along a straight line. The latter 
can be represented by a series of values lying along the cir- 
cumference of a circle. These two figures, when combined 
into the color spindle, represent a complete array of visual 

3. Weakness in color perception sometimes depends upon 
an inherited deficiency in the sensitivity of the eyes to color. 
Individuals who possess this deficiency are often able to 
identify many colors by means of brilliance and other 
characteristics of colored objects, but the deficiency can be 
detected by proper tests. Weakness in color perception is 
sometimes only a matter of lack of practice in dealing with 

4. Light comes to the eye in the form of very rapid and 
very short vibrations of the ether. If the eye is affected by a 
mixture of many different vibration lengths, we perceive 
white, gray, or black. If the eye is affected by a single 
vibration length, we perceive a color. Colors can also be 
obtained from some mixtures of different vibration lengths. 

5. The actual sense-organs of vision are the rods and 
cones located in the inner coat or retina of the eye. It is 
here that the nerve activity is set up which is conveyed by 
the optic nerve to the brain. 

6. Through the ear we perceive noises and tones and the 
two in combination. Noises are not susceptible of satis- 
factory classification, but tones fall into a regular series 
according to their pitch. Complex tones can be distinguished 
according to their timbre, that is, according to their com- 

7. Some persons have much better capacity than others 
to discriminate between tones of different pitch. The 


possibility of developing a high order of musical ability is 
slight unless one has good tonal discrimination. 

8. Sound comes to the ear in the form of vibrations of the 
surrounding air. The slower vibrations arouse perceptions 
of low tones; the faster vibrations, perceptions of high tones. 

9. The sense-organs for hearing are located in the cochlea, 
a small structure resembling a snail shell. The nerve im- 
pulses here set up are conveyed to the brain by the auditory 

10. Although many odors can be accurately identified, it 
has not been possible to arrange them satisfactorily into any 
such orderly scheme as the ones which we have for colors and 
tones. The sense-organ for smell lies in the nasal cavity, 
and it is excited by many gaseous substances which come 
into contact with it. 

11. In the perception of sights, sounds, and odors we take 
account of objects at a distance. This is especially im- 
portant for intelligent behavior, because it makes possible 
preparation to meet situations before they have actually 

12. The fundamental pressure qualities are light pressure 
and heavy pressure. These qualities are dependent upon 
the stimulation of sense-organs in the surface of the skin or 
in the deeper tissue. 

13. There are two distinct temperature qualities each of 
which has its own type of sense-organ. These qualities are 
warmth and cold. In the perception of extremes of tem- 
perature pain also is involved. 

14. There are a number of kinds of pain, cutaneous pain, 
sub-cutaneous pain or ache, headaches, the pains accom- 
panying abnormal conditions of the internal organs. Pain 
is not necessarily unpleasant, but it usually is. 

15. The taste qualities are sour, salt, sweet, and bitter. 


Most of the flavors that we perceive are mixtures of taste 
and odor qualities. 

16. Sensory adaptation and contrast are prominent factors 
in perception. As a rule the exposure of a sense organ to a 
single type of stimulation decreases its sensitivity for that 
stimulation and at the same time increases its sensitivity 
to stimulation of other types. Adaptation and contrast 
furnish one explanation as to why attention is as shifting as 
it is. 

17. Bodily position is perceived as a result of the co- 
operative action of vision, the muscle sense, and the special 
sense-organs of equilibrium which are located in the inner 
ears. The perception of size and distance are other in- 
stances of the combined action of different senses in per- 
ception. Of course these are merely examples of the 
innumerable complex perceptions which occur in everyday 


1 . Can you think of any way of classifying perceptions except in terms 
of the different senses? Would such a classification be satisfactory? 

2. Give a list of situations in which accurate visual perception could 
not take place without the presence of other than visual qualities. 

3. If all locomotive engineers were color blind, what kind of visual 
signals could be used on railroads? Why? 

4. Practice drawing a cross-section of the eye and designating its main 
parts untii you can do so from memory. 

5. In vision it is possible to perceive two colors at once without their 
being mixed. Why is this not possible in the perception of sounds? 

6. Why is keener tonal discrimination required of one who plays the 
violin than of one who plays the piano? 

7. Practice drawing the interior of the ear and designating its parts 
until you can do so from memory. 

8. Why is it appropriate to speak of smell as "taste at a distance"? 

9. Explain why it is that our ability to perceive objects at a distance 
makes possible our preparation for future events. 


10. Press the palms of the hands together. Can you distinguish the 
pressure felt with the right hand from that felt with the left? Explain. 

11. In initiation ceremonies the blindfolded neophyte is sometimes told 
that his arm is to be branded with a red-hot iron. A piece of ice is then 
pressed against his bare arm. Why is it so easy for him to believe that 
he has really been burned? 

12. Lukewarm coffee hardly seems to taste like coffee at all. Why? 

13. What are some cases of sensory adaptation besides those men- 
tioned in the text? 

14. What are some cases of sensory contrast besides those mentioned 
in the text? 

15. What are some cases of complex perception, i.e., perception involv- 
ing the action of more than one sense, besides those mentioned in the text? 


Sanford, American Journal of Psychology, 1012, pp. 50-65; or Readings 
in General Psychology, Oh. VT, Selection 4-A, p. 153 ft". 

Helen Keller, The World I Live In, pp. 5-8; or Readings, Ch. VI, Selec- 
tion 4-B, p. 159 ff . 









1. In what forms do our ideas occur? 

2. What do ideas represent? 

3. In what sense are ideas preserved? 

4. What is meant by the association of ideas? 

Ideation is the second fundamental form of knowing, or 
cognitive, activity. Sometimes ideation is spoken of as 
symbolic activity, because by means of it we deal, not 
directly with actual objects and events, but with ideas which 
stand for the actual. 

We shall devote four chapters to this subject. In the 
first of these there will be a description of the forms in which 
our ideas occur. We shall see how ideas sometimes take 
the form of what are called images, which are not unlike 
direct experiences of objects in perception. We shall also 
see how words and bodily movements and postures may 
function as ideas. There will be a discussion of what ideas 
stand for and of how ideas are organized by experience into 
what are called concepts. We shall see something of dif- 
ferent types of concepts and their development. Finally, 
we shall consider the important part played by words in 
making possible the use of these concepts. 



In the second chapter on this subject we shall see how the 
ideas of memory enable us to live over the past. Something 
will be said about the difference between an efficient and an 
inefficient memory, and of the rules which must be followed 
if the best results are to be obtained in memorizing. The 
questions will be raised as to why it is that we forget and 
why our forgetting is sometimes rapid and sometimes slow. 
At the end of this chapter we shall take up some of the 
typical errors for which our forgetting is responsible. 

The third chapter of this part of the book will have to do 
with the occurrence of ideas in new combinations. We shall 
discover how it is possible through ideation to get in touch 
with that which has never been present in our personal 
experience. It will be seen what influences make for ori- 
ginality of thought and what for conventionality. We shall 
learn that original combinations of ideas may be the result of 
long and arduous effort or that they may occur in what seerns 
to be a wholly spontaneous manner. And we shall consider 
how unnecessary it is to explain the relatively spontaneous 
type of originality as resulting from some supernatural 
inspiration. Something will be said also about dreams and 
fantasy, and about the relationship between imagination 
and the affairs of everyday life. 

The final chapter of this part will have to do with the use 
of ideas in the solution of problems, that is to say, in reason- 
ing. We shall see both the advantages and limitations of 
reasoning. Since the basis of sound reasoning lies in the 
possession of reliable information, there will be a description 
of some of the ways, both accurate and inaccurate, by means 
of which information is collected. But even with reliable 
information, our reasoning often goes astray. Therefore it 
will be necessary to learn some of the typical difficulties in 
the way of sound thinking. Reasoning, of course, usually 


results in conclusions. We shall see what kinds of con- 
clusions there are. And lastly, we shall see the relationship 
of reasoning to overt movement and to further thinking. 

Ideas, like perceptions, are intellectual reactions. A 

few moments ago I turned my eyes toward a book upon my 
study table. At once there was aroused in me an act an 
act of understanding that the object before me was a book. 
Some time before there was a sound which aroused in me 
another act an act of understanding that a co-worker 
of mine was opening his office door. As we have else- 
where remarked, such perceptions are not simply impres- 
sions which books, sounds, and other objects or events 
make upon us. They are also active responses on our part 
to what is going on within us and about us. Ideas, like 
perceptions, are definite reactions. If the book is removed 
from the table so that I can no longer perceive it, I still can 
have an idea of it. And in having that idea I am indulging 
in action just as truly as I was while perceiving the book. 


Imagery is one form of ideation. Whenever I have occa- 
sion to think of the school I first attended, an experience 
occurs that is very like actually seeing the red-brick building 
itself. Late one afternoon I set out upon a walk with one of 
my friends. In my pocket I carried a letter that I intended 
to post in a box at the corner. After we had walked perhaps 
half a mile, I stopped suddenly and asked my companion 
whether I had posted the letter as we passed the box. He 
could not remember, nor could I for a moment or two. All 
at once an experience occurred which answered my question. 
I seemed to hear the post-box " thump" as it does when one 
lets go of the door. Now experiences like seeing a school 


house which was really miles away and like hearing the 
thump of the post-box which had been left behind some 
minutes before are called images. It is sometimes said that 
images are mental pictures, but that is not a very good way 
to put it, because images can be like sounds, tastes, odors 
in short, like the perceptions through any of the other senses 
as well as like those through the eye. 

An image is like a perception except that it is seldom as 
definite and that the object which the image represents is not 
actually affecting the sense-organ. The distinction between 
imagery and perception is usually an easy matter. Ordi- 
narily, it is easy for me to know when I am looking at a 
house and when I am having an image of it. The image of 
the red-brick school building is not as vivid as the actual 
sight of the building would be and, furthermore, while I am 
aware of that image, I am also aware of other thoughts, 
objects, and so forth, which keep me reminded that I am 
miles away from the structure my image represents. Still, 
there are situations in which imagery is quite likely to be 
mistaken for perception. This is true in dreams. Although 
we are occasionally aware, while dreaming, that our dream 
images are unreal, we are more frequently completely de- 
ceived by them until we awake. In conditions of great 
emotional excitement and in mental disorders there are 
very likely to be frequent confusions between imagery and 
perception. The two are also readily confused when external 
stimuli are weak. I have in my room a stubborn little clock 
which has the habit of stopping in the middle of the night, 
thereby causing me much inconvenience in the morning. 
One night, just before going to sleep, I listened to discover 
whether the clock was at work. The longer I listened the 
more uncertain I was as to whether I was hearing an actual 
"tick, tick, tick" or whether I was imagining it. When I 


finally got up and walked over to the clock, I discovered 
that it really had stopped and that the ticking was auditory 
imagery rather than perception. 

The uses of imagery. Many people have noticed that 
as they have acquired a more thorough mastery oi words 
and as they have become more and more concerned with 
relatively abstract affairs, their imagery has become ex- 
tremely fragmentary. They have come to think in terms of 
words rather than in terms of images. The question has 
often arisen as to whether or not this loss of capacity for 
producing clear images is a disadvantage. It seems reason- 
able to suppose that vivid imagery may under certain cir- 
cumstances be of considerable importance. Would not 
the poet be aided by a vivid visual image of the natural 
scene he is trying to describe from memory? Would not 
the inventor be aided* by a clear visual image of his completed 
machine? Would not the composer be aided by being able 
in clear auditory imagery to go over the melody he is in the 
act of composing? It seems that the answer 1 to all these 
questions should be an unqualified u yes." And yet the 
skilled psychologist will tell you that the matter is not so 
simple. Beautiful poetry can be written with scarcely any 
use of imagery. There have undoubtedly been capable 
poets who have thought directly in terms of the words they 
have written. It is possible to compose a melody without 
being aided by auditory imagery. The composer may sit 
down at the piano and make up the tune in terms of actual 
sounds without reference to any imaged ones. The machine 
designer often has to have pencil and paper before he can 
begin to work. This is evidence that he does his thinking in 
terms of the lines he actually draws while thinking, rather 
than in terms of imagery. There is no doubt but that some 
poets, inventors, and composers, perhaps the majority of 


each of these groups, work out their poems, designs, and 
compositions through imagery, but it is our point that 
almost any result of thinking may be produced by any one 
of a number of forms of thought. The poet, while writing, 
may experience a visual image of the natural scene he is 
describing; the words he puts down upon paper may come 
to him as if spoken by another's voice; or he may be oblivious 
of almost everything except the actual movements of writing. 

Form and reference of ideas must be distinguished. 
A distinction must be drawn between what ideas are about 
and the nature of the ideas, that is, whether they are images, 
words, or of some other form. The reason why it has 
frequently been supposed that poets and inventors must 
have vivid visual images, that composers must have clear 
auditory images, and so on, is that there has been a constant 
confusion between what the idea is about and the form of the 
idea. Poets and inventors certainly do think about visual 
objects, about objects whose visual qualities are predominant 
over their other qualities. But this does not mean that these 
objects can be thought about only through visual imagery. 
If one has a sufficiently wide and accurate vocabulary there 
is hardly a visual quality that he cannot think about in 
verbal terms. 

Language is another form of ideation. Language is a 
form of thought which makes it possible for people to think 
together, to understand each other, and to carry on com- 
munication. But when a language is mastered it frequently 
replaces imagery, even in the private thinking of the in- 
dividual. Some people cannot think easily unless they talk 
aloud to themselves. Some lecturers get their best ideas 
while they are actually lecturing. In these cases, thinking 
in terms of spoken words has become so habitual that 
thought goes on best in that form. Many of us who do not 


talk aloud to ourselves and who do not do our best thinking 
while speaking to other people, do nevertheless carry on our 
thinking in words. While absorbed in a train of thought, 
we are engaged in inaudible speaking. As a rule the person 
who thinks in this way is not aware of the form his thought is 
taking. He knows what he is thinking about, but the fact 
that he is really talking to himself wholly escapes his notice. 
Only very careful self-observation is capable of revealing to 
him tliQ manner in which he thinks. 

Language has its written as well as its spoken form, and 
some persons, especially professional writers, get to a point 
where they depend upon paper and pencil, or typewriter. 
Their ideas, as was suggested when we were considering the 
poet's need of imagery, take the form of actual movements 
of writing. 

It is the custom to think of the public speaker that is, 
the extemporaneous speaker as having ideas "in his head" 
which he translates into the spoken word, and of the writer 
as having ideas "in his head" which he translates into the 
written word. It is nearer the truth to think of the speaker's 
ideas as coming directly into his mouth and of the writer's 
ideas as coming directly into his fingers. Young writers are 
sometimes advised to "think right into the typewriter." This 
is only another way of saying that, if one wishes to write 
down ideas, it is better to have the ideas occur as writing 
movements than as images or spoken words which have to 
be translated into writing. 

Words, themselves, may take the form of images. 
We have described how ideas may occur as audible or in- 
audible speaking and as the actual movements of writing. 
Under these circumstances, thinking in verbal terms is 
something distinct from thinking in terms of imagery. It is 
perfectly possible, however, for thought to go on in terms of 


be realities. And, in thus representing these realities, they 
are reacted to by us a good deal as if they were realities. 
They are met, respectively, with active hate and sympathy. 
The idea of skidding on a wet pavement is riot a reality in 
the same sense that the actual skidding would be. Ideas 
of skidding do not break wheels off motor cars. And yet 
such an idea is often reacted to as if it were the actual ex- 
perience of skidding. When the idea of skidding occurs to a 
driver he is very likely to press his foot less heavily upon the 
accelerator. Hold up your forefinger, looking at it closely; 
now think of a very sharp knife cutting into it. Do you feel 
like pulling your finger away? Was the effect of the idea of 
the knife anything like the effect of an actual knife? 

Because ideas are more important for what they represent 
than for what they are, people have often written of them as 
though they were unreal, supernatural things. Nothing 
could be further from the truth. Ideas are no more super- 
natural than events upon the stage. Like those events, they 
are more important for what they mean than for what they 
are, but nevertheless their own nature may become as 
interesting at times as do the personality and private life of 
some famous player, or the mechanical devices by means of 
which theatrical effects are attained. In the preceding 
sections of this chapter we, ourselves, kept our attention upon 
the various forms in which ideas occur with only a casual 
reference now and then to what those ideas represent. 

Ideas represent the past. Ideas enable us to live again 
experiences that are past. When I image the building in 
which I first attended school, I am partially duplicating acts 
of perception that took place years ago. When I image 
the sound of the closing post-box, I partially relive a past 
experience. Life is rendered richer and more significant by 
this capacity to revive in the shape of ideas the pleasant, 


tender, and exhilarating moments of the past. Think of 
the barrenness of an existence cut off from all possibility of 
knowing its own past! This knowledge of the past has, also, 
its practical uses. Here is a man who, during a cold and 
stormy evening, has to reach a distant part of the city as 
quickly as possible. He thinks of going by steam train, but 
realizes that that would require a long walk at each end of his 
journey. He thinks of going by the elevated, but that would 
require an even longer exposure to the storm. Finally the 
idea comes to him that on a similar occasion some weeks 
before he had taken a surface car and reached the same 
destination with very little walking. On the basis of this 
idea of the past he is able more intelligently to select a way 
out of his present difficulty. 

Ideas represent the future. The man who pays no 
attention to the possibilities of the future is stupid and un- 
intelligent. The future always enters into those considera- 
tions that guide the wise man's conduct. Now, the future 
cannot actually be met until we get to it, but what it is 
likely to be can be represented by ideas. Where ideas play 
a part in problem solving, some of those ideas must represent 
the future. Consider again the man who wishes, on a cold 
and stormy night, to reach the city as promptly and com- 
fortably as possible. The solution of this problem is, in a 
way, as we have already indicated, based upon an idea of a 
former trip to the identical destination. There are present, 
however, other ideas with an almost purely future reference. 
The very realization that there is any problem that needs 
solving depends upon an anticipation that there is an appoint- 
ment to be met an hour from now. The thinker's rejection of 
the ideas of going by steam or elevated is dependent- upon 
his anticipation of the discomforts which will be his if he puts 
either of those ideas into operation. And his selection of 


the surface car is based, not alone upon an idea of a former, 
successful trip upon it, but also upon an idea of what that 
method of travel will mean during the evening that lies before 

Ideas extend the bounds of personal experience. By 
means of ideas a person can deal, in the present moment, 
with events that have been experienced in the past and 
also with events that are to be experienced in the future. 
But ideas do even more. They put him in touch with 
events which he has never directly experienced and is 
never likely to experience in any direct way. The polar 
explorer, through word of mouth or pen, arouses vivid ideas 
of that country in another who has not visited the arctic 
region. Likewise the soldier, the poet, the master in business, 
the leader in politics, and others who have had unusual 
experience arouse in us ideas through which we know ex- 
periences that it would be out of the question for us actually 
to go through. 

By putting ideas together in new combinations we can of 
our own initiative extend our mental life into regions un- 
touched by our personal, concrete experiences. The author 
constructs a plot, and the ordinary man weaves a day-dream. 
In both cases events are thought about which have never 
been actually experienced and are not likely to be. The 
ideas that the author puts into his novel and the ordinary 
man into his day-dreams are based upon earlier personal 
experiences, but the present combinations into which they 
are put are distinctly new. Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt, 
Huckleberry Finn, and the rest of that company never entered 
the concrete experience of Mark Twain in precisely the form 
in which he has described them in his stories. There is no 
doubt, however, but that during his contacts with people, 
he actually observed imaginativeness, quick temper mixed 


with kindliness, untutored ingenuity, and the many other 
traits with which he endowed his fictitious characters. 

History, sciences, and all other bodies of knowledge are 
collections of ideas. Civilization without ideas would be 
impossible. Our laws, our political institutions, our religious 
beliefs, our artistic standards, our mechanical devices, and 
the control which has been achieved over disease are de- 
pendent upon bodies of knowledge or collections of ideas. 
Present-day life is deeply affected by the history of the 
human race. No one remembers history in the same 
concrete way in which he remembers the past events of 
his own life, but written history is capable of arousing 
ideas of human struggles and achievements during earlier 
days. No engineer in designing a bridge can, himself, 
remember the discovery of all those physical principles which 
must be taken into account in his plans. Indeed, that is 
unnecessary, because the ideas resulting from those dis- 
coveries have become incorporated into the bodies of knowl- 
edge called Physics and Engineering, where they are available 
for anyone capable of studying such subjects. No physician 
is likely to observe, during his hospital training, an actual 
example of every disease with which he will later be called 
upon to deal. Through books and lectures, he will, never- 
theless, get ideas which will extend enormously the bounds 
of his experience. 

Ideas, themselves, are not preserved. We have dis- 
cussed how ideas can bring back the past, represent the 
future, and give us access to realms beyond our personal 
experience. Sometimes, for the sake of convenience, we 
speak as if the ideas which bring about these results are 
stored up in the mind or among the printed pages of a book, 
from which they can be extracted when one wishes to 
refer to them. But, unless we are very careful, such a state- 


ment may lead us into a misconception of the nature of ideas. 
It is likely to lead us to think of ideas as objects, when they 
are not objects, but activities. They are activities just as 
moving one's feet, digesting a meal, and perceiving a voice 
are activities. 

While one is not actually moving his feet, digesting a meal, 
or perceiving the sound of a voice, he still retains a capacity 
to do these things. This does not mean that the moving, 
digesting, and perceiving are retained, but merely that one 
will later be able to carry on these activities when the proper 
circumstances arise. Where is your voice when you are 
quiet? It is generally agreed that certain conditions of 
the nervous system are retained which form the basis of 
this ability to carry on these activities. Similar facts are 
true in regard to ideas. I am able to image with fair 
clearness my bookshelves at home whenever I wish to do 
so. That certainly does not mean that I carry this image 
around with me. It means only that I preserve the capacity, 
probably in the form of a certain brain condition, to carry 
on this process of imaging. 

In the preceding section we spoke of history, the sciences, 
and other bodies of knowledge as being collections of ideas. 
These ideas, we implied, are preserved in books. It is not 
literally true, though, that a book is made up of ideas. Ideas 
are acts carried out by live people, and actual ideas do not 
exist nor occur except as they are manifested by some 
individual person. What is preserved in the book, then? 
The book contains printed words, pictures, and other 
symbols which are capable of actually setting in motion 
the formation of ideas in him who reads. Ideas are no 
more in the book when it is not being read than is mov- 
ing my feet in me when the movement is not taking 


Ideas prepare the way for overt action. Thus far our 
study has shown us that ideas are not objects, but actions; 
that these actions are imaging, using words (either to our- 
selves or in such a way that others, too, can understand 
them), movements, postures, and certain processes the 
nature of which cannot be directly observed; that these 
ideas are more important for what they represent than for 
the particular form they take; and that through these ideas 
we are put in touch with the past, the future, and with ex- 
periences which we, personally, can never have. 

We now have to consider the relationship between these 
acts that are important mainly in what they stand for and 
other acts which are important in themselves. Such an 
act of movement as stepping over a curb achieves an imme- 
diate and important result. It keeps me from tripping 
and puts me safely out of the street and on the walk. An 
idea of stepping over a curb, on the other hand, does not 
affect my actual position in regard to street and curl). 
Nevertheless, such an idea may prepare the way for the 
actual stepping movements. As a matter of fact, such 
simple obstacles as curbstones usually arouse appropriate 
movements without the occurrence of ideas, but there are 
many cases where appropriate movements do depend upon 
the ideas that precede them. Consider the example which 
we have used of a man selecting one out of a number of 
methods of traveling to a certain destination. The final 
movements that actually take him to his car were prepared 
for by the idea of the route selected and ideas of the merits of 
this route compared with those of others. 

Ideas, like perceptions, typically prepare the way for 
immediately important movements. Plowever, as in per- 
ception, ideas do not always result in such movements 
at once. As I sit at my typewriter I may think of a 


certain book which I intend to draw from the library on 
my way home this evening. That idea is not followed at 
once by my leaving my present task and going to the library. 
The chances are that I shall not do anything about the matter 
until some hours hence. Ideas may also occur that never 
have any important effects upon my overt movements. This 
morning it was very cold and snowy, and as I came to the 
laboratory I thought about being in the arctic regions and 
what life there must be like. It is extremely doubtful 
whether those ideas will ever have any appreciable effect 
upon my conduct. We may conclude, then, that while 
ideation typically prepares for important movements and 
plays a part in determining conduct of a more complete 
sort, it, does not always do so. Much activity, such as my 
thinking of life in the arctic, hardly gets beyond the ideatiorial 

It is sometimes held that thought, or ideation, which 
fails to affect our behavior in a clear, tangible manner 
is fairly useless. The ideas of astronomers in regard to the 
position of the heavenly bodies result in guides for navigators 
to follow in the sailing of ships. But not all ideas that 
astronomers have in regard to the planets and the stars 
have such practical consequences. Many of these ideas have 
to do simply with the colossal magnitude of the universe 
and the relative insignificance of this little earth of ours. 
Such ideas carry man out of the humdrum monotony of his 
everyday life and broaden his intellectual horizon. They 
may not lengthen his life or increase his worldly goods; 
they may not alter his daily conduct in a way that anyone 
can observe ; but they are capable of giving his experience a 
depth and perspective which make life more worth living. 

Ideas are acquired. We have distinguished between 
acts which are acquired or learned and those which can 


be performed without any particular training and ex- 
perience. The first group of acts we called habits. The 
second group we called reflexes. Now ideas are in all cases 
learned activities. Although an individual may from birth 
be capable of performing a vocal movement or a limb move- 
ment which later constitutes the form of an idea, personal 
experience is necessary before such an activity can stand for 
something. And until an activity comes to stand for some- 
thing besides itself, it is not an idea. 

Ideatibnal acts are habits not alone because of the fact 
that the connection between their form and their significance 
has been acquired through experience. These acts are also 
to be understood as habits because the circumstances 
under which they occur have been determined by personal 


The association of ideas. Ideas, as a result of the 
experiences through which an individual passes, tend to be 
aroused either by perceptions or by other ideas. My per- 
ception of the snow and cold aroused in me certain ideas of 
the arctic. My perception of clouds in the sky arouses in 
me the idea of a possible storm. Furthermore, the idea of 
the arctic is capable of arousing ideas of other parts of the 
world, such as the tropics, and the idea of a possible storm is 
capable of arousing ideas of umbrellas, raincoats, and the 
good fortune of the farmers. 

These connections between ideas and perceptions and 
between ideas and other ideas are called associations. Strictly 
speaking, such connections as that between the perception of 
a curbstone and the movements of stepping over it, or be- 
tween the sight of an oncoming tennis ball and the movement 
of swinging the racket, are associations just as truly as those 


in which ideas are involved, but it has been the custom for 
psychologists to use this term principally where ideas are 
concerned. Perhaps the main point for us to keep in mind 
is that the connections or associations between perceptions 
and ideas and between ideas and other ideas are simply 
special instances of habit, a topic about which we have 
already had much to say. 

Associations are either successive or simultaneous. 
Association is most clearly observable in the sequences of our 
ideas and perceptions. One sees a book, and a moment 
later one has a visual image of the author whose picture he 
saw the other day in a magazine. One thinks of the ap- 
proaching close of the school year, then of the month of 
June, then of a birthday that he must not forget. Such 
sequences reveal associations or organizations among ideas 
and percepts of a type familiar to almost everyone, whether 
he be a psychologist or not. They are successive associations. 

There is another type of associative connection which is 
somewhat less obvious, but certainly no less important for 
mental life. In the actual moment of perceiving a house 
there is present an idea of its occupants, and perhaps even 
the beginnings of the muscular movement required in the 
pronunciation of a name. In the moment of perceiving a 
block of ice there are present ideas of coldness and heaviness. 
Such organizations are called simultaneous associations. 
The reason why they are less frequently noticed by the 
casual observer is that he tends to accept each moment of 
experience as a whole. He rarely analyzes it as he does a 
chain of successive experiences. 

What ideas and perceptions are associated? It is 
perfectly possible for any idea to become associated with 
any other idea or with any perception. There is a certain 
house, the perception of which always makes me think of a 


man who died there about fifteen years ago, There is 
nothing about the mere appearance of the house to call to 
mind anyone in particular, and I daresay that the majority 
of the people who pass that house today are never reminded 
of its former occupant. But I am reminded of the man 
because, a long time ago, I formed the habit of thinking of 
him and his house together. People in foreign countries 
would not be likely to think of baseball upon thinking of 
peanuts or upon perceiving the odor of peanuts, but many 
of us, in this country, have formed the habit of thinking of 
the two at the same time or in immediate succession. All 
this simply shows that the connections between ideas and 
perceptions or other ideas, like other kinds of habits, depend 
directly upon what experiences we have had. 

No individual's experience is exactly like that of any other 
individual, and for that reason we may expect him to have 
formed associations which would not be present in other 
individuals. If the idea of cherries reminds me of a certain 
camping trip, it is because I once earned the money required 
for that trip by picking cherries. Not many other people 
would be reminded of a camping trip by cherries, and it is 
very doubtful whether anyone else would be reminded of 
this particular trip. But associations of this individual sort 
are not nearly so frequent as we might suppose. The 
thought of boy reminds me of girl, the thought of snow 
reminds me of cold, the thought of lamp reminds me of light. 
While these associations, just as truly as the one between 
cherries and a certain camping trip, are habits formed as a 
result of definite past experiences, they are associations 
which are widely prevalent. They are the result of expe- 
riences which are duplicated in the life of almost everyone. 

There is a very interesting experiment, called the free 
association experiment, which throws light upon the relative 


frequency of associations peculiar to some individual and of 
those possessed by almost everybody. A list of one hundred 
simple words, such as "man," "house," "grass," and the 
like, is employed. A subject in this experiment is given one 
of these words. He thereupon responds with the first word 
that occurs to him. Then he is given another word, and so 
on through the list. It has been found that most individuals 
respond to by far the greater number of these so-called 
stimulus words in a way that one would naturally expect. 
For example, over six hundred out of one thousand subjects 
were reminded of light by the stimulus word "lamp." 

Classification of associations. Among the more common 
associations are those between items that are related in 
some logical manner. The relations involved, it should be 
noted, are relations between what the associated ideas stand 
for or represent rather than between the forms of the per- 
ceptions or ideas which are associated. For example, snow 
and white are commonly associated, and they are also logic- 
ally closely related. White is an attribute or characteristic 
of snow. 

Ideas are associated when they stand for similar things, 
contrasting things, things related as wholes to parts, things 
related as cause and effect. These are just a few of the 
logical relations important in the association of ideas. 

The strength of associations. The perception of the word 
"boy," or the idea of boy, may arouse the idea of girl. 
This would take place, at least sometimes, for most English- 
speaking people. And yet it is extremely doubtful whether 
there is anyone for whom the idea of girl is the only idea 
associated with boy. The idea of boy may arouse in the 
same individual, though of course at different times, the idea 
of David Copperfield, of the old swimming hole, of the 
purposes of education, and of an orphans' home. In the 


light of this, it is necessary for us to inquire why, at any 
particular time, one association is stronger than the rest. 

When there is associated with a given perception or idea a 
number of other ideas, the first of these associations to be 
formed has a certain advantage by virtue of that primacy. 
Other things being equal, the name " Thomas " is likely to 
arouse an idea of the first person of that name I ever knew. 

The latest idea associated with a given perception or idea 
also has. an advantage by virtue of that recency. Other 
things being equal, I am likely to think of the person by the 
name of Thomas whom I have most recently met. 

The idea most frequently aroused by a given perception or 
idea has an advantage by virtue of that frequency. If I 
have used the name "Thomas" very frequently in con- 
nection with a certain person, I am likely to think of that 
person when I hear or think of that name. 

The idea associated with a given perception or idea has an 
advantage if it has been aroused by that perception or idea 
under circumstances of great vividness. If a man by the 
name of Thomas had once defrauded me out of a fortune, 
the sound or idea of the name would probably arouse the 
idea of that man, even though other Thomases had been 
known earlier, later, and more frequently. 

Which of a number of associated ideas is aroused at a 
given time depends upon the general frame of mind one is in. 
If I am, at the moment, concerned about the British novelists 
the word "boy" is likely to arouse an idea of David Copper- 
field or Oliver Twist. If I am suffering from the heat of a 
summer day, it is likely to arouse an idea of the "old swim- 
ming hole." If I am meditating on the future of the human 
race, it may arouse ideas of the purposes of education. If I 
am in a charitable frame of mind, it may arouse an idea of an 
orphans' home. 



Ideas are associated together into groups or concepts. 

In Chapter III we showed that simple habits of movement, 
simple intellectual habits, and simple habits of feeling are 
incorporated into larger systems of habits. A system of 
ideas, or intellectual habits, is known as a concept. 

All of the ideas pertaining to birds which can be aroused in 
me make up my concept of the class of animals called "birds." 
All of the ideas pertaining to justice which can be aroused in 
me make up my concept of justice. All of the ideas per- 
taining to Lincoln which can be aroused in me make up my 
concept of Lincoln. , 

If the idea of spring occurs to me, it is likely to arouse 
ideas of baseball, violets, fishing, or poetry. The idea of 
violets, on the other hand, is likely- to arouse the idea of 
spring or one of the less general ideas, such as poetry, which 
are closely associated with spring. Now, it is in the process 
through which one idea recalls another idea, or perhaps a 
whole group of other ideas, that we are able to discover the 
systems into which ideas are organized. When I am not 
speaking or thinking of spring, there is nothing which any- 
one could observe to suggest that in me spring stands for a 
complex system of interrelated ideas. 

There is another less direct manner in which these systems, 
or concepts, reveal- themselves. Flying certainly is not an 
element in my concept of dogs. If someone says, "Dogs 
fly," I reject that statement as false. And it is a striking 
fact about that act of rejection that I do not have to stop 
and think about the dogs I have known and their inability 
to fly before putting the proposition aside as absurd. The 
mere idea of dog, without arousing any associated ideas, 
simply will not lie down in peace beside the idea of flying. 


My rejection of the proposition that dogs fly takes place 
just as it would if I consciously took into consideration all 
of the ideas associated with the word "dog." Although 
there is nothing in the mere sound of that word to indicate 
that it does not belong with the word "fly," nevertheless its 
action is apparently determined by all of the ideas that could 
be aroused by it. If someone says, "Dogs bark," I accept 
it in the same immediate way in which I reject the statement 
that dogs fly. I show in my action the influence of the ideas 
connected with dog, though those ideas do not actually occur 
at the time of my acceptance of this statement. Thus, 
the way the word or idea, "dog," combines or fails to com- 
bine with other words and ideas reveals a whole system of 
ideas, that is to say, a concept, to which the word or idea, 
"dog/' belongs. 

Concepts may represent concrete objects or abstractions. 
The building in which I live is a single, definite object. 
Although it consists of many parts, such as cellar, walls, roof, 
windows, doors, halls, and has many characteristics, such as 
size, location, color, age, it is still a unitary object. Its 
parts and characteristics are incorporated into an actual unit 
which is susceptible of immediate and direct observation. 
Now all the ideas that represent parts and characteristics 
of this building, as well as the idea representing the building 
as a whole, are organized into a concept. 

We may draw a contrast between such a concrete object as 
a particular house and such an abstraction as mankind. 
There are many actual men, many kinds of men, and many 
human characteristics. But the whole which is constituted 
by the many actual men, the many kinds of men, and the 
many human characteristics is not, itself, an object which 
can be directly observed. Mankind is an abstraction. To 
each of us it stands for the total organization of our ideas 


about men, but it has no single concrete object as a counter- 
part. Many of our concepts, or systems of ideas, are of this 
sort. Many of the ideas making up the system represent 
concrete, observable objects, but the system itself does not 
stand for any one concrete thing. 

The highest achievements of the human mind depend 
upon the existence of abstract concepts. Such geometrical 
concepts as the straight line, the square, and the triangle do 
not represent single, unitary objects. The straight line of 
geometry is not one straight line and it is not all the straight 
lines in the world put together. It is any straight line. 
The square is any square, and the triangle is any triangle. 

How impossible it would be to deal efficiently with space 
if we had no concept to represent straight lines in general, 
if we had only ideas of particular straight lines and their 
special characteristics their particular lengths, locations, 
and the like! Such concepts as loyalty, patience, and 
honesty represent similar abstractions. Loyalty is any 
loyalty, from that of the dog to his master to that of a states- 
man to his country. Patience is any patience, from that of 
a child awaiting dessert to that of a young physician awaiting 
recognition and a practice. Honesty is any honesty, from 
that of a boy abstaining from the theft of an inviting apple 
to that of a broker giving his clients sound advice. If it 
were not for concepts of virtues in the abstract, effective 
moral education would be all but impossible. Loyalty 
would have to be taught from the beginning in each new 
situation. As it is, a child who learns in a few concrete 
situations that one who trusts him deserves his loyalty has a 
general notion of loyalty which enables him to recognize 
loyal actions even in situations in regard to which loyalty 
has not previously been considered. He comes to recognize 
a place for exercising loyalty as readily as he would recognize 


a triangle, even though he had never seen this specific triangle 

Concepts of concrete objects and concepts of abstractions 
depend upon each other. It would be impossible to have 
anything like a true concept of mankind, an abstraction, 
without having at the same time fairly elaborate concepts of 
such concrete objects as individual men. The ideas of 
human traits, for example, which are important elements in 
any adequate concept of mankind, grow out of our experience 
with concrete, actual persons. The human race is and has 
been made up of poets, peasants, soldiers, statesmen, mer- 
chants, and inventors, but more than ideas of the names of 
these groups is required. It is necessary to know, or know 
about, some individual poets, to have an organized system 
of ideas about each one; to have, in other words, a concept 
of each one as of a concrete, actual person. Otherwise, the 
idea of poets could have no more meaning than a mere name 
and, in that case, it could add little to our concept of mankind. 
In order that an idea enter into and play an important part 
in an abstract concept, it must also be part of a concept of 
some concrete object. 

It is possible and often desirable to form an abstract con- 
cept of such a business institution as the bank, before we 
have had the opportunity to acquire many ideas about 
particular banks. But an almost wholly abstract concept of 
this kind is seldom if ever very accurate or complete. Its 
usefulness consists in the fact that in this concept we have a 
framework or setting for the more detailed and specific ideas 
which practical experience is later to furnish. One who 
enters the banking business with a general, theoretical notion 
of what it is all about is not so likely to be swamped by the 
mass of detailed facts which he must master. The detailed 
operations of a single bank would not be mastered readily by 


a person devoid of some conception of the general purpose 
and plan common to all banks. In fact, one can scarcely be 
said to be in a position really to understand the working of a 
single bank, if he has not a general idea (an abstract concept) 
of the business world as a whole. A skilled banker must 
'know more than the internal details of his bank. He must 
know the general principles of business so well that he can 
pass quick and accurate judgment on the affairs of a wide 
variety of business men who wish, perhaps, to borrow money 
from him. 

Words are essential elements in concepts. As we have 
elsewhere remarked, a given concept may play a definite 
part in our thinking without our being actively aware of all 
the ideas making up that concept. Any idea which is a 
part of my concept of dogs may show, in the way in which 
it combines or fails to combine with other ideas, that it is 
influenced by the general system of which it is a part. It is 
because of the relationship of the word "dog" to a whole 
system of ideas that I so promptly reject the statement, 
"Dogs fly/ 7 If I were to stop to recall all of my ideas about 
dogs, I should hardly be any surer of the fallacy of the 
statement than I am upon its first inspection. The word 
"dog" thus stands for or represents a system of ideas, a 
concept, of which it is a part. A word, acting in this way, is 
said to symbolize a concept. 

It is not only words that are able to symbolize, stand for, or 
represent whole concepts. Any idea involved in a concept 
f does to a certain extent represent, in the way it acts, the 
^concept as a whole. But there are a number of reasons why 
words are especially effective concept symbolizers. 

The simpler sorts of thinking and communication are 
concerned for the most part with concepts of concrete 
objects and events. Mental images for private thinking, 


and gestures and pictures for the communication of thought, 
do fairly well under such circumstances. But as mental life 
becomes more highly developed, and as concepts become 
organized about abstractions, we find that images, gestures, 
and pictures become too clumsy and inaccurate to con- 
stitute any longer the principal forms of thought. Let us 
suppose, as is very often the case, that a child's father and 
his father's various characteristics are the first elements in- 
volved in the child's concept of man. While his concept is in 
that stage, a visual image of his father may serve as an 
accurate symbol. But as experience extends the concept 
so that it includes ideas of tall men and short men, black 
men and white men, fat men and thin men, a visual image 
of his father will prove a less and less satisfactory symbol, 
even for the purposes of his private thinking. His concept 
has come to mean any man, but the visual image of his 
father pertains more to one particular man than it does to 
all the others. It is conceivable that under very simple 
conditions of life all one's ideas of going might pertain to 
going by foot to walking or running. If this were so, the 
concept of going might be perfectly well symbolized by a 
visual image of a man walking or running, or, in case the 
thought were to be communicated, by the posture of walking 
or by a picture of an individual walking. But as modes of 
locomotion increase, such forms of thought become too 
special in their reference. 

The greater the number and diversity of the ideas that 
become incorporated into a concept, the more necessary it is 
to have some method of symbolizing the whole concept 
without special reference to one of its elements. As means 
of going multiply, it becomes more and more confusing to 
let an idea pertaining especially to one mode of going stand 
for going in general. Now it is especially in the case of the 


more complex, elaborate, and abstract concepts that words, 
as symbolizers, become indispensable. The word "going" 
stands equally well for any method of going and is not 
likely to become confused with particular methods of going. 
Similarly, the word "man" stands equally well for any man 
and, once the child has acquired it, he is less likely to confuse 
"any man" with the particular man who is his father. 

Any idea which is a part of our concept of justice may 
represent the entire concept. For example, a visual image 
or a picture of a balance is often employed to symbolize 
justice. It would be very awkward if, whenever we thought 
of justice, we had to do so in terms of this image, and if, 
whenever we wished to communicate the idea of justice to 
others, we had to draw a picture of a balance. But what 
other idea involved in this concept would be as good a 
symbol? We are at once forced to admit that few of these 
ideas would serve at all well as a symbol of the whole. Justice 
is not made up of concrete objects which, in ideation, are re- 
presented by simple images or other simple forms of thought. 
Justice is always a quality of fairly complex actions, any 
one of which can be thought about adequately only by means 
of a series of ideas. Justice is a quality which a judge's 
decisions are supposed to have, but each of those decisions 
is a complex, elusive affair. Fortunately, we have the rela- 
tively simple word "justice," and it saves the day, so far as 
utilizing this concept in our thinking is concerned. The 
audible or, if we are thinking privately, the inaudible pro- 
nunciation of this word brings to bear upon the course of our 
thinking much of the elaborate meaning which justice has 
for us. 

So elusive and complex are the ideas incorporated in many 
concepts, that if it were not for some simple words to sym- 
bolize them, we should hardly be able to use the concepts at 


all. It sometimes seems that the introduction of a word or 
other language symbol, such as a written or spoken number, 
brings together into one well-unified system ideas which had 
formerly been only vaguely related to each other. The devel- 
opment of arithmetic was long retarded because men lacked 
any well-organized conception of zero. Their ideas cor- 
responding to the different aspects of this abstraction were 
not organized, and they could not use the concept in their 
thinking because the concept did not exist. But finally 
they introduced a character in their number system to sym- 
bolize all the ideas they had about zero, and straightway 
they had a concept indispensable for successful thinking 
about quantities. 

Words facilitate communication. Words enable people 
to think together. They are not only symbols which make 
it possible for us to think of abstractions and combine many 
ideas into a single concept. They furnish the means whereby 
ideas and systems of ideas can be communicated. Even 
those ideas that represent the most concrete of the objects 
about us are more easily transmitted from one person to 
another when they take the forms of spoken or written 
language. Gestures and pictures are as awkward for 
social intercourse as they are for private thinking. 
Consider having to go through the motions that would be 
required for an accurate account of a football game that 
you had witnessed! Think of the pictures that would be 
required if you wished to impart this description to some 
friend a thousand miles away ! 

One special virtue of vocal communication, as contrasted 
with that carried on by gesture, lies in the fact that talking 
can go on while one is using the legs and arms for other 
purposes. Another advantage is that people can converse 
around a corner, through a wall, and in many other positions 


in which they are not mutually visible. They can also talk 
in the dark. This is not such an important fact for us who 
live in a land of electricity, but under more primitive con- 
ditions of life the ability to use words in place of gestures for 
conveying ideas might easily be vital. A third advantage of 
the spoken word is the small amount of energy required for 
its production. 

Modern civilization is dependent upon written language. 
Really rapid strides in the building of the modern, civilized 
world were not made until written language came into general 
use. The experiences of a man living at one time and in one 
region are, compared with the experiences of the men of 
many ages and many regions, relatively few. Now we 
have seen on frequent occasions that what a man is and does 
depends to a great degree upon what he has learned from 
experience. Anything, then, that could give one man the 
experiences of men of other times and countries should 
increase that one man's powers tremendously. And that is 
just what written language does. One man can master a 
field of science which it has taken the experience of hundreds 
of men to produce. One man can master the lessons in 
government, politics, and business which only the varying 
fortunes of races of many times and countries could teach 
directly. One man can do all of this simply because it is 
possible to record wide ranges of experience within the 
covers of a book. 

Before writing became possible (and that was a long time 
ago, because in very ancient times men had already begun to 
record their experiences on stone tablets), the lessons learned 
by one man had to be passed on by word of mouth to his 
descendants and to those contemporaries who were not close 
to him. Information circulated in this way would naturally 
be modified severely, if it were not constantly checked up, 


and such checking was frequently impossible. If a traveler 
returned from a trip of exploration in a distant land, his own 
account of what he saw might be accurate enough, but as 
the story spread from one town to another and from the 
fathers to the sons, memories would be certain to fail and 
imaginations would be certain to fill in the lost details, until 
finally hardly a true fact remained. But now, with modern 
printing, the most accurate records of events can be passed 
out tu the ends of the earth and preserved for long periods 
of time. The fact cannot be overlooked that the printed page 
may carry statements as fictitious as a folk tale, and that 
many people have too great a confidence in what they see in 
print. Still, none of us would be willing to give up the 
printed page and all that it has done for us, and most would 
hold that it has passed on much more information than mis- 


1. Ideas are activities. While they may represent objects 
they are not, themselves, objects. 

2. In that form of ideation known as imagery one has an 
experience very like sense perception, except that it is 
usually less definite and that the object represented by the 
ideation is not really acting upon the sense-organs at that 

3. The belief is often held that thinking about objects 
which are usually seen demands visual imagery, and that 
thinking about objects usually heard demands auditory 
imagery. This is not, however, anything like a general rule. 
A landscape one has seen may be thought of quite accurately 
in terms of words. We should take care in this connection 
to avoid confusing the form of our thinking with what that 
thinking is about. 


4. Ideation very often occurs in the form of the spoken 
and written word and often, too, in the form of inaudible 
speech. Words as written and as uttered aloud or to oneself 
are not mere expressions of ideas. More often than not they 
are, themselves, ideas. Sometimes, of course, the words 
occur in the form of auditory or visual imagery. 

5. Movements other than those of speaking and writing 
may function as ideas. Thus, gestures are ideas, and so, 
under certain circumstances, are bodily postures. 

6. Like other forms of acquired activity, an idea may 
become so automatic in its occurrence that \ve are unable 
to detect its form. 

7. Although the forms or structures of ideas are interest- 
ing, what the ideas represent is of still greater consequence. 

8. Ideas represent both the past and the future. They 
also represent experiences which the thinker has never had 
and is never likely to have. 

9. History, the sciences, and other bodies of knowledge 
upon which civilization depends are collections of ideas. 
This does not mean that ideas are literally stored up, either 
in books or in anybody's mind. What the individual retains 
is a capacity for ideation, and what the book holds is a 
capacity for arousing ideational activities. 

10. Most, though not all, of our ideas, are related in a 
fairly definite manner to our subsequent overt actions. 
In fact, ideas are frequently nothing but preparations for 
such completer actions. 

1 1 . There are two senses in which ideas are acquired forms 
of activity. In the first sense, images, postures, movements, 
come to represent certain objects and events only as a result 
of experience. In the second sense, the conditions under 
which ideas occur are determined by experience. 

12. As a result of experience, we develop what are known 


as associations of ideas. That is, certain ideas tend to be 
aroused upon the occurrence of certain percepts and other 
ideas. These associations are usually thought of as suc- 
cessive percepts and ideas. They may also exist between 
percepts and ideas occurring simultaneously. Since some 
experiences are peculiar to an individual, some associations 
are also peculiar to him. Since some experiences are shared 
in by large numbers of individuals, some associations are 
common to large numbers. These common associations are 
usually between ideas of logically related objects. 

13. When we have associated with a given perception or 
idea a number of other ideas, the question arises as to what 
determines the strength of these various connections. These 
factors can be enumerated as primacy, recency, frequency, 
vividness, and temporary frame of mind. 

14. Ideas are organized into groups or concepts. The 
ideas belonging to any concept are closely associated with 
the other ideas belonging to that concept. Furthermore, 
an idea belonging to a given concept shows, in its tendency to 
combine or fail to combine with other ideas, the influence 
of other ideas within the same concept. 

15. Concepts may represent concrete objects, such as a 
particular house or person, or they may represent abstrac- 
tions, such as the straight line of geometry. Both types of 
concepts are valid and necessary for effective living. And 
in their development each type depends upon the other. 

16. Although any idea belonging to a concept may, strictly 
speaking,- stand for the concept as a whole, words have a 
special advantage as symbols of concepts. They are able, 
as is no other element in a concept, to represent the whole 
of the concept without undue emphasis upon one or a few of 
its constituent parts. 

17. Often a concept cannot play a definite part in our 


thinking until there is a word to stand for it. Words also 
make possible the communication of ideas and concepts and, 
in written form, the preservation of them. 


1. Imagery is especially likely to be mistaken for perception in dreams 
of sleep. Can you see any reason why that should be so? 

2. How is a person's thought affected by the size of his vocabulary? 

3. Under what circumstances is a bodily movement an idea? Illus- 
trate by giving a case of bodily movement that is an idea and another 
case of bodily movement that is not an idea. 

4. Examine one by one each of the ten items in the list below. Think 
about each of the items, and then write a full account of the form of your 
thinking? Which ideas were in the form of images? What kinds of 
imagery did you experience? Visual? Auditory? Any other kinds? 
Which of your ideas were in the form of words? Words spoken to yourself? 
Images of words? Which of your ideas were in the form of movements or 
bodily postures? Did you think about anything without being able to 
detect how you thought of it? What? 

A red rose 

A train pulling out of a station 

Lightning striking a tree 

Onions frying in a pan 

Climbing a flight of stairs 

A table set for dinner 

A strong wind 

A bite of chocolate 

A cold shower 

A band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner." 

5. Why is it of minor importance for practical life whether a man's 
imagery is mostly visual or mostly auditory? 

6. What is meant by the statement that ideas free us from the limi- 
tations of time? 

7. State in your own words why the sciences and other formal bodies 
of knowledge are useful for human life. 

8. Under what circumstances are movements most likely to be pre- 
ceded by ideas of those movements? - Illustrate. 

9. Look at the first word in the following list and immediately write 
down the first word it makes you think of. Do the same for each word in 


the list. The members of the class should bring in their lists of associated 
words. The instructor can write upon the blackboard the first word in 
the following list and then call for the associated word recorded by each 
member of the class. How many members have associated words peculiar 
to themselves? Which associated words were obtained by a large per- 
centage of the class? Were these common associates logically related to 
the stimulus word? How? The other words of the stimulus list and 
their associates should be gone through in the same way. 

1. table 4. comfort 7. white 10. carpet 13. blue 

2. man 5. butterfly 8. foot 11. trouble 14. quiet 

3. mountain 6. whistle 9. memory 12. boy 15. salt 

10. To "what extent did primacy, recency, frequency, vividness, and 
temporary state of mind determine your associates in the exercise given 

11. Does each of your ideas belong to one or to more than one concept? 
Why do you think so? Illustrate. 

12. Enumerate five relatively concrete objects and five abstractions 
other than those mentioned in the text. 

13. When a small child, upon his first trip to (lie country, calls a lamb 
a dog, is this because his concept of "dog" is too concrete or too abstract? 

14. Enumerate some concepts which we should have difficulty in 
utilizing in thought if we had no words to stand for them. 

15. Show why language is vital for the carrying on of business: of 
government; of education. 



Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (Everyman's 
Library), pp. 75-79; or Readings in General Psychology, Oh. XII, Selection 
2, p. 294 if. 

Titchener, Experimental Psychology oj the Thought Processes, pp. 7-11; 
or Readings, Ch. XII, Selection 3, pi 298 ff. 

Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development, pp. 79-80; 
or Readings, Ch. XII, Selection 4, p. 300 ff. 

Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind (3d. series), pp. 280-285, or Readings, 
Ch. XII, Selection 5, p. 302 ff. 

Loveday and Green, An Introduction to Psychology, pp. 179-191; or 
Readings, Ch. XVI, Selection 2, p. 402 ff. 

Hoffding, Outlines of Psychology (tr. by Lowndes) pp. 172-173: or 
Readings, Ch. XVI, Selection 3, p. 409 f . 


Tylor, Anthropology, etc., pp. 114-117; or Readings, Ch. XV, Sel- 
ection 2, p. 372 ff. 

Judd, Psychology (revised ed.), pp. 219-233; or Readings Ch. XV, 
Selection 4, p. 380 ff. 

Tylor, Anthropology, etc., pp. 309-316; or Readings, Ch. XV, Selection 5, 
p. 383 if. 

Tanner, The Child, His Thinking, Feeling and Doing, pp. 332-335; 01 
Readings, Ch. XV, Selection 6, p. 388 ff. 

Slosson, The Scientific Monthly, 1923, 445-447; or Readings, Ch. XV 3 
Selection 7, p. 390 ff. 






1. What facts determine the efficiency of memory? 

!2. Why do we forget? 

3. What are the typical errors of memory? 

Remembering anything is an ideational habit. Ideas of 
my boyhood home, of the school I first attended, of com- 
panions of other days, of what I was doing at this time a year 
ago, of last Saturday's football game, in so far as they refer 
to what has actually existed, are memories. Not all think- 
ing of the past is remembering. Ideas are memories only to 
the extent, to which (hey represent what has actually been 
thought or experienced by him who has those ideas. 

It is clear that ideas of the kind involved in memory, 
representing as they do the past as it has actually occurred 
in the personal experiences of him who remembers, are very 
definitely products of that past experience. In other words, 
they are acquired ways of acting, or habits. 

Ideas of memory are produced either by actual happenings 
or by ideas. Suppose that one looks, for the first time, 
upon a beautiful building. Suddenly he is given an urgent 
message and leaves the spot totally oblivious of what he has 
been seeing, so concerned is he with the contents of the 
message. But in some later, calmer moment he experiences 



an idea of the appearance of the building he has seen. That 
is to say, he remembers it. Now, there is a psychological 
point here of no little interest. The idea of the appearance 
of the building was acquired through the actual perception 
of the building. The idea, itself, did not appear until some 
time later when the perceptual experience was remembered. 

The ideas of memory may represent objects and events 
which have never existed for the individual who thinks of 
them, save in the form of ideas. Under such circumstances, 
it is not the objects and events, themselves, which may 
properly be said to be remembered. What are remembered 
are the ideas about them. When I think of events of the 
American Civil War, I am not remembering those events; 
they took place before my birth. Of course, in this case I 
may be remembering what 1 have read or heard about those 
events, but I cannot remember the events themselves. The 
ideas of memory, then, may originate either in actual objects 
or events, or merely in ideas of such objects or events. 

While, so far as our memories for actual happenings are 
concerned, we are definitely limited by the bounds of personal 
experience, our intellectual life as a whole has a much wider 
range. This is clear if we but recall the discussion in the 
last chapter of how ideas put us in touch, not only with 
our past, but also with the future, and even with what it 
will never be possible for us to experience directly. The 
American Civil War, the discovery of this continent, the 
conquest of Gaul, the erection of the Egyptian pyramids, lie 
outside of our personal experiences. We cannot remember 
these events. Still, we can recall ideas about them, and 
these ideas often serve as well as first-hand experiences. 
Indeed, sometimes they are more accurate. No one man 
experienced directly more than an infinitely small portion 
of the Great War. Reliable information about that tre- 


mendous, complicated event can be obtained only by putting 
together the experiences of many men. This, of course, 
can be done only through ideas, and it is these ideas which 
must be studied and remembered by the seeker after knowl- 
edge in this field. Much more is known by scholars today 
about mediaeval times than was known by any man then 
living. And yet all that is remembered of those times today 
is in the form, not of remembered events, but of remembered 


Good memory depends upon a wise selection of what is 
worth memorizing. Since memories are habits of a special 
kind, many of the principles that are important in the ac- 
quisition of other kinds of habits will apply to memory as 
well. Any habit tends to become fixed if it is often re- 
peated, and memories are no exceptions to this rule. But 
the effects of repetition, as has been pointed out, may be 
bad as well as good. Repetition of a faulty stroke in tennis 
may establish a habit that will forever stand in the way 
of its owner becoming the expert he might have become 
if the faulty stroke had been given less practice. If, in 
memorizing, one rehearses all the elements in the material 
to be mastered without regard to their importance, he is 
also likely to get into trouble. Perhaps spending so much 
time on trivial facts leaves too little time for what is im- 
portant and, consequently, nothing about the subject in 
question is known really well. Or perhaps so many facts 
are memorized that one is later unable to get at the important 
facts without also recalling the unimportant. A good illus- 
tration of this latter type of difficulty may be found in the 
following quotation from one of the novels of Jane Austen. 1 

1 Quo ted by James, Psychology, Vol. I, p. 571; also by Breese, Psychology, 
p. 260. 


Notice how important and unimportant facts are undistin- 
guished in the memory of Miss Bates, the fictitious author 
of the following speech : 

"But where could you hear it?" cried Miss Bates. "Where 
could you possibly hear it, Mr. Knightley? For it is not five 
minutes since I received Mrs. Cole's note no, it cannot be 
more than five or at least ten for I had got my bonnet 
and spencer on, just ready to come out I was only gone 
down to speak to Patty again about the pork Jane was 
standing in the passage were not you, Jane? for my 
mother was so afraid that we had not any salting-pan large 
enough. So I said I would go down and see, and Jane said: 
'Shall I go down instead? for I think you have a little cold, 
and Patty has been washing the kitchen. 7 'Oh, my dear/ 
said I well, and just then came the note. A Miss Hawkins 
that's all I know a Miss Hawkins, of Bath. But, 
Mr. Knightley, how could you possibly have beard it? for 
the very moment Mr. Cole told Mrs. Cole of it, she sat down 
and wrote to me. A Miss Hawkins ." 

No one would remember the past in all its insignificant 
detail if he had distinguished between the insignificant and 
the significant at the time those past experiences occurred. 
People with memories like that of Miss Bates are people who 
get just as excited over a broken chair as they would over 
a broken leg. Many students complain of the difficulty of a 
textbook they are studying, when the real trouble lies in the 
fact that they read it, as Miss Bates went through her daily 
life, with never a thought as to what is important and what 
is of lesser consequence. 

Wise selection demands perspective. Suppose that 
one wished a thorough knowledge of New York City, and 
suppose that he set out to visit every street in that vast city. 
How would his knowledge thus gained compare with that of 
another who had gone to the top of the Woolworth Building 


on a clear day and secured a bird's-eye view? Certainly 
the man who visited hundreds of individual streets would 
collect a large amount of detailed information, some of it 
important and some of it unimportant, which no amount of 
gazing from the Woolworth Building would furnish. On 
the other hand, a relatively large amount of what is seen from 
the Woolworth Building is important for understanding the 
city of New York. The shape of Manhattan Island, the 
positions of the bodies of water about it, and other facts 
which the observer on the Woolworth Building would be 
sure to notice at once are all of first-rate consequence. Of 
course, the ideal method of securing knowledge about New 
York City would be to combine these two methods. First 
it would be well to have the bird's-eye view; or perhaps a 
look at a map would do as well. The information secured 
from this perspective would serve as a guide for more detailed 
investigations. Any general reading about the city, its 
history, its industries, its social life, would add to the per- 
spective and make one better able to decide what individual 
spots were most worth visiting. 

In studying a short article or even a long book, it is as 
necessary to secure a bird's-eye view as it is in studying a 
city or a piece of machinery. A student was once taking an 
advanced course- in psychology under a famous professor. 
The text used was a large volume of about six hundred pages. 
One day during the third week of the course, the professor 
casually asked the class how many of them had read the text 
through. Out of something like one hundred students only 
one or two had done so. Upon learning of this state of 
affairs, the professor proceeded to deliver a vigorous protest. 
He knew that those who had not first made a rapid reading 
of the whole book could have no basis for estimating the 
importance of the daily lesson and its relationship to other 


lessons. A student mastering ten or twenty pages a day is 
likely to treat each assignment as a unit in itself and as of 
the same importance as any other assignment. Now, the 
careful study of a textbook, or of any other important volume, 
demands that we take the larger task a step at a time. And 
the very rapid reading of such a book can give us only the 
haziest sort of an idea of the details of the subject it treats. 
But what the rapid reading can do is to give us a perspective, 
an idea of what, in general, the discussion is about, so that 
our study of details will have some basis for being selective. 

A general idea, or perspective, of a subject we are studying 
will do more than reveal what is and what is not worth re- 
membering. It will make it easier to remember what is 
most worth remembering. In the preceding chapter we 
pointed out that a man who has general ideas of banking 
will pick up the details of a particular bank much more 
readily than he would if he had not those general ideas. 
The general ideas act as a kind of framework into which the 
details seem logically to fit. Let us say that a minor clerk 
in a bank is confronted with the fact that interest is paid on 
all savings accounts but not on all checking accounts. If he 
already knows the general fact that banks make profits 
by investing deposits, he will have no difficulty in remember- 
ing the difference between savings accounts and checking 
accounts. Knowing the general principles of banking, he 
not only observes the fact that the two kinds of accounts are 
treated differently, but he knows why they are treated dif- 
ferently. And knowing why a fact is so is a great aid to 
remembering that fact. 

Ability to memorize depends upon what we already know. 
In Chapter IV we pointed out that the ease with which 
new habits are acquired depends upon what habits are 
already possessed. This is true of memory habits as well as 


of other kinds of habits. The baseball fan has no trouble 
remembering that the batting average of a certain favorite 
player is in the neighborhood of .380. Yet he may have 
considerable difficulty in memorizing the fact that 460 is the 
telephone number of his business partner. There are several 
facts which he already knows that make it easy for him to 
remember the batting average. In the first place, he knows 
that this favorite player is an excellent batter. In the 
second place, he knows that excellent batters are those whose 
averages range ordinarily between .300 and .400. In the 
third place, he knows that this player has shown a great 
improvement since two months before when his average was 
around .280. And there are reasons why the business part- 
ner's telephone number is less easily remembered. There is 
nothing about the partner, his family, or where he lives to 
help one remember that his telephone number is 460. 

One of the most astounding things about business men, 
professional men, and scholars is the number of facts along 
their own lines of work that they have at their immediate 
command. A mere glance at a news item about something 
related to their work is sufficient to establish an idea that 
will not be forgotten, perhaps, for years. When information 
about a business, a profession, or a period in history once 
begins to accumulate, it acts like a little snowball rolled in 
damp snow. The more that is known, the more likelihood 
there is of new facts being remembered. 

It is not true, however, that the acquisition of any kind of 
new knowledge is facilitated by all of what one already knows. 
If the new knowledge is practically unrelated to what is 
already known, our established knowledge will neither aid 
nor hinder in any important degree the learning in question. 
Indeed, situations arise in memory, as they do in regard 
to other acquisitions, where established habits interfere 


with learning. If a business man has carried on his work 
in a set manner for a great many years, he is not likely 
to remember for long the new methods about which he 
hears. Let us say that some time ago one was introduced to 
a Mr. James, but that the name was misunderstood at the 
time of the introduction and that, for several weeks, one has 
thought of the new acquaintance as being a Mr. Jones. 
When attention is finally called to the error, the name 
" Jones " may be so firmly associated with the man that it is 
all but impossible to memorize his correct name. This 
interference which old knowledge sometimes exerts on the 
establishment of new memories is called associative inhibition. 

Facts are readily memorized if in line with our interests. 
The fact that a feeder of live stock commits to memory 
quickly and with little apparent effort current prices offered 
for steers of various grades is due to more than a mere 
knowledge of how such prices usually run. Such knowledge 
does increase what we might call the memory value of the 
figures; but there is another matter of considerable im- 
portance, and that is the fact that the stock feeder is very 
much interested in steer prices. He may not spend any 
more time studying them than many other people, but, 
being so interested, he pays exceptionally close attention to 
them. And everyone knows that memorizing is most effi- 
cient when close attention is paid to what is being memorized. 

In actual life, interest and previous knowledge work hand 
in hand in facilitating memorizing. Without wide knowl- 
edge of a subject, interest in it is not likely to be strong. 
On the other hand, nothing aids the accumulation of knowl- 
edge more than interest. The business man, the professional 
man, and the scholar learn readily what pertains to their 
work because of their interest as well as because of knowl- 
edge already acquired. 


Rote memorizing is often necessary. In early childhood, 
much that is memorized must be fixed by sheer force, that is, 
by repeating it over and over again. The learning of the 
multiplication table is an example of what is called rote 
memorizing. In teaching the multiplication table, some 
appeal can be made to a child's interests and established 
information, but the main thing is to secure plenty of repe- 
tition. As we grow older, our intellectual background 
becomes broadened, and most of the facts that we are 
called upon to learn seem to fit fairly logically among the 
facts already known. When these logical relationships can 
be utilized, we speak of logical memorizing. 

Many persons, realizing how many facts they learned by 
rote during childhood and also having in mind how little 
they learn in that manner now, believe that children have 
better capacities for rote memorizing than adults. It is 
sometimes held that certain habits, such as the accurate 
pronunciation of a foreign language, cannot be so well 
acquired by adults as by children. If this is true, it is 
probably attributable to the greater strength of competing or 
antagonistic habits in adults. In general, adults are quite 
as capable as children, and perhaps more so, in rote memor- 
izing. But adults are so used to mastering facts by logical 
memorizing, that is, by bringing them into relationship with 
their interests and established knowledge, that we might 
almost call them spoiled. Logical memorizing is so much 
superior, so much easier and more efficient, where it can be 
applied, that adults are prone to become impatient in the 
face of material which cannot be memorized in that way. 

No one is ever so well informed that everything he needs 
to memorize fits logically into the rest of his knowledge. 
No one ever escapes the need of a certain amount of rote 
memorizing, and the fact may as well be faced. Logical 


memory will take care easily and accurately of the gist of an 
article or poem which it is necessary for us to retain, but only 
the repeated rehearsal of it will make us sure enough to 
warrant indulgence in verbatim quotations. A physician, 
who learned his prescriptions by merely glancing at them 
and trusting that, because of their relationship to his other 
knowledge, he would be able to recall their general char- 
acters, would be sure to make grievous errors. A prescrip- 
tion should be exact to the last detail, and the only way of 
being sure of accuracy of this order is to repeat and repeat 
and repeat what is to be remembered until it is known -as 
well as the fact that two and two make four. 

Occasionally it is well to learn by rote, simply as a matter 
of convenience. A certain scientific investigator makes 
frequent use of a number of mathematical formulas. He 
could, without much effort, remember the general principles 
of these formulas, because they fit naturally into the rest of 
his knowledge. But he could not make actual use of the 
formulas simply by knowing their general principles. He 
would always have to refer to some manual where they 
appear in exact form. In order to save himself the constant 
task of looking up the formulas he has taken the pains to 
memorize them in detail, which is, of course, largely a matter 
of rote memory. 

The intention to remember is important. A certain busi- 
ness man had often complained of his poor memory for 
people's names. Upon seeing a person whom he had met 
once or twice before, he would almost invariably recognize 
the person as someone whom he had met he might even 
remember where and under what circumstances the meeting 
had taken place but almost always he was unable to 
recall the person's name. One day we were carrying on an 
experiment in the laboratory and we invited this man, whose 


memory for names was so poor, to take part in it. The 
experiment consisted of two parts. In the first, the subject 
was told that he would be shown a number of photographs of 
men whom he had never seen before; that attached to each 
picture was a name, and that as the pictures were shown, one 
by one, he was to observe them and their attached names so 
carefully that afterward, upon being presented with the 
pictures, he would be able to name them correctly. The 
second part of the experiment was similar, except that 
actual men, with whom he was unacquainted, were intro- 
duced to the subject, their names being announced after 
the fashion customary in introductions. But here is the 
important point! Although a large number of subjects 
took part in this experiment, the man who had always 
complained of his poor memory for names remembered 
more names correctly in both parts of the experiment than 
did anyone else. This set him to thinking. Evidently 
his failure to remember names of people met in actual life 
was not because of a naturally poor memory. Then he 
recalled that, in meeting people, he gave attention to their 
appearance and what they had to say, but that he never 
paid attention to their names or formed any conscious 
intention to remember their names. In the experiment, of 
course, he did have a conscious intention to remember. 
Later he tried out in actual life the method he had employed 
so successfully in the experiment, and today he is seldom 
embarrassed by failing to remember some name which he 
should be able to recall. 

Where objects or events are full of meaning or emotionally 
stimulating, we are likely to memorize them without realizing 
that we are memorizing. The fact that the earth is round is 
so full of meaning, even for the child who hears it for the 
first time, that he does not have to form a conscious intention 


to memorize it. The occasion of being graduated from high 
school is exciting enough to remain remembered throughout 
life without one's making an actual effort to remember it. 
But wherever the material to be learned is comparatively 
lacking in meaning or emotion-arousing qualities, the inten- 
tion to remember plays an important role. We have just 
had an instance of this in the case of remembering people's 
names. Two other interesting examples are cited by Pro- 
fessor Wood worth: 

There is a famous incident that occurred in a Swiss 
psychological laboratory, when a foreign student was 
supposed to be memorizing a list of nonsense syllables. 1 
After the list had been passed before him many times without 
his giving the expected signal that he was ready to recite, the 
experimenter remarked that he seemed to be having trouble 
in memorizing the syllables. "Oh! I didn't understand that 1 
was to learn them," he said, and it was found that, in fact, 
he had made almost no progress towards learning the list. 
He had been observing the separate syllables, with no 
effort to connect them into a series. 

Another incident: subjects were put repeatedly through 
a "color naming" test, which consisted of five colors repeated 
in irregular order, the object being to name the one hundred 
bits of color as rapidly as possible. After the subjects had 
been through this test over two hundred times, you would 
think they could recite it from memory; but not at all! 
They had very little memory of the order of the bits of color. 
Their efforts had been wholly concentrated upon naming 
the bits as seen, and not in connecting them into a series 
that could be remembered. 2 

It is just as well that relatively meaningless material is 
not likely to be remembered unless we intend to remember it. 

1 These nonsense or meaningless syllables, such as zig, fud, hix, are fre- 
quently used by psychologists in experiments on memory. E. S. R. 

2 Psychology, pp. 346-347 (Henry Holt and Company). 


One of the difficulties with the memory of Miss Bates, whom 
we discussed, was that she remembered too many unim- 
portant facts. She seemed unable to exercise the choice, 
which fortunately most of us can exercise, as to what should 
be remembered. 

Recall during memorizing is advantageous. After an 
examination in which he had done badly, a student called to 
tell his troubles to his instructor. He could not understand 
why he had failed. He told how many hours he had spent 
reading his text arid lecture notes just before the examination 
and during the preceding weeks. The amount of time he had 
devoted to study was quite ample to have enabled a man 
of his intelligence to make a high grade. But a little inquiry 
showed clearly that his method of study was bad. He had ? 
it is true, read and re-read the material to be mastered, but 
he had not practiced recalling it. His method, in other 
words, was passive rather than active. If immediately after 
reading a chapter in his textbook, or the notes of a lecture, he 
had made a conscious effort to recall as much as possible of 
what he had been over, he would have fixed this material in 
memory much more strongly. If he had gone further and, 
every few days during the course, allowed his mind to run 
back over the lectures and readings which he had been 
through since the course began, he would have fixed the 
essential facts even more firmly. What he failed to realize 
was that the mind, when confronted with a printed page, 
does not passively soak up the facts upon that page as a 
blotter soaks up ink. The facts need active mental handling 
before they will become well fixed, and one of the most 
advantageous methods of handling them is to practice their 

We have on several occasions noted the ease with which 
professional people memorize facts related to their work. 


This is partly because such facts fit logically among the 
other facts they know, partly because, being especially in- 
terested in such facts, they give them careful attention, and 
also partly because they tend to recall such facts in the 
course of their ordinary thinking. It is sometimes said 
that the best way of mastering a subject is to try to teach it. 
The teacher who is called upon to explain his subject to others 
and to answer questions upon it is naturally engaged in an 
almost continuous process of recalling. 

There are at least two reasons why recall is an aid to 
memorizing. In the first place, while one is actively trying 
to recall, his attention has little chance to wander. We are 
all familiar, however, with the strong tendency of the mind 
to wander from the printed page, especially if we are re- 
reading it. In the second place, the attempt to recall facts 
which w r e wish to memorize often reveals important gaps in 
our knowledge. When such gaps are found, it is possible, 
during further study, to emphasize the points about which 
our memories are uncertain. 

How should study time be distributed? For memorizing, 
as for habit formation in general, the proper distribution of 
time is of prime importance. It is impossible to state the 
exact manner in which study time can best be distributed. 
It is possible, on the other hand, to state what should be 
taken into account in regulating study. 

1. The single study period should not be continued far 
beyond the point where boredom and fatigue appear. When 
we begin to be fatigued or bored by one subject, we can often 
turn to other work of a different character and put in our 
time to better advantage on it. If we force ourselves to 
study too long after we are bored and fatigued, we are in 
danger of establishing a distaste for the subject. Still, this 
does not mean that we should coddle ourselves. One unused 


to study is prone to be quickly bored, if not fatigued, by it, 
and the only way for him to harden himself is to disregard 
the first discomforts that come from studying. Soon he 
will no longer notice them. But there is, for the best adapted 
worker, a point beyond which it is worse than useless to go on 
studying without a pause for rest, or without at least some 
temporary change in occupation. 

2. The single study period should be long enough to bring 
one to a, logical stopping-place. We have previously con- 
sidered how important it is for efficient learning that we get 
a perspective or bird's-eye view of what we are studying. 
In actual practice it is not often possible to take in a 
subject during a single period of study or observation. 
The student of American history or commercial geography 
cannot get a unified view of his subject during one period 
of study. But he can see to it that each period of study 
covers one or more complete parts of the subject. If, for 
any reason, he puts aside his book just as he has reached 
the middle of a chapter, it will be well for him, upon later 
resuming study, to glance back over the half of the chapter 
already covered and to make sure that he recalls what it 
is about. Then he can safely proceed to finish the chapter 
without fear of losing his perspective of the chapter as a 

3. The periods of study should not be too widely separ- 
ated. Otherwise forgetting will take place and each study 
period will have to be given over in part to the recovery of 
lost ground. 

Cramming is justifiable if its dangers are recognized. 
There is no sin, although it is often said that there is, in 
studying for a long period in preparation for an examination 
or for any other occasion where one's knowledge is to be put 
to a severe test. In fact, it often takes cramming to reveal 


the subject as a whole and the interrelations between its 
parts. The desirability of a hasty, preliminary reading of a 
whole book, the parts of which one is going to study in some 
detail, has been indicated before. The final going-over 
which an entire course of study receives during a period 
of cramming has similar and, perhaps, greater advantages. 
Not only does it give a bird's-eye view of the course, but it 
is capable of filling in the details in a way that a preliminary 
reading, because of its very nature, could never do. 

Cramming has, it is true, certain dangers against which 
it is well to guard. Too long and concentrated a period of 
study just before an examination may produce more fatigue 
than knowledge. This is likely to happen, though, only 
when all ordinary precautions are disregarded. A good 
many consecutive hours of study can be put in without any 
such unfortunate result. It is true that a nervous person or 
one otherwise in poor health or of naturally delicate con- 
stitution has to be more careful. 

Another danger of cramming is that, after discovering 
what an astonishing amount can be learned during a con- 
centrated period of study, one may come to depend entirely 
upon that method of learning. There are in the neighbor- 
hoods of some universities so-called tutoring schools. These 
tutoring schools can take men who have not looked at a 
book during the college year or semester and, by carefully 
guiding their cramming for a week or so, enable them to pass 
their examinations with little difficulty. Reliance upon 
such a method of learning is unwise, for a number of reasons. 
In the first place, it is likely to encourage general habits of 
procrastination. In the second place, leisurely thinking 
about a subject is necessary if-we are to appreciate its many 
ramifications and relations to life at large. Where cramming 
alone is relied upon, there certainly is no opportunity for 


leisurely contemplation. In the third place, although the 
results of cramming may carry one successfully through an 
examination, what is acquired in this process will not be 
remembered for any length of time. Moie leisurely study 
makes for longer remembering, probably because of the fact 
that under such circumstances the subject is related in more 
ways to what was previously known and to everyday life. 

But it is well to recall again that it is not cramming itself 
that is tq be avoided, but only excessive cramming and too 
complete a reliance upon that method of study. 

One other point should be mentioned before we leave this 
topic. Those who use cramming properly, that is, as a sup- 
plementary method, may fail to reap much benefit from it. 
Very often this is owing to the fact that they place too much 
emphasis upon memorizing details and not enough upon 
being sure that they have their subject well organized. If 
the main emphasis is placed upon getting the subject well 
organized, the memorizing of important details will often 
take care of itself. Then again, the crammer may try to do 
too much during the concentrated study period. He may 
set out to learn every fact he has heard of in the field with 
which he is concerned, and he may treat all these facts as 
equally important. This is likely so to divide his energy 
that he does not learn anything really well. The solution 
for this difficulty lies in the direction of emphasizing the 
organization of the facts before one. When the main lines 
of organization are clear, one can see the relative importance 
of each fact and distribute his available time accordingly. 

Can memory be trained? One's ability to memorize 
some particular type of material can be trained to a striking 
degree. The more one learns about chemistry or politics, 
the more easily are new facts in these fields acquired. This, 
as we said once before, is because anything pertaining 


to a familiar subject is more meaningful to us it fits 
more naturally into the knowledge already possessed. 
Said Professor James: "Let a man early in life set himself 
the task of verifying such a theory as that of evolution, and 
the facts will soon cluster and cling to him like grapes to 
their stem. Their relations to the theory will hold them 
fast; and, the more of these the annul is able to discern, 
the greater the erudition will become. Meanwhile the 
theorist may have little, if any, desultory memory. Un- 
utilizable facts may be unnoted by him, and forgotten as soon 
as heard. An ignorance almost as encyclopedic as his eru- 
dition may coexist with the latter, and hide, as it were, within 
the interstices of its web." 1 We may conclude that the 
best method of training the memory for the facts of chem- 
istry, politics, banking, or art is that of setting to work and 
acquiring some knowledge about the subject. 

It is possible to train a person in the general technique 
of memorizing so that he will be better able to remember 
material of whatever kind. The results of this general type 
of memory training may even be quite marked, though they 
will scarcely ever equal the results of the more special training 
which consists in learning facts of the same sort as one will 
later want to memorize easily. The training of one's general 
capacity to remember consists in learning to put into practice 
just such rules as we have been discussing in the present 
chapter. It consists (1) in learning to pick out what is 
really worth memorizing; (2) in getting a perspective or 
bird's-eye view of the material; (3) in consciously looking 
for relations between the new matter and established knowl- 
edge and interests ; (4) in falling back upon rote memorizing 
where that is appropriate; (5) in keeping one's mind upon 

I 7 1 alks to Teacher* on Psychology; <nul lo Students on Howe of Lifcx Ideals, 
pp. 125-120 (Henry Holt and Company). 


the fact that he is trying to memorize what is before him; 

(6) in attempting to recall frequently what is being learned; 

(7) in discovering for each type of material the optimal 
length of study period; and (8) in making wise use of the 
method of cramming or intensive reviewing. 

There often appear in the newspapers and magazines 
advertisements of schemes for memory training. To the 
extent to which these make use of such principles as we have 
been discussing they are sound enough, though one does not 
need a special course of study to master these simple prin- 
ciples. But very often the systems of memory training 
which are put upon the market make use of certain tricks of 
memorizing, sometimes called mnemonic devices. Most of 
us have heard of tricks of this general type. Perhaps T meet 
a man by the name of Brooks. He is in the steamship busi- 
ness. Now I say to myself: "Steamships run in water. 
Water runs in brooks. The next time I see this man T must 
think of a stream of water and then I shall remember that 
his name is Brooks." Methods of this kind may be an aid 
to memorizing at times, but there are at least two facts 
which indicate that they are not to be taken too seriously. 
In the first place, if one gives as much attention as is de- 
manded for using any such method, he w r ill probably re- 
member what he wants to, whether he uses the method or 
not. In the second place, if mnemonic devices are generally 
employed, they must be elaborate enough to provide for 
everything one wants to remember. In that event the 
remembering of the system becomes, itself, a formidable 


Why we forget. We forget for the same reasons that 
we lose other habits than those of memory. In our chapter 


on the fixation of habits we said that a habit may lose 
its power of functioning because we are not in surround- 
ings that contain the peculiar stimulus or combination of 
stimuli necessary to set the habit into action. The two ex- 
amples given there were, as a matter of fact, both habits of 
the memory type. One, you will remember, was the case 
of the missionary who could not recall the Chinese language 
well except in China. The other was the case where the 
name of a well-known schoolmate could not be recalled in a 
new environment. We also said, in that earlier chapter, 
that a habit may lose its power of functioning because some 
subsequently formed habit has interfered with it. The 
instance was cited where a new method of shifting gears on 
an automobile interfered with the ability to shift gears 
according to a method formerly learned. Similar instances 
can frequently be observed in the retention of ideas. If, 
between the learning and recall of a list of numbers or non- 
sense syllables, a second list of numbers or nonsense syllables 
be learned, one's capacity to recall the first list will be seri- 
ously interfered with. This is called retroactive inhibition. 
As for habit in general, it is true for memory that the 
susceptibility to this type of interference depends upon the 
similarity between the interfering memory and the memory 
that is broken up. The more similar the two are, the 
more likely, within certain limits, there is to be this inter- 
ference. It is also true that the better learned a material is, 
the less susceptible it is to interference. 

Forgetting is slower for meaningful material. Material 
which is relatively full of meaning is not only memorized 
easily. It is also forgotten slowly. Experiments have 
been performed to discover the rate at which memorized 
material is forgotten. Their results show that meaningful 
material, like poetry, is retained somewhat better than 


meaningless material, like nonsense syllables, even where 
the two kinds of material have been learned with equal 
thoroughness. The data in the following table 1 are taken 
from an experiment in which the amounts of poetry and 
nonsense syllables retained after varying lengths of time 
were compared. 

Intervals since Percentage of retention Percentage of 

original learning in nonsense syllables retention in poetry 

5 minutes 98 100 

20 minutes 89 96 

1 hour 71 78 

24 hours 68 79 

2 days 61 67 

6 days 49 12 

14 days 41 30 

30 days 20 24 

In all but two of the time intervals considered in this table, poetry is better 
retained than nonsense syllables. 

Forgetting goes on most rapidly shortly after learning. 

If the columns of figures in the table be examined once 
again, it will be seen that forgetting is much more rapid soon 
after learning than it is later. In the case of the nonsense 
syllables, 30 per cent (98-68) is forgotten between 5 minutes 
and 24 hours after learning, and during the 5 days following 
only 19 per cent (68-49) is forgotten. In the case of the 
poetry, 58 per cent (100-42) is forgotten during the first 
6 days, while during the next 24 days only 18 per cent 
(42-24) is forgotten. This rapid initial forgetting is not so 
marked if material is very thoroughly mastered. 

The power to recall is lost faster than the power to recog- 
nize. When we are unable to recall a name we often 
remark that we should be able to recognize that name at once 
if we heard or saw it. This ability to recognize objects 

Adapted from Ladd and Woodworth, after (Radosauljevich). 


after the power to recall them has been lost is brought out 
clearly by a number of experiments. The results of one 
such experiment are shown in the next table. 1 A comparison 
is here made between the number of nonsense syllables that 
could be reproduced in writing and the number that could 
be recognized at various intervals after learning. 

Intervals since Retention according to Retention according 

anginal learning written, reproduction (%) to recognition (%) 

20 minutes 8S. I 97.8 

1 hour 82 1 94.G 

4 hours 00.5 93.3 

1 day 39.2 . 74.6 

2 days 26.7 71.5 

Recall is typically full of errors. As forgetting proceeds, 
we become less and less able to recall facts we formerly knew. 
This is especially true if, at the time of observing certain 
events, we do not know that we shall later have reason to 
remember them. But even though a great amount of for- 
getting has gone on since our observation of some scene, 
we may still describe it in considerable detail. Where 
actual facts are forgotten, there is a tendency for imaginary 
facts to replace them without our being aware that some of 
the elements of the memory are true and others false. This 
is well illustrated by the conflicting testimony often given by 
honest witnesses. 

Professor Mlinsterberg told of the testimony of two re- 
spectable and disinterested gentlemen in connection with an 
automobile accident. 2 One declared that the road was dry 
and dusty; the other was sure that it had rained and that the 
road was muddy. One said that the automobile was running 
slowly; the other, that it was rushing along at a high rate of 

1 Adaptcd from Luh, Psychological Monographs, 1922, Vol. 31, p. 21. 
2 0n the Witness Stand, 1923 impression, p. 15. 


speed. One swore that there were very few people on the 
village road ; the other, that a large number of men, women, 
and children were passing by. Many other examples of this 
type of disagreement could be cited. Several years ago in 
Lincoln, Nebraska, a woman was hurt in alighting from a 
trolley car. Of those who plainly saw the accident some 
testified that the car started before the victim had got off. 
Others were quite certain that the car did not move until 
several seconds after she had fallen to the street. Police 
officers have little confidence in the description of a culprit 
which any single witness to a crime is able to give them. 
One summer afternoon a number of people were seated on 
the lawn before their house. Two men passed along the 
walk in front of them and turned at the first corner. Shortly 
afterward there was the sound of a revolver shot, and within 
a moment or two the same men came back around the corner 
on the run and again passed plainly in view of the people on 
the lawn. Later these people learned that a robbery had 
been committed, and they were asked to describe the men 
whom they had seen going to and coming from the scene of 
the crime. One witness said that both were of the same 
size, that both had on blue suits and straw hats. Another 
said that they were of the same size, but that one was 
dressed in gray and the other in blue, and that one wore 
a felt hat. A third witness agreed with the second in 
saying that the hats and suits differed, but this witness 
insisted that one man was very much shorter than his 

A number of interesting experiments have been conducted 
under such conditions that the actual facts were known and 
the testimony given by different witnesses could be compared 
with the facts. The following instance occurred at a meeting 
of psychologists held at Gottingen. 


Not far from the hall in which the Congress was sitting 
there was a public fete with a masked ball. Suddenly the 
door of the hall was thrown open and a clown rushed in 
madly pursued by a negro, revolver in hand. They stopped 
in the middle of the room fighting; the clown fell, the negro 
leapt upon him, fired, and then both rushed out of the hall. 
The whole incident lasted hardly twenty seconds. The 
president asked those present to write a report immediately, 
since there was sure to be a judicial inquiry. Forty reports 
were sent in. Only one had less than 20% of mistakes in 
regard to the principal facts; fourteen had 20% to 40% of 
mistakes; twelve from 40%) to 50%; thirteen more than 
50%. Moreover, in twenty-four accounts, 10% of the details 
were pure inventions, and this proportion was exceeded in 
ten accounts and diminished in six. Briefly, a quarter of 
the accounts were false. 

It goes without saying that the whole scene had been 
arranged and even photographed in advance. The ten 
false reports may then be relegated to the category of tales 
and legends; twenty-four accounts are half legendary, and 
six have a value approximating to exact evidence. 1 

The filling in of the gaps of memory with fictitious facts 
may seem upon first glance to be a matter of pure chance. 
There are, however, certain definite principles according to 
which this filling in takes place. 

1. The fictitious facts are almost always consistent with 
the facts actually remembered. In an experiment similar to 
the Gottingen one, an individual, by prearrangement, walked 
into a lecture room full of students, snatched up the lecturer's 
watch which lay upon the table, and dashed out through the 
door. Some of the students, in describing the affair, before 
being apprised that it was merely an experiment, said that 
the thief wore rough clothes, was unshaven, and staggered 
in plain intoxication. As a matter of fact, he was neatly 

1 Quoted by Gault, Social Psychology, p. 133, from von Gennep, La Forma- 
tion des legcndes. 


dressed, smooth shaven, and sober. But note that the items, 
as filled in, were perfectly consistent with the man's actions. 

2. In recalling an object or event in order to answer a 
question about it, the way in which gaps of memory are 
filled in frequently depends upon the specific way in which 
the question is asked. If, for example, the witnesses of the 
Gottingen incident had been asked how much taller the 
clown was than the Negro, many of them would surely have 
imagined the clown to have been taller, whether he was or 
not. If we wish accurate information from those whom we 
are questioning, it is necessary carefully to avoid such leading 

3. Even if one has no intention of deceiving, he is inclined 
to fill in the gaps of memory in accordance with his desires 
and prejudices. If one is testifying on behalf of a friend, 
forgotten details of his friend's conduct are likely to be 
imagined in such a manner as to favor the friend's case. A 
person who has been through a great fire or some other 
dangerous situation will, in telling of his experience, add 
harrowing details which were not present in that experience. 
In such cases there is probably no attempt to deceive. The 
story teller is simply under the dramatic sway of his own 
story. He notes the effect it is having upon his auditors and 
he fills out unremembered details in such a manner that they 
will enhance the artistic value of the story which he is striving 
to make successful. 

False recognition. False recognition is something that 
all of us experience from time to time, and most of us have 
wondered about it. The following case is typical. 

Somewhat more than a year ago, I visited the city prison 
of Mazatlan, in Mexico. It consisted of a court open to the 
sky, on three sides of which the cells opened, the fourth being 
a high wall. The entrance was by an arched passage-way, 


with three barred gates. The court paved with cobbles, the 
entrance, the several rooms, every surrounding internally, 
seemed as familiar to me as home. Not so with any portion 
of the exterior. Yet I had never been within three thousand 
miles of the place until this journey. 1 

All sorts of queer explanations have been given for these 
false recognitions. Some have held that we must have had 
the falsely recognized experiences in dreams or in some 
previous state of existence. Still, the real wonder is not 
that we occasionally commit errors of recognition, but that 
we do not commit more of them than we do. The chances 
are that the plan of the prison in the illustration above was 
very much like that of some other building or picture of a 
building which had once been seen but now was practically 
forgotten. Tf the other building had been well remembered, 
the sight of the Mexican prison would simply have brought it 
to mind. There would have been no confusion between what 
had previously been seen and what was now being seen. 
But, since the first building was largely forgotten, it was 
possible to feel that the Mexican prison was identical with 
a vague something or other of previous experience. 


1. Memories are ideas which represent the past essentially 
as it was experienced by him who is remembering. 

2. The ideas of memory may have their origin in actual 
events, or they may first come to us as ideas. 

3. One can remember, or try to remember, too much as 
well as too little. A good memory requires that one select 
wisely that which is most worth remembering. 

Quoted by Burnham, American Journal of Psychology, 1888-89, II, 440, 
from Osborne, "Illusions of Memory," North American Review, May, 1884, 
pp. 476 ff. 


4. When studying with the purpose of remembering, it is 
well to get a view of the subject as a whole. This makes 
possible a better selection of what is most worth remember- 
ing. It also makes possible an appreciation of the relation- 
ships existing between different parts of the subject- 

5. The ease with which we are able to memorize any 
material depends upon what we already know. In many 
cases, previously acquired knowledge will aid us in learning 
something new. Sometimes, however, previous knowledge 
will interfere with the formation of new memories. 

(5. That which is in line with interests which we already 
have is also memorized with relative ease. This is partly 
owing to the fact that we usually know a good deal about 
those things in which we are interested. 

7. Memorizing which depends largely upon sheer repe- 
tition is called rote memorizing. That which takes advantage 
of the logical relations of new material to that which is 
already known is called logical memorizing. The latter is 
so much easier a process that, once we are used to it, we are 
likely to avoid rote memorizing. But no one ever reaches 
a point where he can afford to neglect rote memorizing 

8. Casual experiences have a much better chance of being 
remembered if there is a conscious intention to memorize 
them. It is just as well that memory depends so much upon 
intention to remember; otherwise our minds would be 
cluttered with useless information. 

9. For the most efficient memorizing it is not enough that 
we merely read over our material. Much will be gained if 
we make occasional attempts to recall. This will insure 
our giving the material completer attention. It will also 
reveal to us those points where our knowledge is weakest. 


10. Periods of study should not be so long as to lead to 
boredom or fatigue. On the other hand, they should be long 
enough to enable us to cover some natural unit of material, 
such as an article, a chapter, or a section of a book. The 
study periods should occur frequently, so as to avoid for- 

1 1 . Where, as in a school course, we have a* large amount 
of material to master, it is wise to indulge in a final, intensive 
review as well as in a rapid preliminary survey. This so- 
called cramming at the end of a course is obviously bad 
practice if it be relied upon as the main method of acquiring 

12. There are two important means of training memory. 
One consists in accumulating sufficient information to make 
more meaningful such new facts as one wishes to memorize. 
The other consists in the adoption of wise methods of study. 
Most mnemonic devices are of very limited usefulness. 

13. There are two main reasons why we forget. In the 
first place, we may get out of touch with anything capable 
of reminding us of a given memory. In the second place, 
we may acquire new facts which tend to interfere with and 
break up something previously learned. 

14. The more meaningful any material is, the less rapidly 
it is forgotten. 

15. The most rapid forgetting usually takes place imme- 
diately after memorizing. 

16. The power to recall what has been learned is lost more 
quickly than the power to recognize the same material. 

1 7. Forgetting does not lead to mere inability to describe 
the forgotten facts. There is a tendency for us to replace 
the forgotten facts with imaginary ones without realizing 
that we are doing so. This is well illustrated in the testi- 
mony of witnesses. The imaginary facts are determined 


by what we really do remember, by what questions are 
asked us, and by what we desire in regard to these facts. 

18. The process of forgetting sometimes leads us to recog- 
nize that which we have never before experienced. This is 
probably because we have experienced something like the 
happening in question, but have so nearly forgotten it that 
we are unablq to tell the difference between the partially 
remembered happening and that which is falsely recognized. 


1. What are the advantages in being able to acquire ideas of history 
indirectly, without going through the actual experiences which those ideas 
represent? What do you believe to be the limitations of this method of 
acquiring ideas? 

2. Consider in detail your experiences during the past twenty-four 
hours. What proportion of them do 3^011 hope to remember fairly per- 

3. When an orator or actor forgets his lines and has to be prompted, 
the difficulty seldom occurs in the middle of a line or paragraph. It is 
usually at some natural termination, such as the end of a line or paragraph, 
that memory fails. Can you see any relationship between this and the 
fact that probably the majority of us do our memorizing by mastering one 
relatively small part of our material at a time? 

4. Give an instance in which your previous knowledge has made it 
easier for you to acquire certain new facts, (live an instance in which 
previous knowledge has made it particularly difficult for you to learn new 

5. Make a list of the subjects you have studied in school. Rank them 
according to the amount of interest that you have in each. Rank them 
also according to the grades you have achieved in them. How do these 
two rankings compare? 

6. Study the following list of words until you can repeat it without an 
error. Record the time required for this task. 

cat lie mix 

red far tar 

sky see lip 

too win sit 


Now memorize the following list of nonsense syllables and record the time 

rup maz pif 

zev vuy cax 

sug zam gah 

daf cak wov 

Which task is accomplished more quickly? Why? 

7. A teacher once asked the members of her class how many steps 
there were leading up to the entrance to a library building which all of 
them passed on their way to school. None of the students knew. Why 
would it be unwise to assume that the students' memories were poor? 

8. Are tests good for anything besides finding out how much students 
have already learned? Why? 

9. Why is it impossible to state the exact manner in which study time 
can best be distributed? 

10. In some schools and colleges no tests at all are given until the very 
end of the course, when there is a single examination from which the 
student's accomplishment is judged. What are the advantages of such 
a system? What are the disadvantages? 

11. If you had great difficulty in remembering the dates of historical 
events, how would you proceed to improve your ability in this regard? 

12. Under which condition would you be more likely to remember the 
name of an old acquaintance : if you met him on a street where you had 
often seen him before, or if you met him on a street where you had never 
seen him before? Why? 

13. If you are introduced to a number of strangers, one after the other, 
why is it so difficult to remember their names? 

14. What reasons can you give why very meaningful material is for- 
gotten so slowly? 

15. If forgetting is most rapid just after learning, when is the best time 
for reviewing? 

16. Why do so many people say that they can remember faces better 
than names? 

17. If, in the testimony of a number of witnesses, there were points on 
which there was complete agreement and others on which there was con- 
siderable disagreement, which would most likely be true? Why? 

1'8. If two witnesses both reported an event down to its minutest details 
and if their reports were in perfect agreement, what would you think about 
their honesty? Why? 


19. Why do the faces of members of another race look so much more 
alike to us than faces of members of our own race? 


Whipple, Psychological Bulletin, 1918, pp. 233-247; or Readings in 
General Psychology, Ch. XIII, Selection 5, p. 318 1'f. 

James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, etc., pp. 124-129; or Readings, 
Ch. XIII, Selection 6, p. 328 ff. 

Judd, Psychology of High-school Subjects, pp. 70-72; or Readings, 
Ch. XIII, Selection 7-B, p. 336 f. 






1. Plow do we develop original ideas? 

2. What part does imagination play in real living? 


Imagination carries us beyond personal experience. 

Thought, in so far as it represents objects and events which 
are beyond our personal experience, is imagination. These 
imagined objects and events may be placed in the past or 
in the future. It is an act of imagination if I think of my 
boyhood as it would have been had I been ^reared on a farm 
instead of in town. It is an act of imagination if I think of a 
dinner which I am to attend next week. Imagined objects 
and events may also be placed in the present. When a child 
climbs to the top of a shed and imagines he is a structural 
steel worker busy upon a new skyscraper, he is not imagining 
something about the past or the future. He is imagining 
about the present moment. 

But in any case, ideation is imaginative only to the extent 
to which it sets up a world which has never actually been 
experienced by the imaginer. While no train of thought 
ever breaks away completely from the actual world, thinking 



is imagination only to the extent to which it does represent 
the unreal. In the anticipation of a sea voyage to be taken 
several months hence, some elements of my ideation are 
imaginative and others are not. I have seen ocean liners, 
and if my present thought represents some ship actually 
seen, it is an act of memory rather than an act of imagination. 
But the thought of standing on the deck of a liner next Sep- 
tember does introduce some elements that have not yet, at 
least, any v counterparts in the world of actuality. When I 
consider how excited I should be if suddenly notified that I 
were the possessor of a million dollars, my ideation is to 
some extent imaginative and to some extent memorial. I 
have experienced the excitement of sudden good fortune, so 
that to think of such excitement is not necessarily an act of 
imagination. Still, it has never been my lot to come into 
possession of a million dollars, and to think of such a thing 
as occurring is to engage in an act of imagination. 

No sharp line exists between imagination and memory. 
All thinking involves ideas representative of what the thinker- 
has known directly in his own private experience. All 
thinking also involves ideas representative of objects and 
events outside of the personal experiences of the thinker. 
The question thus arises as to when, strictly speaking, a 
person may properly be said to be remembering and when 
imagining. Perhaps the most important point to keep in 
mind in this connection is that there is no sharp line between 
the two. We saw in the last chapter that imagination creeps 
into the recall of even fairly recent experiences and adds to 
that recall certain elements of unreality. In our reference 
to my imagining myself on shipboard, we saw that the 
thought of the ship, if it be clearly based upon some ship 
I have actually seen, is a memory element in a largely 
imaginative train of thought. 


The only basis, then, for our calling one train of thought 
imaginative and another memorial, is that in the former the 
central or preponderant reference of the thinking is to that 
which lies beyond the thinker's personal experience, while 
in the latter the reference is to that which actually has been 
experienced. Thinking of standing upon the deck of a ship 
next September is imagining. Thinking of standing upon 
the deck of a ship in the summer of 1912, as I really did, 
is remembering. Although the thoughts of the future voyage 
contain elements, such as the idea of the appearance of the 
ship, which date back to definite past experiences, the main 
reference of my thinking is to a world of events up to this 
time outside of my personal experience. Although the 
thoughts of the trip of 1912 undoubtedly refer to features of 
that event which actually were as nonexistent as many of 
the elements in the testimony of the witnesses discussed in 
Chapter X, the main reference is to events that did take 
place, and what is thought about them is preponderantly 

All imagination depends upon personal experience. If I 
imagine an eight-legged dog, or a bright green horse standing 
on its head, it might seem that those acts of imagination 
were solely independent of actual experiences. As a matter 
of fact, every element in those acts is dependent upon past 
experiences. In the case of certain elements, the fact that 
they date back to real experiences is evident. For example, 
the head of the imagined eight-legged dog is simply a recall 
of the appearance of the head of a certain bull-dog. The 
horse, too, in many of its aspects, is like horses seen before. 

We must admit that I have never seen an eight-legged dog, 
nor a bright green horse standing on its head. Still, I have 
seen legs of dogs, as well as the color, bright green, and I 
have seen men, if not horses, standing on their heads. Even 


the strangest elements, then, of my imaginings are based 
upon my own experiences. If one had never seen any color 
like green, he could not imagine a green horse. 

How, then, are we going to escape the apparent contra- 
diction between the statement that imagination carries us 
beyond the bounds of our personal experience, and the 
conclusion, just reached, that every element in our imaginings 
depends upon such experience? The solution for this prob- 
lem lies in, a point made in our discussion of ideas. There it 
was said that " the ideas which the author puts into his novel 
and the ordinary man into his day-dreams are based upon 
earlier personal experiences, but the present combinations 
into which they are put are distinctly new. " So is it with 
imagination of every sort. Dogs and legs of dogs are not 
new. But to endow one dog with eight legs gives a result 
that is somewhat original. At least it is a something which 
we have never actually experienced. Horses are not new, 
bright green is not new, and standing on one's head is not 
new, but to endow a horse with a green coat and stand him 
on his head gives what all of us should agree is largely a 
matter of imagination. 

Since imagination depends upon our personal experiences, 
it is a type of habitual activity. This does not mean that 
acts of imagination are necessarily fixed and stereotyped, 
but merely that the elementary activities which make up 
our imaginings are activities which have been acquired by 
experience. Habits of imagination may, of course, become 
quite as fixed and regular as do thoroughly fixated habits of 
movement. There are men who set up day-dreams in which 
they see themselves attaining fame through some great 
achievement in politics, letters, business, or athletics. Once 
a highly gratifying day-dream of this kind has been con- 
structed, it may be engaged in with little modification time 


after time for a long period. On the other hand, although 
every element of an act of imagination may be a habit, the 
larger act may be a more highly variable affair. In fact, it is 
the essence of imagination that old ways of thinking are or 
may be combined into new ways of thinking. From the 
standpoint of a study of imagination, we are riot nearly so 
much interested in the fact that a certain day-dream is 
repeated time and again as we are in the fact that the day- 
dream was constructed in the first place. 

New combinations of ideas are essential for progress. 
The typist acquires her skill by combining in new ways habits 
of reading, spelling, and moving hands and fingers. The 
bookkeeper learns to put old habits of computation to new 
uses. The child combines random movements of legs and 
arms into nicely balanced walking. And the highest achieve- 
ments of intelligence depend upon the development of new 
combinations of ideas already possessed, that is, upon imagi- 
nation. It is never enough to think only in terms of the past 
and present. The future must be taken into account too. 
This, if it is to be done accurately, demands a rearrangement 
of ideas. The future is never just like the past or present, 
wherefore adequate thinking about it requires imagination. 

As we shall see more fully in the next chapter, reasoning 
contains imagination as an essential feature. When an 
animal, let us say a dog, has a problem to solve he actually 
tries out a large number of solutions. If, while hungry, he 
is put into a cage, just outside the door of which is a tempting 
piece of meat, he will try all sorts of methods of escape. He 
will bite and pull at the bars, bark, whine, and run this way 
and that. Finally he may strike his nose against the latch 
in such a way as to spring it and let the door fly open. Such 
a trial and error procedure is contrasted with reasoning. The 
distinguishing fact about the latter is that the correct 


solution is often hit upon without first putting a large number 
of possible solutions into movement to discover whether 
they will work. Instead qf being actually tried out, they 
are tried out in imagination. The reasoner constructs in 
thought the probable outcome of the application of this 
solution or of that. If his imagination shows that outcome 
to be a satisfactory solution of the problem, then thought 
can be transformed into movement. 


Problems give rise to new ways of thinking. Reasoning 
is an attempt to construct in thought the solution of some 
problem. The goal we wish to attain is in this case recog- 
nized, and the part played by imagination consists largely 
in foreseeing how well some mode of action, which is merely 
thought of, will further the attainment of that goal. This is, 
above all, a business-like procedure. 

There are other conditions under which the presence of a 
problem gives rise to imagination, even where there is no hope 
of finding a mode of action or thought which will furnish a 
genuine solution. All of us engage in day-dreaming, and 
it is a striking fact that these day-dreams are the results of 
problems that we face. These problems are, as a rule, the 
outcome of unfulfilled longings. The boy who desires 
athletic distinction, but who can never hope to realize that 
form of glory because of insurmountable physical limitations, 
will construct day-dreams in which athletic achievements 
are attained. He does not necessarily entertain these ideas 
as possible ways out of his difficulty, as possible methods of 
attaining the longed-for goal. They are rather enjoyed for 
their own sake. The ideas are not, as in reasoning, plans 
for action or for further thinking, but they are substitutes 
for the genuine. 


New ways of thinking may be imparted to us by others. 

New and skillful combinations of movement may be set up 
as the result of a laborious struggle with some problem. But 
often the construction of the new combination is made 
prompt and easy by virtue of the instruction or guidance 
which we receive from others. Instruction or guidance may 
similarly facilitate the formation of new ways of thinking. 

The anticipation of a journey into countries never visited 
before consists in imagining many things about the places 
to be visited, methods of travel, and the like. Now there is 
very little basis in my own personal experience for imaginings 
valid enough to guide my preparation for the journey. But 
I can talk to others who have made this journey, I can 
read books about traveling in foreign lands, and out of the 
ideas which are thus imparted I can construct fairly adequate 
notions of what lies before me. Because of what two friends 
have said, I anticipate very cold weather at sea, and, acting 
upon that idea, I shall take with me a heavy coat. Because 
of what another friend has told me, I think of the Atlantic 
next December as stormy and rough. Acting upon that 
idea, I shall try to book my return passage on as large and 
as steady a ship as possible. Somewhere in a book I have 
read that the heavy snows render certain Alpine places in- 
accessible by the middle of October. Knowing when I shall 
be in Switzerland, I can even now imagine something of the 
things I shall see and something of the things I shall be 
unable to see while there. Thus is my imagination made 
more accurate and useful by the guidance I am able to get 
from others. 

The less practical imaginings in which one engages the 
imaginings of the day-dream type may also receive the 
benefit of considerable guidance. The clerk who lives a 
humdrum life may indulge in plays, motion pictures, and 


printed stories. These set up in him the most elaborate 
imaginings with scarcely any effort on his part. 

The plays we see and the stories we read do more than 
simply furnish ready-made day-dreams. They furnish us 
with materials out of which new day-dreams can be fabri- 
cated. Perhaps the bored clerk imagines himself a pros- 
pector for gold in a rough section of Alaska. Perhaps he is 
attacked by three ruffians whom he bests single-handed. 
Perhaps he finally strikes it rich and returns to civilization to 
live out his remaining days amid the luxuries his gold can 
buy. Here is a revision and reconstruction of a motion- 
picture story made in the interests of the peculiar needs of 
a particular individual. 

The work of fiction has still another frequent result. It 
creates unfulfillable desires which become the motives of our 
day-dreams. The clerk might possibly have been just as 
bored with his present occupation and quiet mode of living if 
he had never seen a motion picture and never read a frontier 
story. But having indulged in these dissipations, he began 
to see definite, if actually unattainable, alternative ways of 
living. In other words, the very desire for a life of brave 
adventure, for which his day-dreaming is a substitute, arose 
out of ready-made day-dreams furnished by play and story. 

Originality is aided by broad experience. It is sometimes 
assumed that originality of imagination has little or nothing 
to do with the extent of one's knowledge. Occasionally it 
does happen that a notion of considerable originality is pro- 
duced by a person of relatively slight experience. The 
college wit, aontributes jokes as bright and original as those 
of the; experienced, professional humorist. The young poet 
sometimes writes a short poem of unquestioned brilliance. 
William Cullen Bryant was only eighteen years of age when 
he wrote "Thanatopsis." The inventor of a clever and 


useful machine may be hopelessly ignorant of the science of 
mechanical engineering. Nevertheless, the man of sustained 
and consistent originality must have had wide experience. 
Milton and Shakespeare had great stores of information 
upon which to draw, and Newton is said to have had at his 
immediate command practically all of the scientific knowl- 
edge of his time. 

It is not difficult to see why there is such a close relation- 
ship between originality and knowledge. Imagination 
consists in setting ideas into new combinations. The first 
requirement for such a process is the possession of the ideas. 
One cannot utilize in imagination ideas that he does not 
possess. A person of very limited experience may, as we 
have seen, make use of his few ideas in a brilliantly original 
manner, but his imagination is definitely limited by the 
scarcity of information at his command. Where experience 
is limited, original thought is likely to be original only 
to the thinker himself. A new employee in a shop or fac- 
tory has been known to make an original suggestion worth 
thousands of dollars to his employers. Such fortunate 
occurrences stand out as exceptions, however, and the 
author of such a suggestion is not likely to continue to 
originate profitable schemes applicable to a business unless 
he straightway begins adding to his store of ideas about 
that business. 

Original combinations of ideas are aided by unusual 
combinations of experience. The newcomer in a business 
house ordinarily does not have revolutionary ideas about the 
conduct of affairs, and when he does, they are likely to be 
impracticable. Still, the newcomer does advance a valid 
and novel scheme once in a while, and there is some reason to 
believe that this event is not always pure accident. His 
previous experience may have been of a sort uncommon for a 


man in that particular business, and the ideas to which it 
gave rise may be just the ones to combine advantageously 
even with the first ideas he acquires about that business. 

A thorough mastery of two or more different and yet 
associated bodies of knowledge is as good a basis as can be 
obtained for original thinking. Such thinking is especially 
likely to be done by a banker who has a knowledge of farming 
or of building trades, by a physiologist well grounded in 
physics, by a novelist who is acquainted with the ways of 
living in some other place or historical era, by the specialist 
in mental diseases who also knows much about normal 
mental processes. 

Original thinking may become a habit. There are 
individuals who make a habit of mulling over their ideas, 
and getting them into new relations and combinations. In 
such individuals original thinking becomes as natural and as 
easy as original thinking ever is. When they read a book, 
they do not stop there. They recall from time to time ideas 
that they have gathered from it. They compare in a reflective 
manner the opinions of one author with those of another. 
All this tends toward the production of new ideational com- 
binations. Ideas obtained from first-hand experience as 
well as those obtained from books are treated in this way. 

The creative thinker does not accept things at their face 
value. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the 
creative thinker is his unwillingness to accept the world of 
facts or ideas at its face value. He looks behind the facts 
for meanings, relationships, and possibilities which have 
hitherto escaped notice. He is not content to accept ideas 
just as they are imparted to him. He must evaluate them 
anew. He must determine just how well, after all, they do 
correspond to the world of facts. Or, if those ideas be of a 
fanciful sort, he must redetermine their artistic value. 


Where changes seem to him desirable, he makes them. 
Such a thinker dares entertain the notion of sailing west to 
India instead of east. Such a thinker looks for a relationship 
between lightning and electricity. 

Professor Calkins shows the contrast between original and 
less original thought by setting side by side two well-known 
poems, Shelley 's " Sensitive Plant " and Cowper's " Winter 
Garden.' 7 

Who loves a garden, [ is Cowper's prosaic beginning ] 

. . . loves a greenhouse too. 
Unconscious of a less propitious clime, 
There blooms exotic beauty, warm and snug, 
While the winds whistle and the snows descend. 
The spiry myrtle with unwith'ring leaf 
Shines there and flourishes. The golden boast 
Of Portugal and western India there, 
The ruddier orange, and the paler lime, 
Peep through their polish'd foliage at the storm, 
And seem to smile at what they need not fear. 
Th 7 amomum there with intermingling flow'rs 
And cherries hangs her twigs. Geranium boasts 
Her crimson honors, and the spangled beau, 
Ficoides, glitters bright the winter long. 
All plants of ev'ry leaf, that can endure 
The winter's frown, if screcri'd from his shrewd bite, 
Live there, arid prosper. Those Ausonia claims, 
Levantine regions these; th ; Azores send 
Their jessamine, her jessamine remote 
Caffraia; . . . 

No one [Professor Calkins goes on to say] can read this 
list of flowers without the conviction that Cowper is 
either 'reproducing 7 the rows of plants as he saw them 
one after another in a greenhouse, or else that he is fram- 
ing an image after the most mechanical fashion. There 
is certainly little that is individual in the entire description, 
and the images, regarded from the standpoint of association, 
are connected as undifferentiated totals, instead of being 
broken up into more remotely suggestive elements. 


Shelley also enumerates the flowers of his garden, but in 
a very different manner. 

The snowdrop, and then the violet, 
Arose from the ground with warm rain wet, 
And their breath was mixed with fresh odor, sent 
From the turf ; like the voice and the instrument. 

Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall, 
And narcissi, the fairest among thorn all, 
Who gaze on their eyes in the stream's recess, 
Till they die of their own dear loveliness; 

And the Naiad-like lily of the vale, 
Whom youth makes so fair and passion so pale, 
That the light of its tremulous bells is seen 
Through their pavilions of tender green. 

We have here [says Professor Calkins, commenting 
upon this poem of Shelley's] neither a reproduction nor a 
mechanical composition, but an organically related, in- 
dividual experience. Almost every one of these exquisite 
images is connected in partial association with that which 
has preceded it: the mingling of earth-fragrance with the 
odors of the flowers suggests the interpenetratkm of voice 
and instrument; the early fading of the narcissi, mirrored 
in the stream, rouses the fancy that they 'die of their own 
dear loveliness'; the tall lily leaves suggest sheltering 
pavilions. And, side by side with Cowper's superficial and 
fanciful comparison of Ficoides with the spangled beau, 
Shelley's images of music, of beauty, and of passion fairly 
throb with life and meaning. 1 

Creative thought is relatively rare. The easy road is 
that of accepting things as they are or as people say they are. 
Even when one has need of a day-dream to satisfy in part 
some unfulfilled desire, it is easier to utilize a conventional 
day-dream which one has read in a book than to con- 
struct a story suited to one's own special needs. One may 

l An Introduction to Psychology, pp. 206, 207 (The Macmillan Company). 


start off in business, in science, or in art full of the intellectual 
energy that gives rise to novelty, but, unless one be on his 
guard, he is likely to rely more and more upon ideas as he or 
others have worked them out in the past. Too much same- 
ness of scene or occupation is a prevalent cause for the 
destruction of originality in those who once challenged almost 
every fact and idea confronting them. We have remarked 
that unusual combinations of experiences are pre-eminently 
the stimulators of thought that is original. And it is also 
true that there is no surer way to fall into stereotyped and 
conventional modes of thought than by avoiding novel ex- 
periences. A certain amount of travel, of intercourse with 
new acquaintances, of reading on new subjects, and, above 
all, of reflection upon these added experiences will keep one 
out of a narrow intellectual rut. 

Upon whatever we turn our attention, there are customary 
ways of thinking about that subject. So strong are some of 
these customary ways of thinking, and so backed are they by 
the prestige of their very antiquity, that only the exceptional 
and hardy intellect can persist in an original opinion, even if 
its truth should, so far as the logic of the matter is concerned, 
be obvious to all. The evidence was greatly in favor of a 
spherical earth long before men would entertain the idea 
seriously. They had thought the world was flat for centuries, 
and that inaccurate conception kept a better one from even 
entering their minds. A poem of Sam Foss's which Professor 
Ross has quoted 1 is a happy illustration of our point. 


One day, through a primeval wood, 

A calf walked home as good calves should, 

And left a trail all bent askew, 

A crooked trail, as all calves do. 

1 Social Psychology, p. 257 (The Macmillan Company). 


Since then two hundred years have fled, 
And I infer the calf is dead, 
But still he left behind his trail, 
And thereby hangs my moral tale. 

The trail was taken up next day 
By a lone dog that passed that way; 
And then a wise bell-wether sheep 
Pursued the trail o'er dale and steep, 
And led his flock behind him, too, 
As good bell-wethers always do. 

And from that day, o'er hill and glade, 
Through those old woods a path was made, 
And many men wound in and out, 
And bent and turned and crooked about, 
And littered words of righteous wrath, 
Because 'twas such a crooked path. 

But still they followed do not laugh 
The first migrations of that calf, 
And through this winding woodway stalked 
Because he wobbled when he walked. 

And men in two centuries and a half 
Trod in the footsteps of that calf, 
For men are prone to go it blind, 
Along the calf-ways of the mind, 
And work away from sun to sun, 
To do as other men have done. 

Originality does not guarantee the truth or value of 
thought. The incoherent nonsense of an insane patient 
may be original enough, yet the fact of originality does not, 
in itself, insure the truth or value of his thinking. Consider 
the thought processes of the author of the following speech : 

Well, Doctor, I tell you I suffered terribly this winter, 
also on post of duty. I do not know anything about it; 
there is an illustration there. I cannot blame the band 
while at school about their music. That thermometer there 


is to tell whether you live or die, and it becomes such a 
dangerous position that the enemies approaching at this 
post of duty, I cannot do it with the light. That man 
escaped. He is living at his house in Birmington, N. Y., 
where I know not. I know that his name is Irish. They 
will not take him to his rightful home in the condition of 
such by which he has no means of support by attending bar. 
I was kidnapped upon the ocean, and taking en route to this 
place I know not. Well, as I was going to tell you, I am 
the enemy himself. These people here cannot perform an 
operation. They do not know what they are. Well do 
you know me! I am the king of Ireland and also of all 
countries in existence. I was the fellow that killed the 
queen. I do not know who she was. I got the picture of 
him. His last name was Duff. I cannot get into com- 
munication with him. 1 

Such combinations of ideas are original enough. They 
certainly do not represent ideas or objects or events as they 
have occurred upon some former occasion. The results of 
past experiences must have combined and produced this 
novel and original flow of thought. But with all its origi- 
nality, such thinking does not uncover hidden truth nor does 
it rise to new artistic heights. It corresponds neither with a 
world of actual fact nor with one of legitimate fancy. 

Originality, in other words, cannot be evaluated in and 
for itself. Originality is meritorious only when it furthers 
the worthy enterprises of life. In this regard it is only like 
other facts of mental life. If memory were evaluated in and 
for itself, who could display a better memory than Miss 
Bates? She did not seem to forget anything! There was 
recently described in one of the psychological journals a 
feeble-minded boy who had a remarkable memory. Give 
him a date, such as March 8, 1908, and he can immediately 
give you the day of the week on which that date occurred. 
Quoted by White, in Outlines of Psychiatry, p. 146. 


Within a range of something like twenty years his memory 
for days and dates is almost perfect. And yet no one would 
seriously praise ^the memory of either Miss Bates or the 
feeble-minded boy. Their memories are complete enough 
and accurate enough, but they are not particularly useful 
for the more important purposes of life. Some people have 
held to the superstition that habits, as such, are undesirable, 
and that one should keep as free from them as possible. 
But we know now that habits cannot be evaluated simply as 
habits. Their consequences must be taken into account. 
The habit of overeating is bad, not because it is a habit, but 
because of its results. The habit of being friendly or cheerful 
is good, not because it is a habit, but because of its results. 
So it is with originality. A cleverly planned crime may be 
original, but it is not its originality which makes it bad. It 
is bad because it is a crime. A story may be very original, 
but unless it fits in with certain artistic needs and standards, 
it will not be judged good. 

When old ways of thinking become inadequate, imagina- 
tion offers new ways of thinking, some of which may fill one's 
needs and some of which may be useless. Without imagina- 
tion there would be no new ways of thinking, but unless 
there were an evaluation of the various manifestations of 
imagination and a selection from among them of those 
corresponding to actual facts and needs, imagination would 
lead to disaster about as often as to advantage. 

Originality should not be cultivated for its own sake. 
The greatest thinkers have not been those who cast aside 
most ruthlessly all established modes of thought. Great 
thinkers are rather those who display imagination in some 
critical situation where others have failed to display it. 
Newton, as we have said, mastered much of the established 
scientific knowledge of his time, and most of it he accepted. 


But here and there he felt that there was a weak link or a gap 
in existing knowledge, and that is where his imaginings began. 
He imagined that the falling apple and the movements of 
the heavenly bodies might be operating according to a single 
law of gravitation, a supposition he was later able to prove. 
Now it was not that Newton imagined so freely or so exten- 
sively, but rather that he imagined so well in regard to such 
a crucial scientific problem that makes us revere his memory. 
Shakespeare did not hesitate to borrow complete plots from 
other writers. He knew where he could get a good plot 
whenever he wanted one, and to those sources he went. His 
own imaginative efforts were saved for the concoction of those 
details of dialog and action that make all the difference 
between life and some dead chronicle. 

A struggle for originality which is carried on always and 
everywhere, whether or not there is a need for it, is an 
unfortunate affair. It is such a waste of energy! Quite 
frequently a kind of false pride makes a man unwilling to 
accept any mode of thought that is not a product of his own 
imagining. He does not care greatly how or to what end he 
modifies the thoughts of others, if only he modifies them. 
We have all met individuals with characteristics similar to 
those which William James, in his "Letters," attributed to a 

certain professor. " has the most prodigious faculty 

of appropriating and preserving knowledge, and as for 
opinions, he takes an grand serieux his duties there. He 
says of each possible subject, 'Here I must have an opinion. 
Let's see! What shall it be? How many possible opinions 
are there? three? four? Yes!, just four! Shall I take one 
of these? It will seem more original to take a higher position, 
a sort of Vermittelungsansicht 1 between them all. That I will 
do, etc., etc.'" 

*A mediatory attitude (a view). 


Inspiration and deliberate creation compared. Every- 
one is familiar with the fact that new combinations of ideas 
sometimes occur spontaneously and with a minimum of 
effort and at other times only as the result of a long and 
deliberate process of reflection. There have been very 
effective thinkers who have relied to an astonishing degree 
upon the immediate and spontaneous type of production. 
This is said to have been true of Poincare, the eminent 
French, mathematician. He often began writing a scientific 
article without any conclusion in mind, in the hope that 
appropriate ideas would come to him as he wrote. If the 
ideas failed to take form easily he would abandon the paper 
temporarily and count upon having better fortune when he 
resumed work upon it. 

The creative activities of the composer, Mozart, also took 
this spontaneous, inspirational form. "When I am feeling 
well/ 7 he says, "and in good humor, perhaps when I am 
traveling by carriage or taking a walk after a good dinner, 
or at night when I cannot sleep, my thoughts come in 
swarms and with marvelous ease. Whence and how do 
they come? I do not know. I have no share in it. Those 
that please me I hold in mind and I hum them, at least so 
others have told me. Once I catch my air, another comes 
soon to join the first according to the requirements of the 
whole composition counterpoint, the play of the various 
instruments, etc., etc., and all these morsels combine to 
form the whole/ 71 

So spontaneously did his poems come to him that William 
Blake, an English writer and painter, believed that they 
must have a supernatural origin. While we ourselves should 
hardly fall back upon such an explanation, his own statement 

1 Quoted by F. C. Prescott, The Poetic Mind, p. 42 (The Macmillan 


is worth considering, because it gives a vivid picture of an 
extreme case of the so called inspirational form of imagina- 
tion. "I have written this poem (Jerusalem) from immediate 
dictation . . . without premeditation and even against my 
will ... I dare not pretend to be other than the secretary. 
The authors are in eternity/ 7 Poetry and art, he says in 
another place, are least creations of the poet or artist, but 
of powers beyond control. "A poem is not written by the 
man who says: I will sit down and write a poem; but rather 
by the man who, captured by rather than capturing an im- 
pulse, hears a tune which he does not recognize, or sees a 
sight which he does not remember in some ' close corner ' of 
his brain, and exerts the only energy at his disposal in re- 
cording it faithfully in the medium of his particular art. 771 

It is a popular belief that this inspirational type of pro- 
duction, during which the thinker has the feeling that his 
imagination is running freely and beyond control, is a neces- 
sary characteristic of the great man, especially if he be 
working in some field of art. However, substantial evidence 
for this belief is lacking. Exquisite works of art may be 
produced by imaginative processes that are of the most 
deliberate and voluntary sort. There have doubtless been 
many deliberate workers in the various fields of art, but 
Emile Zola is, perhaps, the most often cited to illustrate this 
point. So rational and deliberate were his acts of creation 
that he likened himself to a scientist conducting an experi- 
ment. He observed in great detail the lives and surround- 
ings of the type of people about whom he wished to write. 
To do this he might actually go to live among them. " After 
spending two or three months in this study ," he tells us, 
"I am master of this particular kind of life, I see it, I feel it, 
I live in it in imagination, and I am certain of being able to 

1 Arthur Symons, William Blake, pp. 14-15 (E. P. Button and Company). 


give my novel the special colour and perfume of that class of 
people. Besides, by living some time as I have done amongst 
this class of people, I have made the acquaintance of indivi- 
duals belonging to it, I have heard real facts related, I know 
what occurs there as a general rule, I have learned the 
language which they usually talk, I have in my head a 
quantity of types, of scenes, of fragments of dialogue, of 
episodes, of occurrences, which form a confused story made 
up of K a thousand unconnected fragments. Then there re- 
mains to be done what for me is the most difficult task of 
all, to attach to a single thread, as best I am able, all these 
reminiscences and scattered impressions. It is almost always 
a lengthy task. But I set to work upon it phlegmatically, 
and instead of using my imagination I use my reasoning 
faculties. I argue to myself, I write my monologues word 
for word, just as they occur to me, so that, read by another, 
they would appear strange. So-and-so does this or that. 
What would be the natural result of such-and-such an 
act? "i 

To most of us the deliberative, reflective, painstaking sort 
of imaginative creation seems natural enough. It is the 
non-deliberative, spontaneous, inspirational sort of creation 
that calls for explanation. And it is creation of this latter 
variety that is most likely to be explained in terms of some 
mysterious and supernatural force making itself felt upon the 
mind of the thinker. But there are certain important facts 
which -indicate that inspiration is no more supernatural than 
any other form of imagining. In the first place, those who 
are unskilled in the ways of art or literature seldom come 
forth suddenly with an epoch-making creation. Inspiration 
occurs most frequently among those who are in the habit of 
getting inspired; that is to say, among those who have 

1 R. H. Sherard, Emile Zola, pp. 135-136 (London, 1893). 


worked and meditated in the field of poetry, painting, or 
some other art. If inspiration were an external force affect- 
ing the individual, we should hardly expect it to be so 
selective. In the second place, the subject-matter of inspired 
ideas is always closely related in some way to the life, sur- 
roundings, and thought of the artist. Even such a spon- 
taneous producer as Blake spent much time studying the 
subjects which his poetry and painting involved. He 
attended the picture galleries and discussed their contents in 
detail with his friends. Before painting on the subjects of 
Dante's work, he undertook an extensive study of the Italian 
poet. In the third place, the products of inspiration, as a 
rule, have to be subjected to elaborate criticism and revision. 
All of these facts make the spontaneous type of production 
seem very much a matter of this world of natural events. 

Why imagination sometimes seems so spontaneous. 
While we are justified in putting aside as false any super- 
natural explanation of inspiration, the problem still remains 
of establishing the reason why imaginative creation does, at 
times, proceed so spontaneously and smoothly that it seems 
directed by external forces. We saw in Chapter IX that 
our ideas are associated with perceptions and other ideas, 
and that when an idea is aroused, it is aroused by some 
experience which has been associated with it. Now, as we 
pointed out, there is a clear, logical connection between most 
ideas and the experiences which have become associated 
with them. Under such circumstances we are not baffled 
at the occurrence of an idea. If, for example, a warm spring 
breeze against my cheek arouses in me ideas of the coming 
summer and if these, in turn, arouse ideas of what I intend to 
do during the vacation days, I am not likely to feel that these 
ideas have been given me by some external agency. Such a 
succession of thoughts is what I have learned to expect of 


myself and therefore their occurrence seems perfectly natural. 
I should never think of explaining their rise as due to 
supernatural causes. But, as we have also noted, it is 
possible for any idea to become associated with any ex- 
perience. This allows for associations where the logical 
connection is not so evident. Consider Shelley's lines about 
the snowdrop and the violet : 

And their breath was mixed with fresh odor, sent 
From the turf, like the voice and the instrument. 

One in whom the odor of flowers and turf arouses ideas of 
interpenetrating voice and instrument might easily feel that 
this unusual association could not be explained in terms of 
some past experiences he has had. Try as he may, it is not 
likely that he can find in his own history the specific origin of 
this association. Thereupon he will be tempted to explain it 
in terms of some outside agency. Yet it is certain that 
somewhere in his past experience there lies an explanation for 
this particular association. The difficulty is that his memory 
is not complete enough to reveal the complete history of his 
experiences with flowers and instruments. 

There is another peculiarity of spontaneous creation, 
besides the fact that it seems so detached from the ordinary 
ways of thinking and from any specific past experiences 
which the thinker has had. During a period of so-called 
inspiration, ideas may be aroused quickly, abundantly, and 
without any sense of effort. Very often the explanation for 
this facility of thought lies simply in the fact that the thinker 
has got himself into a physical and mental condition where 
stimuli, which might arouse irrelevant thoughts, and so dis- 
rupt the ready flow, are lacking. If one gets into the habit 
of thinking in a particular room and at a definite hour, his 
presence in that room at that hour may be enough to set up a 
ready flow of thought. Fixed habits of work have been 


frequent among great thinkers. " Many writers feel the need 
of being in particular spots, of using peculiarly colored paper 
or ink before they can do well. Rousseau found composition 
difficult unless he was walking. Neander composed best 
lying on his stomach. Coleridge liked to compose best while 
walking over uneven ground. Sheridan composed at night 
with a profusion of lights about him. Lamartine had a 
studio of tropical plants. Dr. George Ebers imagines himself 
more at liberty to write with a board on his lap than at the 
desk. Vacano composed at all times, but the place he was 
in was important, and he could write best in the hubbub 
of peasant life near an old mill. Maurice Jokai must have 
fine pens and violet ink. These habits, however acquired, 
evidently have great power of distracting the attention if 
they are not satisfied, and so retard work." 1 And, we might 
add, these habits may come to be so associated with creative 
thinking that they seem automatically to set the imagination 
free. We might cite one more illustration of a very modern 
variety. A certain English statesman is a public speaker 
of wide reputation. Set him on his feet before a great crowd, 
and his eloquence is sure and unhesitating. Not a long 
time ago, so it is said, this Englishman delivered his first 
radio address. He was taken alone into the sending-room, 
shown his position, and told to begin his speech. Not for 
years had words failed him, but here, in this strange setting, 
his voice seemed paralyzed. He lacked the associative cues 
to set him off, and he fought for his first words as does a man 
who has never been called inspired. 


Imagination is related to the more outward forms of 
action. Reasoning is a search, carried on in terms of 

^ergstrom, American JournaUof Psychology, VI, p. 267. 


thought, for the solution of some problem. The solution 
may finally turn out to be a way of moving rather than a 
way of thinking, but the discovery of it is first made 
in terms of imagination. I imagine myself taking the new 
route to town before actually embarking upon it. 

In our next chapter we shall return again to this matter 
of reasoning. In the meantime there are two other sorts of 
imaginative activity whose relationships to our conduct as 
a whole require our consideration. These are fantasy and 
the dreams in sleep. 

Fantasy related to outward action. Fantasy, or day- 
dreaming, like reasoning, develops in the presence of a 
problem, although that problem may not be specifically 
recognized by the dreamer. Fantasy occurs when the 
individual has impulses to express and, because of external 
conditions or other impulses which he possesses, cannot 
express them in any complete way. The child at play would 
be a warrior and kill his foes, but various factors prevent 
him from carrying out these impulses. In the first place, 
there is no war about him. In the second place, he lacks the 
tools for murder. And, in the third place, he has acquired 
a collection of social -habits, commonly called a conscience, 
which would hold him off from slaying human beings. By 
means of make-believe, he partially solves his problem and 
becomes, within the confines of his own imagination, a 
bloody warrior. There is hardly one of us who does not 
hope that some day great wealth will, in some way, come to 
him. But this impulse to possess wealth and the things that 
wealth can buy finds no satisfactory expression in the mere 
act of waiting for some possible stroke of good fortune. And 
there are many harboring such a hope who for one reason or 
another are prevented from going out in active pursuit of 
what they desire. What is there for them to do? They 


can engage in day-dreaming, and that is what most of them 
do. In this way their problem is at least partially solved. 
In imagination they do what their desires dictate, only they 
do not do it as overtly as complete expression of those 
desires would demand. 

Fantasy, although it grows out of impulses toward more 
outward forms of behavior, does not ordinarily result imme- 
diately in outward expression. An exception is the make- 
believe play of children, but even there the outward expres- 
sion is a mere accompaniment and vivifier of imagination. 
In fact, fantasy is, in its most essential nature, a substitute 
for immediate, overt action. Although fantasy is a sub- 
stitute rather than a preparation for immediate, outward 
action, it is often, and in a very genuine sense, a preparation 
for outward action in the more distant future. A boy who 
desires to be a physician cannot at once express that desire 
in the form of overt behavior. He can, however, engage in 
day-dreams about the day when he will actually attend the 
sick and the injured. Such day-dreaming will not issue 
immediately into outward behavior as does my imagining of 
a possible route to the place I wish to reach an hour hence. 
But it may prepare for outward behavior which is to come 
years hence. It may keep the dreamer on the path toward 
a remote, but actual goal, by keeping clearly before him the 
object of long and sometimes tedious courses of study, the 
connection of which with medical practice is not always too 
evident to the student. 

Dreams and overt action. The contents of dreams in 
sleep are so vivid and yet often so disordered and grotesque 
that they have for centuries furnished one of the most 
interesting of scientific problems. One of the first facts to 
notice about dreaming is that it is definitely related to 
internal and external stimuli acting upon the sense-organs 


while we sleep. The other night I dreamed, just as I was 
falling asleep, that two large strips of bacon hung before my 
face. Before retiring I had rinsed my mouth with salt 
water, and the salt was still acting upon the organs of taste in 
my tongue. Almost everyone has dreamed he was out in a 
blizzard, only to find, upon awaking, that he has kicked off 
the covers. Almost everyone too, has dreamed of a fire or of 
going to church, only to awake and find that the alarm clock 
is ringing. What we dream is also determined by internal 
stimuli. Whether our dreams are happy, sad, or frightful 
depends to a considerable extent upon the functioning of our 
digestive and circulatory organs. 

Dreams are related to our waking life in that they express, 
if in only a partial fashion, impulses toward completer and 
more overt action. Dreams of sleep, like day-dreams, often 
take the form of the carrying out of some cherished desire. 
Everyone, now and then, achieves glory in his dreams, and 
the specific nature of that achievement whether it be 
social, political, military, athletic, or financial very often 
is in line with his acknowledged ambitions. 

About as frequently, however, our dreams are of 
affairs for which we would not want to admit a desire. 
We are inclined to dream about things that worry us. A 
man was recently worrying over whether or not he would 
obtain a position upon which his hopes were fixed. Many of 
his dreams were about this matter. Sometimes he dreamed 
that the position had been successfully secured, but at other 
times he went through the great disappointment of losing it. 

Dreams do not prepare for action as typically as do other 
manifestations of imagination. They are, as a rule, less 
immediately related to outward action even than day-dreams. 
The immediate expression which dreams get in sleep-walking 
and talking are striking largely because they are exceptional 


cases. Most dreams lack such overt expression. Some- 
times a person dreams the solution for some problem, which 
he later successfully applies in waking life. But here again 
we have a connection between dream activity and outward 
behavior which is striking simply because it is so excep- 

Imagination is sometimes personal, sometimes im- 
personal. The imaginings in which we indulge are often, 
as we have said, set up by some problem, an immediate or 
more remote solution for which seems to be required. Ex- 
cept in persons of high intellectual development, these are 
practically always personal problems, and the imaginings 
which they instigate have a direct reference to personal wel- 
fare and advantage. The hungry man either imagines a 
method for actually obtaining food for himself or else 
indulges in a day-dream in which he imagines himself en- 
joying a feast. 

Miss Bertha Ten Eyck James has given me an account of 
the day-dreams of a little girl of eight: "Her fantasies are of 
the simplest type, typically wish-fulfillment, centering about 
herself and her family. In this series of day-dreams she has 
all the things that she wants, long hair, beautiful clothes, a 
pony, a wonderful house, travels. She does not have to go 
to school, but is tutored by a young army officer. She tells 
herself about her home and her travels as if it were a story, 
but at the same time she sees everything as it happens 
although occasionally the imagery is not what she wishes, 
and she may see a stormy sea when she tries to picture a calm 
one. This child seems to derive very great pleasure from 
these fantasies, and plans new ball rooms for her house, new 
comforts for the automobile, quite as if they really existed, 
but she does not confuse fact with fancy nor attempt to make 
other people believe her dreams/' 


Day-dreaming is not always so personal. A frequent type 
of day-dreaming is one in which the characters, as well as 
the events, are products of imagination. The dreamer may 
consider himself as merely an onlooker, if, indeed, he does not 
entirely suspend interest in himself. Such an attitude must 
be present in the case of many authors of fiction, because they 
seem to center their interests at different times around the 
careers of characters having practically nothing in common. 
But even in children this impersonal attitude may be found. 
Many children create for themselves imaginary companions, 
and very often they imagine their own hopes realized, not 
by themselves, but by these imaginary companions. A 
friend tells me that, as a boy, he was greatly troubled by the 
swarthiness of his complexion. Instead of dreaming that he, 
himself, was blond and ruddy as he would have liked to be, 
he imagined a companion who possessed these desired 
qualities. Such day-dreaming" is not, of course, as imper- 
sonal as it might be; the adventures of the imagined com- 
panion are very plainly those that the dreamer, himself, 
would like to have. 

, A higher stage of day-dream development is reached when 
events as well as characters are relatively foreign to the 
wishes and personal traits of the dreamer. Another example 
from Miss James: "The three girls and one boy in this group, 
varying in age from fifteen to eight (the boy youngest) 
evolved a type of group fantasy in which each one assumed a 
character, and by conversation and occasional narrative, 
worked out the plot of a story. The eight-year-old boy and 
his sister of fifteen began this, and together they built up one 
fantasy that had at least fifty characters and which they 
continued for seven years until it was largely crowded out by 
other interests. " Day-dreams of this sort have reached 
a stage far beyond those of the more primitive variety 


where one simply imagines himself achieving some personal 

Probably the most complete abstraction from the personal 
occurs in the imaginative activities of philosophers and men 
of science. Their construction of theories and the like goes 
beyond their personal concerns, and often, too, beyond the 
immediate concerns of the human race. A scientist of note 
recently devised a method for measuring the diameter of a 
star millions and millions of miles from the earth. Thinking 
about such topics stands in marked contrast to thinking 
about a new suit or a raise in salary. 

Imagination may become an end in itself. For the 
scientist and philosopher imagination may be cultivated for 
its own sake. The philosopher weaves an intricate theory 
about the ultimate nature of the universe, not because he 
wishes things were as he imagines them to be in his theorizing 
and not because that theory represents some possible di- 
rection for his more outward behavior, but simply for the 
love of the weaving. The artist, too, may come to that state 
of affairs where he is more interested in the task of imagin- 
ative construction than he is in what, in the world of actuality, 
is represented by those constructions. 

But each for the joy of the working, and each, 

in his separate star, 
Shall draw the Thing as he sees it for the God 

of Tilings as they are! 

This intellectual detachment, this interest in thought for 
thought's sake, is almost a requisite for the higher forms of 
intellectual and artistic achievement. Truly, the greatest 
of men cherish the applause their achievements bring, but a 
continuous consciousness of a desire for personal praise does 
not leave sufficient energy for highly disinterested thinking. 
Although there are perhaps few men who have been without 


a desire for applause, many have kept that desire subservient 
to the greater one of pushing forward the accomplishments of 
their imaginations in the way that seemed to them fitting. 
Such men are those who are unappreciated by their own 
generation because their thinking has reached a stage which 
will have meaning for the mass of people only in the years to 

The thinker cannot afford to lose touch with reality. 
Imagination may be free from and unfettered by the more 
immediate matters of everyday life without getting entirely 
out of touch with reality. The philosopher who constructs 
what seems to him the truest theory of the world and all its 
occurrences is not pulling away from reality because he 
neglects in his intellectual endeavors his own immediate 
welfare. In fact, it is reality that he is trying to comprehend. 
The artist who makes new experiments with tone and color 
is not ignoring the more actual affairs of life. Music and 
painting are realities, and he is simply trying to extend their 
scope. Thus may the bounds of human enjoyment be 

There are unfortunate instances, however, where imagina- 
tion does seem too disconnected from reality. Day-dreaming 
is sometimes an easy way out of the difficulties of life; if 
it becomes so satisfying to the individual that it causes him 
to relinquish his efforts, then it is a dangerous business. The 
imaginings of the student by means of which he pictures the 
goal for which he is striving are all right in themselves. They 
may, indeed, serve to keep that goal before his mind and 
give him the courage to face the tedium and discouragement 
of long years of study. But let him fail to realize that his 
day-dreams are only dreams, that hard work alone can 
make them an actuality, and they are likely to be a genuine 



1. Imagination is ideation representing objects or events 
which have not ; in their imagined form or arrangement, been 
present in the actual experience of the irnaginer. This 
ideation may represent present, past, or future. 

2. There are always present in imagination some ideas 
which represent experiences as they have actually occurred. 
In imagination, however, there is a preponderant reference 
to that which lies beyond the imaginer's personal ex- 

3. In the last analysis every element in an act of imagina- 
tion can be traced back to personal experience, but it is the 
essence of this type of thought that these elements receive a 
novel arrangement. Such novel arrangements of thought 
are essential for progress. 

4. Our thinking tends to take on novelty when, in reason- 
ing or day-dreaming, we seek the solution of problems. 

5. Our ways of thinking are also modified by our contacts 
with others in conversation, literature, and the like. 

6. The amount of originality which we show depends upon 
the breadth of our experience. Clearly the possibilities for 
new arrangements of our ideas depend upon how much we 

7. Originality also depends upon the particular combina- 
tions of experiences we have had. Contact with farming 
would be more likely to make a banker rearrange his ideas 
of banking than would contact with tennis. 

8. A habit of not accepting experiences at their face value, 
but of looking behind them for their less evident meanings 
is one way in which originality is secured. 

9. Originality of thought is relatively rare because novel 


experiences are rare in most lives and because custom 
and tradition tend to make us take things as we find 

10. Originality is not of value in and for itself. The 
ravings of a diseased mind may be original. Originality 
which is worth anything serves some purpose. 

11. Creative imagination sometimes runs smoothly and 
spontaneously and sometimes it is accompanied by strong 
feelings pf effort and deliberation. This spontaneity does 
not, itself, tell us the value of the products of imagination. 
Great works of art, for example, are now produced by smooth- 
flowing, and again by effortful, imagination. 

12. Spontaneous, or smooth-flowing, imagination is often 
thought of as due to a supernatural inspiration. Careful 
scrutiny shows that no such supposition is necessary. For 
one thing, the fact that the inspired one has usually spent 
much previous time in meditating about his subject indicates 
that spontaneous imagination is not quite so spontaneous as 
it seems. 

13. Imagination, like other types of ideation, has an effect 
upon our more outward forms of action. It also expresses 
tendencies toward such action. This is particularly true of 
imagination as it occurs in reasoning, but it is also true of 
fantasy and dreams. 

14. Imagination is either personal or impersonal. Usually 
some education is required before an individual is inclined to 
concern himself with topics of thought remote from his 
personal life, but in the highest intellectual endeavor thought 
is characteristically of this impersonal sort. This does not 
mean, of course, that the more worthy types of thinking are 
unconcerned with reality, but merely that they are to a 
considerable extent free from the influence of immediate and 
trivial matters. 



1. Give an account of three cases of imagination from your own ex- 
perience, one referring to the past, one to the present, and one to the 

2. Which does your imagining most often represent: the past, the 
present, or the future? How do you explain this? 

3. (a) Describe some event which you have witnessed in the past twenty- 
four hours. To what extent does this act of remembering involve imagin- 
ation? (&)' Describe some event which you have never witnessed. To 
what extent is this imagination based upon experiences which you actually 
have had? 

4. How do your powers of imagination affect your attitude toward 
your later career? 

5. What are some of the problems which, during the past twenty-four 
hours, have set you to imagining? 

6. Which of your school subjects has enabled you to think about 
matters furthest from your personal experiences? Why is this the case? 

7. If one is ambitious ultimately to contribute in an original manner 
to business, literature, or some other field of human endeavor, what is the 
first step to be taken? 

8. Why is it that the possession of mere information will not, of itself, 
make a man an original thinker? 

9. If you were about to purchase an automobile, what would you take 
into consideration besides originality of design? Under what circum- 
stances is originality of design a desirable feature of an automobile? 

10. Why do you suppose it is that the rest of the world has such a 
strong inclination to explain the imagination of a great man as due to a 
supernatural inspiration? 

11. Is the value of a piece of literature affected if we are able to explain 
the imagination of its author in natural rather than in supernatural terms? 
Defend your answer. 

12. Give an account of one of your favorite day-dreams. Show how it 
expresses your desires. Show how and to what extent it affects your 
actual behavior. 

13. Give an account of one of your dreams in sleep and the stimulus 
which you think aroused it. How did this dream fit in with the hopes 
and fears of your waking life? 


14. Which type of imagining is likely to make for the greatest happiness 
in the long run: that which is concerned with relatively personal matters, 
or that which is concerned with relatively impersonal matters? Why do 
you think so? 


Sully, The Human Mind, Vol. 1, pp. 362-371, or Readings in General 
Psychology, Ch. XIV, Selection 1, p. 338 ff. 

Pearson, The Grammar of Science, pp. 30-31; or Readings, Ch. XIV, 
Selection 2, p. 345 f . 

Bain, The Emotions and the Will (3d ed.) pp. 427-432; or Readings, 
Ch. XIV, Selection 3-A, p. 347 ff. 

Readings in General Psychology, Ch. XIV, Selection 3-B, p. 351 ff. 







1. What is reasoning? 

2. What is required for accurate reasoning? 

3. What is the use of reasoning? 


Ideation is a short cut in problem solving. When the 
business executive considers the possible means of com- 
municating with a lieutenant in another city and chooses 
from among the ideas that come to him the one which 
it seems wisest to put into action, we have a first-rate 
example of the process of reasoning. Another example is 
furnished by our earlier description of a search, carried out 
in thought, for the best and shortest route to some destina- 
tion which one is called upon to reach. The procedure of 
reasoning may be brought into contrast with the usual 
problem-solving activity of animals. A dog trying to get 
out of a cage or problem box does not sit down and reason 
about the matter. He simply puts into immediate and full 
operation one after another of a series of movements. 
Finally, among these movements there may appear the 



proper one to spring the latch. A striking fact about the 
dog's behavior is the enormous loss of energy in movements 
that have not the least chance of solving his problem. It 
is quite evident that these movements are not preceded by 
ideas that represent them. Most of them, if anticipated 
in that way, would never take place. But in the rational 
method of problem-solving, this anticipation of eompleter 
action by ideas of that action and its possible consequences 
is the outstanding feature. 

The saving of time and energy afforded by reasoning, when 
it can be employed, is very great. If the business executive 
had actually to try out all of the methods of communication 
that he could think of, his message to his lieutenant would 
be a costly affair from several standpoints. He might have 
to send telegrams to perhaps two addresses, dictate a letter, 
and then try "long distance' 7 before solving his problem. If 
one could riot select the best route to his destination without 
trying out all possible routes, he would either waste much 
time and energy or, as would be more likely, he would stand 
little chance of traveling over the best route. 

Reasoning prevents us from committing many serious 
errors. If one actually carried out all the acts he ever thinks 
of, he would soon be in a serious plight. As a result of this 
process of reasoning, however, one is frequently able to 
realize the folly of an act through a consideration of a mere 
idea of that act. Thus the act itself may happily be avoided. 
When one considers ideationally the possible ways of acting in 
a problematical situation, each idea of action is usually 
accompanied by certain ideas of the consequences of the 
action. When these latter ideas represent unfavorable 
consequences, the act which has been thought of is not likely 
to get into operation. 

A third advantage of reasoning is that, by virtue of this 


process, we are able to prepare for situations which have not 
yet arisen. I am able through reasoning to conclude that 
the owner of my apartment is likely to raise the rent this 
coming May. This raises the question as to whether I shall 
accept the increase or look for other living quarters. Through 
further reasoning I am able to decide which of these alter- 
natives will probably be better in the long run. As a result, 
I am fully prepared to act and to act promptly when the 
actual notification of the increase in rent occurs. Often 
there is no time for deliberation after a problem has actually 
arisen. If, in such an event, we have already concluded in 
thought that this problem would arise, and if we have already 
reasoned out the best way of meeting it, the appearance of 
the problem itself does not force us into a thoughtless, im- 
pulsive decision. 

Reasoning and action are usually mixed together. There 
are definite limits to our ability to substitute ideation for 
action in the solution of problems. Often it is impossible 
to foresee the results of a thought-of act without putting it 
into execution. Psychologists have studied the process of 
reasoning utilized in the solution of mechanical puzzles. In 
the case of such problems the limitations of ideation stand 
out very clearly. Rarely, if ever, does a person solving one 
of these puzzles abstain from all action until he has a correct 
idea of the solution. It is the typical thing for him to do 
much more fumbling than reasoning. Indeed, the attack 
upon the puzzle frequently assumes such a random character 
that he who gets the solution is as surprised as anyone when 
it appears. 

In the practical affairs of life it is of the utmost importance 
that we know how far we can trust mere ideation and at 
what point it is wise to test our ideas in action. If our 
problem is of a very unfamiliar type, we are usually unable 


to think about it either clearly or exhaustively. This is 
illustrated by the mechanical puzzles discussed above. Such 
a puzzle presents a problem so novel that one is forced almost 
immediately away from thought and into random move- 
ments. Sometimes the solution is hit upon, as we have seen, 
directly by means of such random movements. At other 
times the movements may serve simply to acquaint one with 
the nature of the problem. But in any case, reasoning about 
relatively strange matters requires a certain amount of 
checking up as one goes along. 

Problems of great complexity also stand in need of some- 
thing more than purely ideational attack. No builder of 
motor cars would desigfi a new engine and put it on the 
market without giving it some sort of practical test. There 
is common admission in the automotive industry that the 
problems of engine design are far too complicated to be 
solved in terms of ideas alone. Some important difficulties 
are certain to exist in the very best of plans, and only by 
putting the plans to the test of practice can all of them be 
met and overcome. 

We reason only in face of difficulties. The average 
person during his day's work does less reasoning than he 
thinks he does. When a man gets up in the morning, he 
usually does so without any intellectual consideration of the 
pros and cons of rising. When he dresses, has his breakfast, 
takes his train for the city, makes his way from station to 
office, he does these things without reasoning about them. 
He possesses fairly fixed habits which successfully carry him 
through these ordinary activities. It is only when some 
novel demand is made upon him, some demand which his 
stock of habits will not readily meet, that reasoning occurs. 
As long as his dressing runs in its accustomed manner, he 
will not reason about it; but let him lose a collar button, and 


reasoning may begin. Shall he send to the corner store? 
No, the store is not yet open. Shall he look about for that 
other one he had? No, he remembers that he threw it away 
last week. But he can button his overcoat up around his 
neck. This will be all right until he gets to the office, and, 
before getting there, he can stop in at a haberdashery in the 
city, because by that time the stores will be open. When 
this problem that has given rise to his reasoning has been thus 
satisfactorily solved, this particular process of reasoning will 

In reasoning there is a direct facing of the problem. 
Not all ideation is reasoning. Day-dreaming is, in a way, 
problem-solving through the use of ideas. The poor man 
constructs out of ideas a world in which he has plenty of 
money; the weakling constructs out of his ideas a world in 
which he wins fame for his physical strength; and the little 
child dreams himself into the importance of a grown-up. The 
poor man is beset with poverty, the weakling with his phys- 
ical impotence, the little child with a lack of various privileges, 
and their day-dreams are partial solutions for their problems. 
There is, nevertheless, an important distinction between this 
sort of thinking and reasoning. In reasoning one faces the 
problem squarely before setting out on an intellectual search 
for possible solutions, and throughout that search and the 
process of evaluating the ideas which are entertained, there 
is a regard for just what one is trying to accomplish by this 
thinking. While day-dreaming gets its start from some 
problem confronting the dreamer, there is seldom any out- 
and-out realization of what he is working toward. The little 
girl who supplies herself through fantasy with long hair, 
beautiful clothes, a pony, and other objects of her heart's 
desire hardly recognizes in any clear fashion the real source 
and motive of her world of thought. This is totally unlike 


the case of the executive thinking out a method of com- 
municating with a man in another city. He knows very defi- 
nitely that he is thinking in order to work out this problem of 
getting in touch with his lieutenant. Such ideation as this, 
where the problem is persistently and plainly in view, is the 
kind to which the term reasoning is most often applied. 


Reasoning is itself no index of efficiency. It is some- 
times assumed that he who spends much time in reasoning is, 
on that Very account, a highly efficient person. Our de- 
scription of the conditions under which reasoning occurs 
gives us a hint that that assumption cannot be accepted 
without some qualification. When one is prepared to meet 
a situation immediately and adequately, that situation does 
not furnish a problem and no reasoning process is set up by 
it. Only when one meets a situation with some degree of 
inadequacy is reasoning required. We might just as well 
say that the random barking and running about of a dog 
seeking escape from a cage is a sample of that dog's most 
efficient sort of behavior, as to say that a person is most 
efficient when he is engaged in reasoning. When a person is 
reasoning we may be sure that he is balked, and there are a 
great many things in life by which he cannot afford to let 
himself be balked. 

Sometimes we see this respect for reasoning for its own 
sake leading to very unfortunate consequences. There are 
parents who believe that their children should decide upon 
obedience, even to perfectly just demands, through the 
processes of their own reasoning. The chief result is that 
these children argue and haggle to a point of impertinence 
over every little moral issue of their lives. If requested not 
to interrupt the conversation of their elders, they always 


continue their interruption by demanding all the reasons 
why they should not interrupt. All of us are acquainted 
with adults, too, who suffer from reasoning where reasoning 
should be unnecessary. The well-trained individual has, 
for the usual intellectual and moral problems that are likely 
to arise in his life, solutions which are ready at hand and do 
not have to be searched for even in thought. The better 
equipped one is in a certain department of life, the greater 
the range of problems in that field for which immediate 
judgment is adequate and in regard to which it is unneces- 
sary to reason. 

The glory of reasoning, then, is not simply that it occurs. 
Very often the fact that a man reasons in a given situation 
indicates lack of competence rather than possession of it. 
Consider a person who debates with himself as to whether it 
is his duty to look after his old parents! But the glory of 
reasoning is this, that it is an admirably economical method 
of solving a problem for which one does not have a ready 
solution. As long as human beings have their present 
limitations they will never acquire, no matter how thorough 
their training, solutions for all the problems they will be 
called upon to meet. And, granted that there will always 
be problems to solve, the reasoning process, as we have 
already seen, has advantages over the non-intellectual 
method of working out solutions. 

Efficiency of reasoning is measured by its quality, not by 
its quantity. If two men come upon a problem for which 
they have no ready-made solutions, they will probably begin 
reasoning. Let us assume that the problem is that of choos- 
ing a proper investment for their savings. Let us assume, 
further, that the conclusion reached by one proves fortunate 
and that the conclusion reached by the other results in the 
loss of his money. The difference in the outcome of the 


reasoning of these two cannot be explained simply in terms 
of the amount of reasoning which each applies to the problem. 
The one whose reasoning turns out badly, quite as likely as 
not, considers just as many possibilities and engages in just 
as much ideational activity as the one whose reasoning is 
more successful. The accuracy of reasoning is determined, 
not by its elaborateness, nor by the number of ideas involved, 
but rather by what kinds of consequences it brings. And 
these consequences are determined more by what ideas one 
entertains and by which of these are accepted and which 
rejected than by the number of ideas considered. The un- 
successful reasoner may think of fifty possible investments 
to five thought of by the successful reasoner, but the latter's 
choice from among these possibilities is sound and the 
former's is not. 

Now it is by no means intended by this to imply that 
elaborate reasoning, in which a great many ideas occur, is 
generally inaccurate reasoning. Our point is simply that 
the elaborateness of reasoning does not itself indicate 
efficiency, and that it is often possible to reach as sound 
a conclusion from a simple reasoning process, involving 
few ideas, as can be reached from one of greater com- 

When is extensive reasoning effective? It is difficult 
to lay down any rule as to how many possibilities should be 
considered in the solution of a problem in order to obtain the 
best results. The proper answer to this question depends 
upon the individual, his training, and the nature of the 
problem. Some persons seem to need time for meditation, 
while others are able to jump to conclusions without any 
apparent sacrifice in accuracy. Much, of course, depends 
upon the training a person has had. The fact that the 
fortunate investor in our illustration needed to consider only 


five possibilities may well have been attributable to his 
training. He may have known what securities he was 
really in a position to evaluate, wherefore the long list of 
stocks and bonds that occurred to the other man did not 
occur to him. An experienced merchant may decide upon 
his purchases for next season's stock without engaging in 
anything elaborate enough to be called reasoning. The 
beginner in the same business, on the other hand, might be 
expected to buy wisely only if he faced and considered in 
some detail a large number of facts. 

As a rule, it is true that problems of great complexity 
demand more reasoning than simpler ones. We believe that 
practically anyone will cast his vote better if he reasons about 
the political issues involved and that he will choose his career 
more wisely if he reasons about his various opportunities. 
The problems involved in these choices and conclusions 
are quite complicated, 

This fact that reasoning is especially necessary in the case 
of more complicated problems is in no way a contradiction of 
our statement that reasoning is in greater need of testing in 
action when the problem is unfamiliar or complex. The 
more complex the problem, the more need there is for both 
reasoning and the testing of reasoning in action. 

There are also problems that are less likely to be properly 
solved by much thinking than by little. These problems are 
simple ones. The number of ideas relevant to them is 
limited, and too prolonged thinking about them is more 
likely to confuse the situation than to furnish grounds for 
accurate conclusions. In the psychological laboratory, 
experiments are frequently carried on in which the subject is 
directed to decide which of two weights, lifted in immediate 
succession, is the heavier. Similar experiments are carried 
out in which the subject is directed to decide which of two 


lines shown together is the longer. Simple decisions of this 
type are more accurate if not made too slowly. One reason 
for this is that the data bearing upon this simple problem are 
few, and they are completely presented with the pair of 
weights or lines. Meditation may bring fresh facts to the 
process of comparison, but they are more likely to be irrele- 
vant and distracting than relevant and helpful. 

Each individual really has to discover for himself just 
when it is well for him to meditate and when it is not. For 
most players only a very brief amount of meditation is de- 
sirable before making a shot in golf. It may prove beneficial 
to consider whether the grip is right and whether the eyes 
are on the ball, but too prolonged thought is almost sure to 
introduce ideas of what a good or poor shot will do to the 
score, and such ideas are very likely to interfere with 
efficiency. But if we are confronted with a complex problem, 
such as planning a political campaign, it is hardly possible 
for one to think too thoroughly. Of course, the problem that 
is complex enough to demand deliberation on the part of 
one person may be too simple to make much thought de- 
sirable on the part of another. 

What one reasons about is a clue to his intelligence. 
We have shown that the amount of reasoning done is not 
an accurate index of one's general level of efficiency. A 
more important question is that which asks how well one 
reasons and what results one achieves by reasoning. Another 
question of consequence is in regard to what one reasons 
about. Let us suppose that in a psychological experiment 
we give a man a list of words, one after another, to each of 
which he is to give the opposite in meaning. If, when we 
give him the word "short" or the word "black," he has to 
reason about what word has the opposite meaning, we are 
not likely to put him down as possessing a phenomenal 


amount of intelligence. Now let us suppose that we present 
another individual with this problem : 

A mother sent her boy to the river and told him to bring 
back exactly 7 pints of water. She gave him a 3-pint vessel 
and a 5-pint vessel. Show me how the boy can measure out 
exactly 7 pints of water, using nothing but these two vessels 
and not guessing at the amount. 

In this case an intelligent person would be more thought- 
ful about answering than an unintelligent one. In fact, it 
requires a certain amount of intelligence to see the difficul- 
ties involved in a problem of this type. 

Thus it is true that, although reasoning is an indication 
that a person is confronted with a problem for which he 
lacks a ready-made solution, thinking is as prevalent, and 
probably a good deal more prevalent, among the intelligent 
than among the unintelligent. While the growth of intel- 
lectual competence means the acquisition of many efficient 
habits which will be called forth immediately arid without 
thought, that same growth makes it possible for us to see 
problems which would, in a stupider state, have been passed 
by. Preoccupation with problems that escape the notice 
of most people is one of the surest signs of a high state of 
intellectual development. 

Men had known for ages that worms and maggots appear 
in decaying meat before the question as to how they got there 
became a genuine problem. It was not until a late period 
in human development that the position of the earth in the 
universe was actually looked upon as a problem requiring 
deliberate thinking. In ancient times men simply accepted 
the earth as the center of things. The earth's position did 
not become a problem until men realized that this view was 
not the only possibility. To reach that realization required 
the possession of considerable knowledge and astronomical 


skill. Most people today have never been bothered by the 
question as to how we see each object singly, although we 
look at it with two eyes. The naive and immediate answer 
might be that we see only one object, that what we see with 
the two eyes is one and the same thing. A little more ex- 
perience, however, shows us that the matter is not so simple 
as it seems. Put up either forefinger directly before and 
about eight inches away from your nose. First close the 
right eye and look at it; then close the left eye and look at it. 
When the left eye is open, you will see the front and part of 
the left side of the finger, and when the right eye is open, you 
will see the front and part of the right side. But in spite of 
this difference between the view of the finger as seen by the 
left eye and the view seen by the right, only one object is 
seen by the two eyes when they work together. Here is a 
problem that one would not even reason about unless he had 
made considerable progress along the pathway of knowledge 
and intelligence. 


First requisite for reasoning is possession of information. 

Some problems cannot be reasoned about until one has 
reached a certain stage of intellectual development and has 
accumulated a considerable amount of information. The 
process of reasoning consists in the consideration of a number 
of ideas and the choice of those most suited to one's purposes 
of action or thought. The acquisition of ideas is necessary 
not only for the recognition of problems worth thinking about 
but also to furnish materials, that is, ideas, wherewith we 
can think. 

Ideas come from experiences of everyday life. By far 
the majority of the ideas that occur in the process of reason- 
ing are picked up out of the casual experiences of everyday 


life. The ordinary man, in reaching a decision as to how to 
invest his savings, considers the securities he has seen ad- 
vertised, the securities his friends have bought, and the like. 
This information is usually not collected while he is in a frame 
of mind intent upon exactness. It is made up of a mixture 
of true ideas and false ideas which have, so to speak, stuck to 
him as he has gone through the usual experiences of his 

Reasoning based upon ideas thus casually acquired may 
lead to conclusions of marvelous insight and accuracy. The 
first ideas about arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, came out 
of the ordinary man's workaday contacts with the world. 
Arithmetical reasoning was not prepared for in the very 
beginning by any formal search after the properties of 
numbers, nor was geometrical or astronomical reasoning 
prepared for by any formal search after the final properties 
of space or of the heavenly bodies. Reasoning the reason- 
ing that is responsible for the great theories of modern 
science began with these ideas furnished by the almost 
random experiences of life. 

Although true conclusions frequently result from reasoning 
upon such a basis, we know of many instances of error 
resulting from the lack of care with which this idea or that 
was adopted. Perhaps the main reason why men found it so 
difficult to convince themselves that the earth was round 
was because of their acceptance at its face value of a certain 
idea about round objects, which idea they had picked up 
during their daily experiences. They knew that loose 
objects on the underside of round objects fall off. A small 
chip laid upon the top of an apple will stay there, but a chip 
laid upon the bottom side of an apple will immediately fall 
off. So-called practical experience had not shown them that 
this idea had definite limitations, and for that reason the 


acceptance, in fact the mere consideration, of any apparently 
contradictory ideas seemed the worst kind of foolishness. 

What ideas we acquire from a given experience depend 
upon the attitude we take toward that experience. Most of 
us tend to put the best possible interpretations upon our own 
acts, and the ideas we have about ourselves and our own lives 
are, therefore, likely to be prejudiced, to say the least. A 
Democrat who looks over the record of a Republican office 
holder is likely to see and remember only the evidences of 
inefficiency. A Republican, on the other hand, is equally 
likely to see and remember only the signs of efficient service. 
The fact that most people are unaware of the prejudices that 
affect their interpretation of experience and the ideas they 
derive from it makes the prejudices especially liable to in- 
fluence subsequent processes of reasoning. 

First step in accurate reasoning is questioning of the 
sources of our ideas. In order to secure sound and accurate 
thought, it is necessary continually to examine the origin of 
the ideas employed in thought. It is necessary to ask how 
careful and free from prejudice were the observations or 
experiences that gave rise to the notions in question. One 
source of inaccuracy is the tendency possessed by all of us 
to fill in details of vague and general observations. Travelers 
and explorers returning from far countries have remembered 
what they saw and also what they thought they saw. Only 
recently was the belief exploded that the gorilla is a naturally 
fierce and warlike beast. When once such an idea gets into 
people's minds, it is very difficult to correct it. Each traveler 
who observed gorillas in their native haunts looked for signs 
of ferocity, and probably the most trivial and innocent acts 
of these apes were given a sinister meaning. When it turns 
out that ideas have been acquired in a manner that may 
easily have affected their reliability, such influences have to 


be allowed for. Of course, we all recognize this to some 
degree. We discount the ideas that a chronic braggart 
furnishes about himself. Only an occasional and well- 
trained thinker, however, has the intellectual integrity to 
question the reliability of his own ideas, especially if they are 
ideas about matters of a somewhat personal character. 

Science seeks to provide for the collection of accurate 
information. Such sciences as geology, physiology, psy- 
chology, and the like are too often thought of as mere 
accumulations of information about the earth, the body, and 
the mind. In reality they are a good deal more than that. 
A scientist is as much or more interested in gathering new 
facts upon which to base his future reasoning as he is in 
harboring the facts that have already been gathered. Fur- 
thermore, he sets out after those facts in a business-like 
manner. He does not content himself with whatever facts 
happen to come his way. He makes active explorations into 
the realm of the unknown. 

But the scientist, if he be a good one, knows that false 
facts are worse than no facts at all. For that reason he 
explores and collects with caution. Being out after facts, he 
has a great fear of burdening himself with fancies. He is on 
his guard against those things that tend to be mistaken for 
what they are not. He must, therefore, be critical in his 
observations. Before recording his impressions of events he 
needs to ask himself again and again, "Is this thing really 
what it seems to be?" A colleague told me a story about a 
recent great medical discovery which illustrated the ideal 
scientific way of collecting information. Two young men 
were carrying out an experiment in the physiological labor- 
atory. One day they brought to their professor some results 
which seemed to indicate how a certain grave disease could 
be greatly benefited, if not cured. The professor was 


familiar with their methods and had confidence that they 
had not committed any important error of observation. Still, 
he felt that he must be critical even of his own judgment. 
He pointed out that in their experiment they had studied 
only one dog. Now they must bring in several more dogs 
and go through the experiment step by step with each of 
these new animals. If, in every case, they were able to 
confirm their first findings, then, and then only, would he 
accept their findings as facts. 

The critical attitude taken by the scientist in his observa- 
tion of events is often spoken of as the disinterested attitude. 
This does not for a moment imply that the man of science is 
uninterested in what he observes, but merely that he has 
tried to free his observations from such persona! preferences 
and desires as might influence him in a mariner inimical to 
his own accuracy. There is very much more honor to be 
gained from discovering a new fact than from discovering 
one that is already known. Therefore, when an observer 
comes to something that he thinks is new, he must safeguard 
himself against his own preference. He would prefer it to 
be something hitherto unknown, but, understanding that 
he has this preference, he must take particular pains to 
make sure of his observation and free his findings from 
fictitious characteristics which his own desires are likely 
to attribute to them. 

Not only facts, but complete facts, are required for sound 
reasoning. Reasoning may turn out to be false, not 
because the facts upon which it is based are false in them- 
selves, but because certain other indispensable facts were not 
considered. The scientist, seeking information as a basis 
for sound reasoning, has to make it his aim, not only to 
discover facts, but to discover and make available for 
thought every fact that is at all accessible and relevant. 


One of the ways in which our personal desires and prejudices 
tend to weaken our thinking is by making us fail to observe 
facts of quite evident importance. 

As a small boy I had, like most small boys, great ambi- 
tions to be a successful baseball pitcher. By dint of stren- 
uous practice I had acquired the ability to throw a ball with 
a perceptible curve, but that curve was far from what I 
should have liked. It was neither large nor sudden-breaking. 
But one day I came into an earthly paradise. While en- 
gaged in practice pitching to a companion, I suddenly de- 
veloped a curved ball of truly startling nature. My catcher 
could hardly follow it well enough to catch it, and plainly 
no batter would be able to do damage to such a ball as that. 
Now, here were the important facts, so far as I was con- 
cerned. I had discovered that by an extra twist of the 
wrist a baseball could be curved in almost unbelievable 
fashion, and I had discovered the nature of that twist. It is 
not unlikely that I was giving my wrist; an extra twist that 
day, and it is certain that the ball was flying through the 
air most freakishly. As they stood, these facts were not 
erroneous, but they nevertheless led me to the erroneous 
conclusion that I had suddenly taken a great step forward 
in pitching skill. And the reason why my interpretation of 
these facts proved erroneous was that I had failed to pay 
attention to another fact, namely that the cover of the ball 
was so ripped as to allow a little flap of it to hang loose. I 
remember to this day that I was dimly conscious that that 
flapping cover might have something to do with the curve I 
had achieved, but I refused to pay serious or prolonged 
attention to the fact, for the simple reason that I did not 
want to believe it. Young boys are not the only ones who 
neglect to add certain facts to their collections, because they 
do not want these facts to be true. Only a great and un- 


selfish love for the truth can produce a scientific frame of 
mind that looks desirable and undesirable facts equally in 
the face and, in the best sense of that saying, calls a spade a 

Scientific experiments aid in gathering information. 
The conditions under which events occur in everyday life are 
exceedingly complex. If we start to record all of the facts 
which may be relevant to a given type of event, we are 
likely to find ourselves swamped by the task. Forgetting is 
an affair that is occurring day in and day out. There is no 
difficulty in observing it and the facts connected with it. 
The difficulty lies, not in collecting information about for- 
getting, but in collecting important and accurate information. 
About all that psychologists have been able to learn from 
casual observations of forgetting is the fact that it occurs, 
that some people forget more rapidly than others, and 
that some materials are more rapidly forgotten than others. 
The conditions under which forgetting normally occurs are 
too complex to reveal the important details of the process. 

When complexities are many, as they are in the usual 
manifestations of forgetting, the scientific seeker after in- 
formation may fall back upon one of the greatest tools of 
modern science, namely the experiment. The merits of the 
experiment are these, that it permits the scientist to observe 
facts in a little, artificial world over which he has as nearly as 
possible complete control. 

Forgetting is observed in everyday life and in experiment. 
If one wished to observe the rate of forgetting under the 
conditions of everyday life, think what a time of it he would 
have! He would come across an individual here who in 
three days had forgotten ten out of thirty lines of Paradise 
Lost. He would find an individual there who in a week had 
forgotten one out of forty lines of The Ride of Paul Revere. 


But what would be the value of such facts and what would 
be their meaning? The observer would hardly dare record 
that he had observed the amount of forgetting after three 
days and again after a week and that it was greater in the 
first case. There are so many things he would not know 
about these facts that he could not take seriously that 
which he did know. If anything important were to be made 
of these two observations, it would be essential to know, 
among many other facts, the relative ability of the subjects 
whose forgetting was observed, the relative difficulty and 
rneaningfulness of the material forgotten, the amount of 
time each had spent in the original memorizing, the amount 
of thought each had given to his poem since memorizing it. 
With sufficient effort, some of these facts might be deter- 
mined, but probably the majority of them never could be. 

Now, we may contrast the complexity of forgetting under 
the conditions of everyday life with the relative simplicity of 
the process when it is held under experimental control. In 
the chapter on memory we gave some tables showing 
in percentage terms the amount of forgetting that took 
place after certain definite periods of time. These data 
were obtained, not from observations of everyday life, 
but from experimental observations. The amount of time 
spent in memorizing was controlled; the subjects were such 
as could be trusted not to rehearse what they had studied 
except when asked to do so by the experimenter; the dif- 
ferent units of material memorized were of the same general 
kind and of approximately equal difficulty; and in many other 
ways conditions were so simplified and controlled that the 
observer could be sure that he was observing real forgetting. 
When forgetting is observed under the conditions of every- 
day life, one does not know what facts are facts belonging 
to the phenomenon of forgetting and what belong to some- 


thing else, such as the difference in memorizing ability of 
two subjects or the difference in the time devoted by them 
to study. 

Experimental observations on the origin of life. "The 
natural scientist has always recognized/ ' we are told in 
Reflective Thinking, "that in most instances organisms are 
propagated by parents similar to the offspring. Another 
mode of generation, however, was formerly widely believed 
in. 'Heterogenesis/ the creation of a living organism out 
of inorganic matter, was generally accepted as another 
method. Animals as high in the scale of life as the frog were 
thought of as being in some cases the product of spontaneous 
generation. Eels were said to have come into being suddenly 
from the slimy ooze of the river Nile, and caterpillars and 
many insects were supposed to be the spontaneous product of 
the leaves on which they fed. A formula for creating mice 
was even suggested; and it was shown that they could be 
procured by putting grains of wheat with some dirty linen 
in a receptacle, whereupon the mice would presently appear/' 1 
Some people still believe that snakes grow from horse-hairs. 
It is evident that such erroneous ideas arise out of the com- 
plex conditions under which the origin of life is ordinarily 

It was especially difficult to make accurate observations 
of the conditions under which tiny, miscroscopic organisms 
get into water which had previously been sterile, and it 
seemed natural to record the fact that they did not come from 
anywhere, that they were just generated there. But by 
observing the facts in the simplified setting of an experiment, 
Pasteur was able to get at the true state of affairs. We 
shall read his own description of his experiment. 

1 An Introduction to Reflective Thinking, by Columbia Associates in Phi- 
losophy, p. 66 (Hough ton Mifflin Company), 


I place a portion of the infusion into a flask with a long 
neck . . . Suppose I boil the liquid and leave it to cool. 
After a few days mouldiness or animalculic will develop in the 
liquid. By boiling I destroyed any germs in the liquid or 
against the glass; but that infusion being again in contact 
with air, it becomes altered as all infusions do. Now suppose 
I repeat this experiment, but that before boiling the liquid I 
draw the neck of the flask into a point, leaving, however, its 
extremity open . . . Now the liquid of this second flask 
will remain pure . . . What difference is there between 
these two vases? . . . The only difference between them is 
this: In the first case the dusts suspended in air and their 
germs can fall into the neck of the flask and come into contact 
with liquid, where they find appropriate food and develop. 
Thence microscopic beings. In the second flask, on the 
contrary, it is impossible, or at least extremely difficult, 
unless the air is violently shaken, that dusts suspended in 
air should enter the vase. They fall on its curved neck. 1 

Some facts have to be observed in actual life. When 
he conducts an experiment, the scientist sets up well-con- 
trolled conditions and then carefully observes what happens. 
This is true whether he is investigating forgetting, the appear- 
ance of living organisms in water, or any other natural event. 
But observation of this sort has definite limitations. At 
any one time an investigator can bring under his control 
only a relatively few of the factors that may be important 
for a proper understanding of the world in which he lives. 
It is therefore necessary for him to gather information from 
the actual world as well as from the little artificial world 
which he is able to observe in his experiments. 

Men have long been interested in the effects which indul- 
gence in alcohol has upon human efficiency. It has been 
possible to conduct experiments that show what are some 
of these effects. The subjects of these experiments have 

1 Quoted from Pasteur, in Reflective Thinking, p. 71. 


been given doses of alcohol of various sizes and in various 
dilutions and have then been made to perform at some test 
where the efficiency of their performance could be measured. 
Such experiments have shown that even small amounts of 
alcohol cause a reduction in efficiency. Still, it is dangerous 
to reason about life in general merely on the basis of such 
results. In real life we are interested, not only in such 
immediate effects of alcohol as can be observed within the 
limits of a scientific experiment, but also, and perhaps to a 
greater extent, in the long-run effects of this drug. We 
want to know how alcohol acts upon the offspring of those 
who indulge in it. For this reason experiments have been 
conducted which test the effects of alcohol upon several 
generations of white rats. But white rats, after all, are not 
human beings, and we cannot reason without qualification 
from facts observed about rats to .what we may expect in 
human life. Now, obviously, it is hardly possible to conduct 
experiments on a number of generations of human beings. 
It might easily be possible, however, to collect facts about 
the health and achievement of sons and grandsons of alco- 
holics and such facts would usefully supplement what we 
have already been able to gather from experiment. 

In many fields of knowledge the experiment must remain a 
method of very limited usefulness. Our knowledge of the 
heavenly bodies, their composition, and their movements 
must be gained from observing them without the aid of 
experimental control. We can of course devise telescopes 
and other instruments to make observation more accurate, 
but we cannot exert any such control as was present in Pas- 
teur's experiment with the microscopic organisms and the 
water. Our knowledge of the history of the earth's crust can 
come only from observing the actual layers of rock as they 
appear, for instance, in the familiar outcroppings at the hill 


sides. Our knowledge of the development of human life 
from the crude days of savagery to the present can be 
gathered only from the historical records that have come 
down to us. We cannot reproduce in an experiment the 
manifold history of humanity. We cannot reproduce in an 
experiment even the simpler phases of that history. 

And so it is that the scientist must collect his facts how- 
ever he can. Where he can conduct an experiment, he does so. 
Where phenomena are not susceptible to experimentation, 
he must observe their natural and uncontrolled occur- 

The repetition of observation is an aid toward accuracy. 
It is especially true in actual life that events seldom occur 
twice in exactly the same way. This is one reason why a 
fact determined from a single observation is likely to be of 
very limited significance. No intelligent man would say 
that pipe-smoking insures a long life merely because he knew 
a man of eighty-nine years who had smoked a pipe since 
early boyhood. Furthermore, no intelligent man would 
say that pipe-smoking causes early death because he knew 
a pipe smoker who died young. Before coming to a con- 
clusion as to the relationship between pipe-smoking and 
length of life, it would be wise to % collect information about 
many smokers and also about many non-smokers. Only 
from such information could one come to a valid conclusion 
as to what is true, not in some one particular case, but in the 
long run. 

The natural limitations of our own powers of observation 
as well as the variability of the events observed make it 
desirable for us to look, not once, but many times. Suppose 
that I wish to know the exact height of a certain man. 
No matter how carefully I go about measuring him, I am 
likely to make an error. Perhaps I take him to be slightly 


taller, perhaps slightly shorter, than he really is. But if I 
measure him several times and then average together the 
results of those different observations, the overestimations 
and the underestimations will often cancel each other to a 
considerable extent, and what I have left will be nearer the 
truth than a single measurement would have been. It 
should be borne in mind, though, that this process of re- 
peated observation is not an infallible method of attaining 
accuracy. It is only when one's errors tend to fall in one 
direction as often as in another that an averaging of observa- 
tions will give facts of a more accurate sort. 

Accuracy is aided by random sampling. We have 
already alluded to the fact that what one observes is likely 
to depend upon what one wishes to observe. Only when 
one is on his guard against his own prejudices is he able to 
accept each truth at its proper value. There are those who 
believe that much can be concluded about a person's char- 
acter and ability from the color of his hair. They have 
realized, however, that their doctrine would not be generally 
believed without a collection of supporting facts. And so 
they have gone after these facts. The result is a list of names 
from history of blonds of similar characteristics and another 
list of brunettes of similar characteristics. The blonds were 
men of daring, of impatience, of vigor; they were leaders of 
men. The brunettes were more quiet, patient, studious, and 
solitary. But is the fact that one can get together a list of 
similar blonds and another list of similar brunettes adequate 
ground for concluding that character can be judged on the 
basis of hair-color? No, it is not; and the reason why it is 
not is that there is no guarantee that the blonds and bru- 
nettes were chosen impartially and at random. It is per- 
fectly true that there are. numerous blonds of similar personal 
traits and capacities and also numerous brunettes of similar 


personal traits and capacities. Wherefore it is no great 
trick, if one but looks about and chooses his cases carefully, 
to collect such groups as we have mentioned. But we must 
not forget that there may be as many blonds having the 
alleged brunette traits as brunettes, and as many brunettes 
having alleged blond traits as blonds. If this is true, the 
conclusion that character can be judged from hair-color is 
groundless. Obviously the correct method for testing this 
possibility is that of picking blonds and brunettes, not 
according to how well they fit into the purposes of our 
argument, but simply at random. As a matter of fact, such 
a procedure has already been employed by competent 
investigators, and the result has shown that the alleged 
blond traits are possessed equally by blonds and brunettes, 
and so also with the alleged brunette traits. 

This method of random sampling has broader uses than 
that of overcoming the preconceptions and prejudices of 
the observer. If I wanted to know the height and weight of 
school children in Chicago, I might measure and weigh one 
thousand children from one community, or I might pick the 
thousand children at random from different parts of the 
city. If my purpose were that of collecting information 
which would give grounds for reasoning about Chicago 
children in general, the second method would be preferable. 
The first might result in my observing a group which was 
on the whole better nourished and cared for or worse nour- 
ished and cared for than most children of Chicago. 

The practical rule is this : We must take close account of 
those factors that determine what we observe, and see that 
we are not influenced by them into making a false inter- 
pretation of the facts. 

Scientific attitudes and methods can be applied in every- 
day life. Science makes a business of collecting facts, 


and it is in science that we find the application of precautions 
against error most earnestly applied. The scientific atti- 
tudes of disinterestedness, care, and patience, and the 
methods of experiment and random or unprejudiced sampling 
can, nevertheless, be applied far beyond the boundaries of 
those formal disciplines, physics, chemistry, biology, psy- 
chology, and the like, which are the recognized branches 
of science. "Now this is the peculiarity of scientific 
method/' says Karl Pearson, one of the great scientific 
figures of our day, "that when once it has become a habit of 
mind, that mind converts all facts whatsoever into science. 
The field of science is unlimited; its material is endless, 
every group of natural phenomena, every phase of social 
life, every stage of past or present development is material 
for science. The unity of all science consists alone in its 
method, not in its material." 1 


Sound reasoning is a proper manipulation of ideas. 

A man who is confronted with the necessity of investing a 
sum of money may possess sufficient knowledge to choose a 
trustworthy security, but the possession of such knowledge 
is not a certain guarantee that he will make a wise choice. 
One who, because of actual lack of knowledge, cannot 
entertain in his reasoning ideas of the pros and cons of 
this and that investment is clearly at a disadvantage. 
The point that we have emphasized in the third part of 
this chapter is that knowledge is the foundation upon 
which reason rests. But, granted that a man has wide and 
reliable knowledge, there is something else to be reckoned 
with. How well does he employ that knowledge? How 

1 The Grammar of Science (3d cd.), Part I, p. 12 (Adam and Charles Black, 


well does he evaluate the possibilities and choose that idea 
which best deserves to be acted upon? 

Clear conception of problem a necessity. Before one 
has a right to hope for a successful application of his knowl- 
edge to the solution of a problem, it is necessary that he 
have a clear conception of the nature of the problem he is 
trying to solve. If a political philosopher were to ask himself 
how all men might be made equal, his chances of finding 
anything like a satisfactory answer would depend upon his 
understanding of the question itself. If he meant by 
"making all men equal" simply removing all differences in 
the circumstances under which life is lived, all differences in 
health, wealth, and happiness, he would be facing a problem 
which he himself would recognize as futile. t If, on the other 
hand, he stopped to examine his problem and to limit it 
and to define it, he might formulate a question possible to 
answer with some degree of truth. If he meant by "mak- 
ing all men equal" giving everyone a fair opportunity to 
become self-supporting and reasonably independent, then 
he might go about his thinking with a hope of some 

One of the best illustrations of the need for getting a clear 
conception of the problem to be solved is apparent when we 
turn our attention to the progress of the average argument. 
The participants try to reason with each other without 
first making sure that they are talking about the same thing. 
One of them is convinced that his arguments are the right 
ones, and the other, whose arguments seem to point in 
the opposite direction, is just as sure that his are right. 
Now, as a matter of fact, the chances are that both are 
equally in the right, but that they are arguing about dif- 
ferent things. Under such circumstances the more ideas 
each puts forward, the surer the other feels that these ideas 


are irrelevant to the question at issue. If they would only 
stop, go back to the question itself, and reach an agreement 
as to what they are arguing about, as to exactly what they 
are, after all, seeking to decide, they would often fall into 
complete agreement with each other. 

The disinterested attitude is necessary in evaluating ideas. 
We have previously shown how essential it is for one 
who is collecting facts about any subject to free himself from 
personal desires and prejudices which might make him blind 
to those things that he does not care to know. It is equally 
important that this attitude of disinterestedness be main- 
tained in the actual process of reasoning. When the problem 
Which one is facing is of such a nature that it deserves 
reasoning about, when it is a problem for which one has no 
ready-formed solution, a period of suspended judgment is 
desirable. During such a period the reasoner tries to think 
of all of the possibilities involved without allowing himself 
to be too much swayed by the temporary attractiveness of 
any of the many ideas that occur to him. We have all 
heard it said by some person who was reasoning out a con- 
clusion in regard to an important question that he would 
like to sleep on the matter. By this it is often meant that, 
though a certain conclusion seems attractive enough at the 
time, the reasoner prefers to give his emotions time to 
cool, so that it will be more possible to evaluate that 
conclusion in the light of long-run consequences. 

In the reasoning, itself, as well as in collecting information, 
a disinterested attitude does not mean an actual lack of 
interest in the problem. Rather it means a checking of 
desires and prejudices of a more temporary character in 
order that a conclusion may be reached whose long-run con- 
sequences have been taken into account. Consider the 
case of a young man seeking to determine what occu- 


pation will give him the most satisfactory life. There are 
many items to be thought about. In order to simplify 
matters somewhat, let us confine ourselves to the financial 
side of the question, although there are in reality many other 
factors to be taken into equal, or greater, account in the 
selection of an occupation. Let us say that one of two 
occupations under consideration offers a relatively high 
salary at the beginning, and the other, while offering scarcely 
enough to live on for the first several years, presents the 
possibility in the course of time of giving great financial 
rewards. If the first occupation be selected, our young man 
will almost immediately find himself in comfortable cir- 
cumstances. He will be able to dress well, buy good seats at- 
the theater, and in other ways satisfy desires that are very 
immediate. If the second occupation be selected, there 
will be months, perhaps years, of sacrifice ahead. He will 
have to deprive himself of present luxuries for the sake of 
prospects that seem hazy and remote. Under such cir- 
cumstances only cool and unhurried deliberation is likely 
to lead to a wise choice. 

Disinterestedness is sometimes difficult to attain. When 
one is reasoning about some abstract mathematical propo- 
sition an attitude of suspended judgment is relatively easy 
to maintain. Of course, even in such a case one has to 
guard against jumping to the first conclusion that occurs to 
him. One has also to guard against such things as the 
natural impatience to get the problem solved as soon as 
possible. But one is not likely to have strongly fixed desires 
and prejudices in the field of mathematics. When, on the 
other hand, one is reasoning, or attempting to reason, about 
problems which touch one's personal life, there is a stronger 
impulsiveness and impatience to guard against. The ideas 
that are entertained are likely to be of a strong emotional 


character, and the sheer logic of the situation stands a strong 
chance of being neglected. After a person has once voiced 
an opinion upon a certain subject, it is not easy for him to 
decide simply on the basis of logic whether his opinion is 
right or wrong. If it turns out that he is in the wrong a 
reflection is cast upon the caliber of his intelligence. If it 
turns out that he is right, his intelligence is vindicated. 
Under such circumstances it is very difficult for a thinker 
to attach the same value to arguments against his opinion 
as to arguments in favor of it. There is a marked contrast 
between a situation of this type and one where a person is 
evaluating ideas none of which has a bearing upon his own 
ability or his own character. 

Reasoning which is brought to bear upon social questions 
is especially likely to suffer from deep-seated hopes and 
desires that tend to prevent disinterestedness. A man who 
enjoys the advantages of wealth and power is generally 
unable to see the advantages of a type of social and economic 
life which might make it more difficult for him to gain further 
wealth and power or which might even make it difficult for 
him to hold what he already has. The less fortunate in- 
dividual, on the other hand, is frequently unable to see that 
wealth and power may be necessary to secure for society the 
full efforts of those of great ability. We, ourselves, as we 
consider the psychology of the parties to such a controversy, 
are not attempting to decide whether or not it is desirable to 
allow very able individuals to acquire large amounts of 
wealth and power. We are merely showing how hard it is 
for the man with wealth to see the possible advantages of a 
system under which he would not possess this reward and 
how hard it is for the less fortunate one to see that society as 
a whole may be better off with the total wealth unequally 


Other difficulties in the way of sound thinking. Besides 
our general impulsiveness and our tendency to confuse 
truth and desire, there are many other factors which make 
the achievement of sound thinking very difficult. Our minds 
are likely to become enslaved to authority and tradition. 
During the Middle Ages Aristotle's opinions about natural 
phenomena were accepted literally and completely. To 
question one of them was to be guilty of a sort of crime. 
When the authority of one man's teachings becomes raised 
to such a point, sound reasoning upon the subject of his 
teachings becomes confronted with a definite barrier. 
Similarly a tradition, such as that about the flatness of the 
earth, or even that about the fundamental inferiority of 
women, if believed long enough acquires a power which 
somehow makes it seem true in the face of almost any sort 
of logical evidence to the contrary. 

Novelty, as well as antiquity and an authoritative source, 
may increase without logical warrant the seeming truth of 
ideas. When the modern democratic governments were 
first taking shape, the idea of equal rights for all men was 
relatively novel to most people of the times. This novelty 
gave the idea of equal rights a tremendous force. The idea 
was accepted as something worth realization. That was 
only a proper evaluation. The novelty carried the idea 
forward in popular thought, however, until it was con- 
sidered not only a worthy idea, but one whose realization 
would cure most of the troubles of mankind. Now that 
we have lived with this conception for many years and are 
no longer unduly influenced by its novelty, we still consider 
it a good one, but we no longer consider that its realization 
would be a cure-all. 

High-sounding statements are often accepted as true just 
because they sound true. If one can but succeed in f ormu- 


lating an idea into words, he is likely to think that, because 
his idea is cleverly stated, its truth has in some way been 
established. "Up to a comparatively recent date/' accord- 
ing to Professor James, "such distinctions as those between 
what has been verified and what is only conjectured, between 
the impersonal and the personal aspects of existence, were 
hardly suspected or conceived. Whatever you imagined in a 
lively manner, whatever you thought fit to be true, you 
v affirmed confidently; and whatever you affirmed your 
comrades believed . . . One need only recall the dramatic 
treatment even of mechanical questions by Aristotle, as, for 
example, his explanation of the power of the lever to make 
a small weight raise a larger one. This is due according to 
Aristotle, to the generally miraciflous character of the circle 
and of all circular movement. The circle is both convex and 
concave; it is made by a fixed point and a moving line, which 
contradict each other; and whatever moves in a circle moves 
in opposite directions. Nevertheless, movement in a circle 
is the most 'natural' movement; and the long arm of the 
lever, moving, as it does, in the larger circle, has the greater 
amount of this natural motion, and consequently requires 
the lesser force." 1 All of this is very fine-sounding talk and, 
because of its fine sound, Aristotle himself doubtless took 
it to be true. Yet, if we stop to examine the meaning of 
these statements, it is easy to see that they are mostly stuff 
and nonsense. 

In reasoning we frequently seek to work out a solution for 
a present problem by recalling other similar situations and by 
applying to this present case some rule that has been found 
to hold for the earlier situations. One of the most prevalent 
errors of reasoning arises out of the fact that a present 

1 The Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 495 ff (Longmans, Green and 


situation is likely to be interpreted in terms of some past 
experience which is related to the present only in a super- 
ficial and unimportant manner. This will be clearer if we 
consider an illustration. Herodotus explained the fact 
that the sun is seen in a more southern part of the sky in 
winter by saying that the cold in the north drives the sun 
to the south. When men and birds move south regularly, 
it is because of the cold. Here we have the sun moving to 
the south; what more natural than to assume that it also is 
moving south to escape the cold? 

In the history of human thought man has been especially 
prone to interpret all natural happenings in human terms. 
This tendency, which has by no means entirely disappeared, 
is called anthropomorphism. The ancients endowed sun, 
moon, stars, the sea, the winds, the seasons, with personal- 
ities, and they explained their actions in personal terms. 
A violent storm was thought to express the rage of one of 
the gods, and a warm, gentle wind was thought to be the 
expression of a gentle temper on the part of another god. 
Man knew that his own violence was caused by rage within 
his breast. What more natural than to explain the storm 
in terms of some great personal rage, such as a god would 
presumably manifest? In the same way other superficial 
similarities between his own life and that of the larger 
natural world have led man to interpret events of that 
larger world in terms of the uses and desires which are 
important for human life. We now look upon the sun 
as a fundamental factor in the very existence of the earth. 
Life as we know it could not have appeared on a sun- 
less world. Yet as late as the eighteenth century learned 
men discussed the sun as though it were chiefly to be thought 
of, not as a fundamental cause of there being any such things 
as living creatures, but rather as though it were to be thought 


of as a mere convenient instrument which God placed in the 
sky for the sole purpose of making human life more bearable. 
Look at the following words of a German scholar, famous in 
his time : 

. . . The sun makes daylight, not only on our earth, 
but also on the other planets; and daylight is of the utmost 
utility to us; for by its means we can commodiously carry 
pn those occupations which in the night-time would either 
be quite impossible, or at any rate impossible without our 
going to the expense of artificial light. The beasts of the 
field can find food by day which they would not be able to 
find at night ... If anyone would rightly impress on his 
mind the great advantages which he derives from the sun, 
let him imagine himself living through only one month, and 
see how it would be with all his undertakings, if it were not 
day but night. He would then be sufficiently convinced out 
of his own experience, especially if he had much work to 
carry on in the street or in the fields . . . From the sun we 
learn to recognize when it is midday, and by knowing this 
point of time exactly, we can set our clocks right, on which 
account astronomy owes much to the sun. 1 

Reasoning may be mainly inductive or mainly deductive. 

Reasoning is said to be inductive when the consideration 
of a number of specific facts leads to the establishment of a 
general principle. Gravitation is a general principle es- 
tablished from observation of the behavior of unsupported 
objects. The principle of vaccination has been established 
on the basis of our knowledge of the incidence of smallpox 
among the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The typical 
warmth of summer and coldness of winter are principles of 
weather change which have been established as the result of 
our experience with hundreds of individual seasons. These 

1 Quoted by James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 492 (Longmans, 
Green and Company). 


principles are conclusions reached through processes of 
inductive reasoning. 

Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, is that which 
leads to an interpretation of the specific or individual fact in 
terms of some general principle. Robins leave the Great 
Lakes region in the fall. From this principle I may be sure 
that the robin which now, in May, sings outside my window, 
will not be in this neighborhood on next Thanksgiving Day. 
It is a general principle that things equal to the same thing 
are equal to each other. If this principle is true, it follows 
without further proof that, since 6 + 6 = 12 and 8 + 4 = 12, 
6 + 6 = 8 + 4. 

There is a certain usefulness in distinguishing between 
these two directions which reasoning may take from the 
particular to the general and from the general to the parti- 
cular. It is of perhaps equal importance, however, to 
realize that reasoning is never purely inductive or purely 
deductive. When one arrives at a general principle from a 
consideration of particular facts, he is almost sure to have in 
mind, if only vaguely, the general principle, even while he 
examines each particular fact. The principle is usually 
arrived at relatively early, and the consideration of particular 
facts tends merely to modify or confirm it. Similarly there 
is an element of induction in all deduction. Each time a 
principle is employed in the interpretation of a particular 
fact, the principle as well as the fact appears in a new light 
as a result of the interpretation. 


Conclusion reached through reasoning may be quantita- 
tive or qualitative. Things equal to the same thing are 
equal to each other; (a + 6) 2 = a 2 + 2 ab + 6 2 ; the square 
of the hypothenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the 


sum of the squares of the other two sides; the intensity of a 
sound is inversely proportional to the square of its distance; 
these are quantitative conclusions. Conclusions capable of 
quantitative expression are particularly typical of science, 
although not all science can express its conclusions quanti- 
tatively with the same facility. The sciences of chemistry 
and physics have reduced many of their important laws to 
mathematical terms. Such quantification has been much less 
possible in the sciences of geology and physiology. In 
practical life quantitative statements of things are especially 
important in the mechanical arts and surveying. They are 
also important in finance. Think of bookkeeping without 
the use of figures and accounts indicating the exact amounts 
of money spent here and collected there! Think of trying 
to express the outcome of a year's business without stating 
one's conclusion in quantitative, numerical terms! 

There are many ideas, facts, conclusions, which do not 
lend themselves to quantitative statement. "Kindliness is 
a worthy quality " ; "good health tends to make one happy " ; 
"dishonest officials are a menace to good government"; 
these are qualitative conclusions. Exact figures can be 
given in regard to none of these, and none can be embodied 
to any avail in an algebraic or geometric form. 

It is a habit of the scientifically minded to seek to get all 
the conclusions of thought into quantitative form. This is 
not because qualitative conclusions lack validity, but because 
a quantitative conclusion almost always possesses more 
detail; it expresses the truth more completely. One day the 
instructor in a class in physiography, a man of pronounced 
scientific ideals, asked a young woman in the class about the 
height of a certain mountain. She replied that the mountain 
was "quite a high one." It is not necessary to repeat the 
scolding in which the instructor indulged upon hearing her 


answer. But the important point of it was this. Her 
answer was as correct as any answer could well be. Probably 
no living man would have questioned the proposition that 
this mountain is a high one. On the other hand, such a 
conclusion about this mountain was scarcely of a scien^ 
tific order. The ordinary man may find it quite sufficient 
to know that a mountain is very high, while a scientist may 
find it important to know whether the mountain is 14,549 
or 14,550 feet in height. It is enough for most purposes 
to know that the sun rises earlier in summer than in 
winter, but for scientific purposes it is important to 
know at just what rate the moment of sunrise varies 
throughout the year. The exact, quantitative conclusion 
which science has formulated in regard to the time of sunrise 
is no more true than the conclusion that the sun rises earlier 
in summer than in winter. But it is very much more com- 
plete. It contains within it many details which are not 
present in the qualitative formulation. 

Conclusions vary in certainty. If a physician concludes 
that a man with an opened artery will bleed to death un- 
less the opening in the blood vessel be in some way closed, 
that conclusion is a relatively certain one. He does not 
have to say that the majority of men would bleed to death 
under such circumstances. He can say instead that this 
particular man is sure to die if his artery remain open. 
Similarly, if I throw a stone into the air, I may conclude 
with certainty from past experience that that stone will fall 
to earth again. I do not have to say that the chances 
favor its falling or that most of the stones so thrown will 
fall. I can conclude from my knowledge that this particular 
stone most certainly will fall. 

As a result of our reasoning, we often draw conclusions 
that state what is probable rather than what is certain. 


When the physician of a life insurance company examines 
an applicant for a policy, he comes to a conclusion as to the 
likelihood of the applicant living for, let us say, twenty years 
longer. His conclusion may be that the chances are ten to 
one that this individual will live for at least twenty years 
longer. This conclusion has an entirely different degree of 
certainty from that pertaining to the man with the opened 
artery and that pertaining to the stone thrown into the air. 
There is practically no chance that events will not confirm 
the latter conclusions. The conclusion which the insurance 
company draws about its client, on the other hand, has a 
substantial chance in the individual case of not being con- 
firmed. Indeed, in stating that the man's chances of living 
twenty years longer are ten to one, the company is recognizing 
a degree of uncertainty about its conclusion. 

It would be impossible to enumerate all of the fields in 
which we have to be content with probable rather than with 
relatively certain conclusions. The next man who passes 
my house will probably be between 64 and 72 inches in 
height, but it is not at all unlikely that he will be shorter or 
taller than that. It is probable that the thermometer will 
register zero Fahrenheit in Chicago some time next winter, 
but there is an appreciable chance that it will not. 

There is a condition, and this it is very important to note, 
under which probabilities become practical certainties. If 
the success of each life insurance company depended upon its 
prediction of the length of life of some one individual now of a 
certain age, the business would be a precarious one. But 
life insurance companies insure many lives, and whereas the 
prediction about one life will almost surely be erroneous, the 
prediction about many may reach a high degree of accuracy. 
The vast majority of apparently healthy men of twenty live 
to be forty. Not only that, but it is possible to predict 


accurately how many out of a large number of such men will 
actually live to be forty. The next man who passes my house 
may not be between 64 and 72 inches in height, but the num- 
ber out of the next five hundred passing my house who will 
fall within that range of heights could be predicted with 
great accuracy. The thermometer at Chicago may not go 
below zero next winter, but it would be possible by studying 
the records of the weather bureau to say with a good deal 
of certainty during how many winters out of the next one 
hundred the thermometer will fall that low. Perhaps a 
better illustration is yielded by what happens when we toss 
a coin. If the coin is tossed once, our chance of concluding 
correctly from past experience whether it will fall heads or 
tails is 50 per cent. But if the coin is tossed a thousand 
times, we can come very close to predicting how many times 
it will fall heads and how many times it will fall tails. 

Conclusions reached through reasoning prepare for action 
or for further thinking. Let us return for a moment to 
the case of the man who is selecting from the many possible 
routes that one which will get him to a distant part of the 
city most quickly and conveniently. As soon as this man 
reaches a conclusion he will act upon it. But in reasoning, 
as in ideational and perceptual activity in general, such 
overt action as that of actually getting up and going 
somewhere is by no means a necessary consequence. A 
man engaged in $ complicated process of thought may 
reach and adopt dozens of conclusions \without showing 
any tendency to put them 'into action. .This Ife ) because 
one may reach, besides conclusions about how 'to act, con- 
clusions about how to think. Consider that great bio- 
logical conclusior, the theory of evolution, which holds that 
present complex forms of life have developed out of other 
earlier simpler forms. Now, such a theory may have some 


influence upon actual, overt action, but certainly its main 
influence is upon our ways of thinking about things. This 
theory was first developed in regard to the bodily structure of 
organisms. Soon after its adoption, however, the influence 
of the evolution conclusion became apparent, especially in 
the manner in which mind was thought about. The con- 
clusion that the bodily structure of organisms develops by a 
process of evolution led to an application of the doctrine of 
evolution to the explanation of mental life, and thinkers 
decided that mind as well as body is produced by evolution. 


1. In reasoning, problems cai} be solved through the 
employment of ideas. The advantages of this procedure 
are that it saves the energy required for the actual trying out 
of alternative actions; that it prevents the carrying out of 
erroneous actions; and that it enables us to prepare to meet 
problems before they actually arise. When we are con- 
fronted by strange and complicated problems,' however, 
reasoning must often be mixed with action of a completer 

2. Not all forms of ideation are reasoning. A distin- 
guishing mark of reasoning lies in the fact that during 
this process there is a direct facing of the problem to be 

3. The mere fact that one reasons is not, in itself, a 
guarantee of his intelligence and efficiency. It is the ac- 
curacy rather than the sheer amount of thinking that counts. 
In general, reasoning is most likely to add to one's efficiency 
when the problem is most complicated, and most likely to 
prove a distraction when the problem is simplest. 

4. Information is the basis of reasoning. The accurate 
reasoner must, therefore, know something of the source of 


the information which he employs in his thinking. In- 
formation picked up casually in everyday life is liable to be 
untrustworthy, owing to its incompleteness and to the preju- 
dices which affect it. Scientists adopt a number of devices 
to secure information which is reliable and complete. Among 
these are the disinterested attitude of observation, the 
experiment, the repeated observation, and random sampling. 

5. Another requisite for sound reasoning is a clear con- 
ception of the problem one wishes to solve. 

6. In the actual manipulation of ideas, which constitutes 
reasoning, it is necessary to adopt the disinterested attitude 
and to avoid the undue influence of customary authority, of 
mere novelty, of high-sounding statements, of superficial 
similarities between situations, and of anthropomorphisms. 

7. The reasoning process may proceed mainly from the 
particular to the general, or mainly from the general to 
the particular. In either case, though, there are elements 
of both particularity and generality throughout the 

8. The conclusions which we reach from reasoning may be 
quantitative or qualitative, and they may express what is 
almost certainly true or only what is probably true. But 
even the conclusion which expresses a mere probability may 
be quite exact, if it is considered in its application to a large 
number of cases. 

9. Through reasoning we prepare for action and also for 
further thinking. 


1. Give an instance in which you saved energy by reasoning, another 
in which you avoided error by reasoning, and still another in which you 
prepared by reasoning for the appearance of a future problem. 

2. Give an instance in which you found it necessary to supplement 
your reasoning with action. 


3. How many times have you engaged in reasoning during the past 
twenty-four hours? What was your problem in each case? 

4. What do you think of the statement that the well-trained 
man is spared much reasoning that the poorly trained man must 
indulge in? 

5. If sound reasoning depends upon the possession of reliable informa- 
tion, what is the relationship between reasoning and memory? 

6. Write down a list of ten items of information which you have 
acquired casually in everyday life. How many of these would you trust 
ft you had to use them in reasoning? 

7. There is a common belief that slow workers are more accurate than 
fast workers. Are you willing to accept this belief or would you like to see 
it subjected to experiment? Why? 

8. Why would it be impossible to determine by experiment how there 
came to be so many great writers in Elizabethan England? 

9. When, in the collection of facts, is it desirable to make many ob- 
servations, and when may a very few be relied upon? 

10. Does random sampling mean a haphazard collecting of facts? 
Justify your answer. 

11. Does the following question express a clearly conceived problem: 
How much education should a person have? 

12. Cite three problems which could easily be faced in an impersonal 
or disinterested attitude, and three others which tend to involve our 
prejudices to a greater degree. 

13. Give an opinion which is commonly held largely on account of its 
antiquity; another held largely because of its novelty; a third held largely 
because it sounds well. 

14. Describe a process of reasoning which is mainly inductive. One 
which is mainly deductive. Show the deductive elements in the in- 
ductive process and the inductive elements in the deductive process. 

15. It is sometimes held that all conclusions are really quantitative, 
and that so-called qualitative conclusions are merely less accurate quanti- 
tative ones. What do you think about this? 

16. When I toss a coin into the air and guess whether it will fall heads 
or tails, I shall guess incorrectly half the time. Does this mean that my 
knowledge of how coins fall is very inexact? Explain. 



Carr, Psychology, pp. 189-191; or Readings in General Psychology, 
Ch. XVI, Selection 4-A, p. 411 f. 

Loveday and Green, An Introdiidion to Psychology, pp. 214-222; or 
Readings, Ch. XVI, Selection 4-B, p. 412 ff. 

Dewey, How We Think, pp. 68-78; or Readings, Ch.XVI, Selection 4-C, 
p. 417 ff. 

Binet, The Psychology of Reasoning (3d ed., tr. by Whyte), pp. 79-88; 
or Readings, Ch. XVI, Selection 7, p. 431 f. 











1. What are the distinctive features of feeling and emotion? 

2. How can one control feeling and emotional habits? 


Knowing is concerned with external objects having well- 
defined characteristics. Beginning with our seventh 
chapter, which dealt with perception and attention, and 
continuing through six chapters up to the present point, we 
have been treating of knowing rather than of feeling. Per- 
haps a better group name for perception and ideation and 
those special manifestations of ideation in imagination, 
memory, and reasoning is cognition. 

Before attempting to distinguish between the knowing or 
cognitive activities and the different varieties of feeling, it 
will be well for us to summarize the general characteristics of 
cognition. In the first place, cognition is especially likely to 
deal with objects and events external to the person who is 
doing the knowing. While the actions of eye, optic nerve, 
brain, and even of muscles are essential conditions for the 
visual perception of an object, the object perceived is usually 



external to the perceiver. And it is the object perceived 
with which the perceiver is concerned. A man who did not 
know he had a brain could perceive an object as efficiently as 
an expert student of anatomy. It is, of course, possible to 
perceive occurrences at the surface of the body and within 
the body, but the highest development of our intellectual or 
cognitive life is dependent upon the perception of external 
objects and events. 

Ideation is another fundamental form of cognition. We 
have devoted one chapter to a consideration of the general 
nature of ideation, and other chapters to its appearance in 
memory, imagination, and reasoning. Ideation, like per- 
ception, is usually concerned with external objects and 
events. One may have many thoughts about what is going 
on, what may go on, or what has gone on within the confines 
of his own organism. Nevertheless our most highly de- 
veloped remembering, imagining, and reasoning is mainly 
concerned with that which goes on around us rather than 
with that which goes on within us. It is as true in ideation 
as it is in perception, that bodily activity the activity of 
sense-organs, muscles, and brain are absolutely essential. 
But one's ideas may work just as well, may represent the 
truth just as accurately, without one being aware of what 
those bodily processes are. 

We may summarize this first characteristic of cognition, 
then, by saying that cognition, while it may be concerned on 
occasion with the knower's own organism, is more typically 
concerned with what is going on outside of the knower. 

A second fundamental characteristic of cognition is this: 
In knowing or cognizing an object or occurrence, one is 
aware of something which has a certain definiteness about it 
and certain attributes which one can readily get at. When 
one perceives a flame there is definiteness about the expe- 


rience. Also there are within that experience definite 
attributes which can be certainly identified. The flame has 
color, shape, and motion. When one perceives a box he is 
aware, not only that the object before him is a box, but also 
that it is a square box. And the mere continuance of the 
perception will, as it were, bring out of this experience other 
definite attributes of the box, such as its woodenness, its 
size, its whiteness. 

In ideation, too, our mental activity is concerned with 
something definite possessing a greater or less number of 
clear characteristics or attributes. The forms of our ideas 
may not be definite, but what they refer to is definite. In 
fact, we could scarcely be said to have an idea of an object 
unless we were clearly aware of at least some of its char- 

We have said this much about cognition: it has to do 
mainly, though not always, with the world outside the knower 
himself, and it brings into clear awareness certain definite 
characteristics of that which is perceived or thought about. 
Now for feeling! 

Feeling is an internal affair. States of feeling, such as 
the state of being pleased, or that of being displeased, are 
important, first of all, as being states or conditions of some 
individual. When I say that I like cool weather, I am not 
indicating a characteristic of weather so much as I am in- 
dicating a condition which is aroused in me by cool weather. 
When I say that I dislike pineapple, I do not by any means 
imply that the pineapple is intrinsically an unpleasant fruit, 
but merely that it sets up within me the state or condition 
called "disliking." Thus, while knowing, or cognition, is 
mainly concerned with objects and events external to the 
person who is doing the knowing, feeling is concerned with a 
condition of the person himself. 


Feelings lack the definite characteristics of cognitions. 

When I have a feeling, I am definitely aware of the fact that 
it is / who feels. I may also be aware of whether I feel 
pleased, tired, or calm, but the state of feeling does not 
lend itself to extensive analysis. When one perceives a 
flame, there are within that experience, as we have said, 
definite attributes such as color, shape, and motion, 
which one can readily get at. This is much less true 
of a state of feeling. Suppose that we speak to a friend 
whom we come upon while he is looking at a beautiful picture. 
If we ask him to tell us about the picture, he will be able to 
enumerate the objects and colorings of which it is composed. 
But if we ask him to explain to us just how he feels about 
the picture, his answer very likely will be much less specific 
and detailed. He may tell us that his feeling state is that of 
mild or intense enjoyment, but beyond that he is hardly 
likely to go. Scores of external qualities can be enumerated 
when one looks upon a great mountain, but the feeling of 
enjoyment, or perhaps of awe, which the sight of the moun- 
tain arouses within one cannot be described, save in the 
most general terms. States of feeling may be just as real 
arid vivid experiences as cognitions, yet always they possess 
a certain vagueness. \ 

Line between cognition and feeling is not sharp. 
There are some human reactions or experiences which one 
scarcely knows whether to class as cognitions or feelings. 
This is true of hunger. Although hunger is an internal 
state, it sometimes has a definite quality and a definite 
location. In such cases one perceives his hunger rather 
than feels it. On the other hand, hunger may consist of a 
vague faintness that seems to pervade the body generally. 
Under such circumstances one really feels hungry. The 
situation is much the same in the case of nausea. Nausea 


may be referred definitely to the region of the stomach, and 
it may be analyzable into specific muscular and organic 
sense qualities. On other occasions nausea may be a vague, 
all-over type of experience or, in other words, a feeling rather 
than a cognition. 


Feelings depend upon the action of sense-organs. In 

Chapter II we showed how all of our knowledge of what is 
going on around us and within us depends upon the stimula- 
tion of the sense-organs which are situated in various parts 
of the body. We showed also that those sense-organs can 
be divided into a number of different classes. One class, 
often referred to as the exteroceptors, keeps us in touch 
with what is going on outside of us, either at the surface 
of the body, as in the case of touch, or at a distance 
from us, as in the case of sight and hearing. Now it is upon 
these exteroceptors that most of our cognitive life depends. 
The other classes, often referred to as proprioceptors and 
inter 'oceptors, keep us aware of our postures, our movements, 
and internal conditions. The experiences made possible 
by these sense-organs are very likely to be vague and not 
clearly localized. It is to such experiences, as we have 
already said, that the term feeling is applied. We must not 
forget, however, that proprioceptors and interoceptors are 
often central factors in activity that is more a matter of 
cognition than of feeling. In the chapter on ideas we showed 
that movements and postures and these we become aware 
of through our proprioceptors may serve, as ideas, and 
ideas are cognitive activities. We have shown how the 
operation of the interoceptors in hunger might lead to an 
experience of such definiteness that we certainly should call 
it a cognition rather than a feeling. 


Since it is impossible to draw a sharp line between feeling 
and cognition, these exceptions to the general rule that 
exteroceptors give rise to cognitions and that proprioceptors 
and interoceptors give rise to feelings need not cause any great 
amount of worry. The gist of what is worth remembering 
is this : Feelings refer directly to the states of the individual 
who experiences them. This being true, we should naturally 
expect to find the action of proprioceptors and interoceptors 
those sense-organs which have to do with one's own 
movements and internal conditions especially important 
factors in feeling. And that they unquestionably are. 

Pure feeling does not occur in actual life. The experi- 
ences of actual life are rarely, if ever, purely feelings. While 
one feels hungry, nauseated, tired, or glad, he is also 
perceiving, remembering, imagining, or reasoning. We 
distinguish between feeling and cognition, not because such 
states exist separately, but merely because this distinction 
gives us a clearer conception of all the phases of mental 
activity. We find it helpful to speak of the length, breadth, 
and thickness of a cube, but no one would suppose for a 
moment that length by itself, breadth by itself, or thickness 
by itself is capable of being experienced in a concrete way. 
While the art lover feels enjoyment as he looks at a re- 
markable painting, he is also perceiving that painting and 
he also may be thinking of what an understanding mind the 
painter must have had. But it is most important for a 
clear understanding of the art lover's state of mind that we 
distinguish between the perception of the picture and the 
ideas aroused by it, and that vague, pervading state of the 
spectator's organism which is the feeling of enjoyment. 

A feeling state may be pleasant, or unpleasant. We 
may for convenience group together those feeling states 
which are typically pleasant, whether or not we believe 


that they have the same fundamental bodily processes for 
their basis. A few of these pleasant states are liking, well- 
being, cheerfulness, energeticness, relaxation, excitement 
when it is not too intense, self-confidence, and amusement. 
There are other feeling states which are typically unpleasant. 
Among them are disliking, malaise, depression, weakness, 
tiredness, restlessness, too intense excitement, self-conscious- 
ness or embarrassment, and boredom. We might also place 
in this second list hunger, thirst, nausea, and dizziness. 
The pleasant feeling states are characterized by the fact that 
the individual experiencing one of them is likely to try to 
continue that state. The individual experiencing an un- 
pleasant feeling state, on the other hand, is likely to try to 
put an end to that state. 

We have said that the feelings in our list of pleasant states 
are typically pleasant and that those in our list of unpleasant 
states are typically unpleasant. By this we have meant to 
imply that there are conditions under which some, if not all, 
of the typically pleasant states may become unpleasant. 
Excitement, as we have said, is pleasant when present in a 
mild form, and distinctly unpleasant when present in too 
intense a form. One may enjoy feeling energetic, but such 
a state, if too pronounced, really amounts to restlessness, 
and restlessness is quite likely to be unpleasant. Liking is 
ordinarily a pleasant experience, but if one is kept from 
expressing that liking in a natural manner, as by gaining 
possession of the object liked, the liking itself may become 

We have meant also to imply that typically unpleasant 
states may, upon occasion, be actually enjoyable. Tiredness 
is usually, perhaps, thought of as a condition to be avoided, 
and yet all of us have heard people speak of being only 
pleasantly tired. No one would hesitate to place dis- 


liking among the typically unpleasant states. Nevertheless 
people sometimes get a great amount of enjoyment out of 
disliking. A wicked enemy, whom one feels thoroughly 
justified in disliking, adds substantially to the satisfactions 
of life. While it is important to note which feelings are 
usually pleasant and which are usually unpleasant, it is also 
important to note that hardly any feeling states are in- 
variably either pleasant or unpleasant, and that under 
the proper conditions most of these states may be either. 

Emotions are a variety of feeling states. Feeling states, 
as we have seen, have to do directly and principally with the 
bodily condition of an individual rather than with what is 
happening in the surrounding world. Nowhere is this more 
clear than in the case of that class of feelings known as 
emotions. Indeed, we might almost say that emotions are 
the most typical forms of feeling, because they are so clearly 
internal States. If I feel dislike for a man, it may seem not 
so much that the disliking is a condition I am in as that the 
man possesses the attribute of disagreeableness. In fact, 
I may be unable to note that a bodily change has taken place 
in me as I became aware of this disliking. If, on the other 
hand, I experience an emotion of anger upon seeing the same 
man, I shall be definitely aware that I, as an individual, am 
in a disturbed condition. 

Emotional activity is more intense and definite than that 
during most feeling states. The organic conditions of 
liking, cheerfulness, boredom, and many other feelings are 
mild and somewhat vague. It would be very difficult for 
one to give an account of the difference between his bodily 
condition when he is bored and when he is cheerful. In 
fact, these states are often so delicate and subtle that careful 
observation is required to make sure that they involve bodily 
states after all. The bodily conditions in emotion, however, 


have a degree of intensity and vividness which makes their 
description somewhat less difficult. 

Carl Georg Lange, one of the most noted students of 
emotional states, has given us the following picture of joy: 

He [the joyful one] feels an increased motor impulse, moves 
swiftly and alertly, and gesticulates violently. Children 
jump, dance, clap their hands for joy. The facial muscles 
contract . . . and become round compared with the long, 
lax, hanging features of the melancholic person. Smiling 
and laughing are the result of the heightened impulse of 
facial and breathing muscles, as are also the high-pitched 
voice, singing, rejoicing. . . . The general dilation of the 
capillaries in joy results very strikingly in an increased flow 
of blood to the skin. A child's or a young girl's skin, which 
is white and transparent, reddens and glows with pleasure. 
The joyous person feels warm, his skin becomes fuller, he 
swells with pleasure. * 

In anger, as in joy, there is usually an increase in muscular 
activity and tension and also an increased blood flow to the 
skin. Yet the anger reactions are apt to be more violent and 
less controlled than those in joy. The angry person may 
strike at friend and foe alike so strong is the impulsion to 
muscular activity. 

In some cases where there is a certain amount of self- 
control, he merely strikes the table with his fist, bangs the 
door, tears something to pieces or otherwise destroys it. 
He would like to demolish the earth, and he may evince 
a power in his rage that exceeds anything he is able to do 
under normal conditions. 2 

In sorrow there is, as Lange tells us, 

a feeling of lassitude, and as in the case of any fatigue, the 
movements are effected but slowly, and languidly, with effort, 

1 The Emotions, edited by Knight Dunlap, pp. 44-45 (Williams and 
Wilkins Company). 

2 Op. ciL, p. 5J, 


want of power and pleasure. . . . This also accounts for the 
external expression by which a sorrowful person is so easily 
recognized. He walks slowly, uncertainly, dragging his steps 
and letting his arms hang limp at his sides. His voice is 
weak and thin, as a result of the weakened activity of the 
expiratory and laryngeal muscles. . . . His neck is bent, his 
head droops "cast down/' "bent" by woe, his face is 
lengthened and narrowed by the laxity of the muscles of the 
cheek and jaw; his jaw may even hang down. . . . Many 
are so overpowered by sorrow that they cannot even hold 
themselves erect. The sufferer leans on or supports himself 
by the surroundings, falls on his knees, or in desperation 
even throws himself upon the floor as Romeo did in the 
monk's cell. 1 

Lange held that fright is closely related to sorrow. 

We find the same paralyzing effect on the voluntary motor 
apparatus, the same convulsive conditions of the constrictor 
muscles, only we find both appearing more suddenly and in a 
more exaggerated degree. To this, however, we must add 
another condition which we did not observe in the case of 
sorrow, namely a similar convulsive contraction of other 
organic muscles. . . . The essential physiological difference 
between sorrow and fright lies in the fact that in the latter, 
the convulsive, spasmodic condition of the voluntary muscles 
is shared by all muscles as far as can be judged, whereas in 
the former it is limited to individual groups of muscles. . . . 
A man is "burdened with," "weighed down by," "bent with" 
sorrow, but he is "paralyzed" with fear, is motionless, petri- 
fied, transfixed by fright. ... A person overcome by a sudden 
fear may fall down paralyzed, or the innervation of the 
muscles at least may be so uncertain as to make him quake, 
tremble, stammer with fear. 2 

We must add to this description, of course, the fact that 
fright of not too intense a nature may show itself in well- 
coordinated and efficient movements of flight rather than 
in anything resembling paralysis. 

1 Op. cit., pp. 40-41. 2 Op. cit., p. 46. 


Feeling states involve the most vital processes of the 
body. Especially in such powerful feeling states as the 
emotions, pronounced changes take place in the most vital 
of the bodily processes. The blushing, flushing, and turning 
pale which are so frequently observed during emotional 
excitement bear witness to the important involvement of 
the circulatory system. The palpitation of the heart and 
the occasional suffocating sensations that one feels during 
emotion also indicate important changes in the functioning 
of this system. The respiratory or breathing system clearly 
plays an important part in emotional action. Usually con- 
ditions of general excitement are featured by a sharp increase 
in the breathing rate. In sudden fright, such as is set up by 
an unexpected fall, or more familiarly by the rapid descent 
of an elevator, there is a "catching of the breath" which 
amounts to a marked departure from the regular breathing 
activity of ordinary life. Everyone knows how severely 
digestion may be disturbed by emotional excitement. Dur- 
ing anger, sorrow, or fear one is likely to lose his appetite. Food 
taken under these circumstances is not digested normally. 
Even nausea and vomiting may follow the disturbances of 
the digestive organs which take place during strong emo- 
tions. In fact, the disturbances are, themselves, important 
elements in strong emotions. 

Certain sorts of feelings are accompanied, or followed, by 
a more healthy action of the bodily processes. When happy 
companions at dinner arouse in one a feeling of cheerfulness, 
they arouse at the same time a keener appetite. Every 
skillful physician knows how necessary it is to keep the 
recovering patient in an optimistic mood. 

The extent to which the important bodily processes are 
affected during periods of strong feeling or emotion can be 
illustrated in another way. We have described how, during 


the experience of joy, there are important changes in cir- 
culation, muscular tension, facility of movement, and the 
like. Now it is also possible to show that once the major 
changes in bodily processes observed in joy are under way, 
we then have the actual feeling or emotion. Many people 
feel gloomy and pessimistic when they arise in the morning. 
This is not because the world is actually more threatening at 
that hour, but rather because circulation is not vigorous, 
the muscles are almost painfully relaxed, and there is a 
general sluggishness of bodily processes. A hot breakfast 
and a short, brisk walk stimulate circulation, breathing, and 
the tone of the muscles, and one soon finds himself in the 
most cheerful frame of mind. Certain drugs act upon the 
vital organs of the body and bring about changes in their 
functioning similar to those changes that occur during 
ordinary emotional states. The result is that a person who 
has taken a dose of such a drug soon finds himself in the 
feeling or emotional state characteristic of his organic 
condition. Moderate doses of alcohol set up in most subjects 
a joyful state. They feel that everything is going beautifully, 
that the remarks that they make and that those about them 
make are unusually clever. As a matter of fact, every- 
thing that the alcoholic does is likely to be done with 
diminished efficiency. His joy is composed of his bodily 
reaction to a drug, and not of his bodily reaction to any 
occurrence that sober men would rejoice about. Still, the 
bodily reactions are somewhat the same as they would be 
with proper cause, and so is his state of mind. 

There would be no emotions without the general bodily 
activity observed in emotional states. James and Lange 
were early defenders of the view that bodily activity such 
as we have been describing is more than an important 
feature of emotion. They held the doctrine that without this 


bodily activity there would be nothing deserving the name of 
an emotion. This conception is known among psychologists 
as the James-Lange theory, after these two men who were 
its champions. James's own statement of the case is excep- 
tionally vivid. 

What kind of an emotion of fear would be left if the feeling 
neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, 
neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of 
goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite 
impossible for me to think. Can one fancy the state of 
rage and picture no ebullition in the chest, no flushing of the 
face, no dilation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no 
impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead limp muscles, 
calm breathing, and a placid face? The present writer, 
for one, certainly cannot. ... In like manner of grief: what 
would it be without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the 
heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition 
that certain circumstances are deplorable and nothing more. 1 

Many of the conditions of feeling are inborn. The 

new-born infant does not have to learn to feel hungry. The 
feeling of hunger depends largely upon the physiological 
conditions of the stomach when it is empty, and previous 
experience is unnecessary in order for this condition to be 
present. In a similar way the feelings of thirst and nausea 
are dependent upon the very make-up of our vital organs 
rather than upon the experiences that we undergo. Well- 
being and malaise, cheerfulness and depression, energeticness 
arid tiredness, tension and calm, and many other feeling 
states are also dependent for the greater part upon the 
kind of a body with which we are endowed at birth. 

There is present practically from birth a capacity for 
certain of those intense feeling activities called emotions. 

1 The Principles of Psychology, Vol. II, p. 452 (Henry Holt and Company). 


This is certainly true of fear, anger, and joy. Dr. John B. 
Watson's investigations of the emotional life of infants have 
added greatly to our knowledge about this matter. He 
found that fright was manifested even by babies who were 
too young and too carefully guarded to have seen fright in 
older persons. These children also showed joy (called 
"love" by Watson) and anger upon occasion. 

The external conditions under which these emotional 
reactions take place in very young infants are remarkably 
definite. They are also remarkably few in number. Definite 
fear reactions, such as sudden catching of the breath, random 
clutching with the hands, sudden closing of the eyes, and 
crying, appear in the presence of loud sounds or removal of 
bodily support. The latter condition was attained in 
Watson's experiments by dropping the child upon a soft 
feather pillow. Other stimuli, which one might naturally 
expect to arouse fear, fail to do so in the case of these in- 
experienced infants. Watson presented to a child strange 
animals, a cat, a rabbit, a pigeon in a bag, and a dog, without 
eliciting a fear response, even though these creatures were 
in some instances brought into actual contact with the child. 
The one stimulus which seems capable of arousing anger or 
rage in a very young infant is the restraining of his move- 

If the face or head is held, crying results, quickly followed 
by screaming. The body stiffens and fairly well-coordinated 
slashing or striking movements of the hands and arms result; 
the feet and legs are drawn up and down* the breath is held 
until the child's face is flushed. 1 

Gurgling, cooing, and other elements of joyfulness appear 
upon gentle stroking of sensitive parts of the body, tickling, 

1 Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behavianst, 1924 ; p. 220 (Lippincott). 


shaking, gentle rocking, patting, and turning upon the 

Experience alters the conditions capable of arousing 
feeling. As bodily growth progresses, important changes 
naturally take place in our digestive, respiratory, and other 
vital systems. Since our feeling states are made up in large 
measure of conditions which obtain under certain circum- 
stances in the vital systems of the body, it is undoubtedly 
true that these changes accompanying growth bring about 
some alterations in the internal constitution of our feeling 
states. It is quite possible that we experience feeling states 
in early childhood which could not occur in the adult body, 
and it is certain that the fully developed adult is capable of 
some states of feeling of which there is little evidence in 
infancy. There seems to be, nevertheless, in the case of 
hunger, thirst, nausea, tiredness, cheerfulness, joy, anger, fear, 
and many other feelings, an essential similarity between the 
internal constitutions of these states throughout life. 

There is another fact that is of considerably greater con- 
sequence for mental life than the occasional internal modifi- 
cations undergone by feeling states. Almost every day's 
experience produces in each of us some alteration in the 
conditions capable of arousing this or that feeling state. An 
open fire warms us and arouses cheerfulness. Later if we 
look from the cold out-of-doors through the window at an 
open fire, we may be made cheerful by the very sight of the 
fire. The sight of a fire, the warmth of which we do not 
actually feel, is not an original, but rather an acquired 
condition of cheerfulness. The majority of the conditions 
that cause rejoicing in the adult are conditions that do so 
only because of personal training and experience. The sight 
of a check for a million dollars made out to himself would not 
bring about joy in an infant or a savage. Experience is 


required for one to recognize the meaning of words of praise, 
and only when the meaning is known can such words arouse 
joy. As a result of experience one may also cease to rejoice 
in the presence of formerly enjoyable conditions. The sight 
or thought of a circus, a baseball star, or a chocolate sundae 
no longer thrills me as it once did. 

Education changes likes and dislikes. A thorough 
education does much more than add to one's knowledge. 
It also cultivates new and valuable likes and dislikes. Per- 
sistent endeavor along one line usually brings about restless- 
ness and discomfort in a child. The disciplining effects of 
time and experience are necessary to create an enjoyment in 
work itself. Some people never get beyond the state where 
they work simply because they have to work in order to 
secure a desired result, such as praise or money. Others 
actually learn to like the work itself. The value of such an 
attainment is clear when we consider what a great proportion 
of our lives most of us have to spend in working. Some 
people are disturbed and unhappy whenever they are con- 
fronted with a problem which they are unable to solve at 
once and without effort. Others get to a point where the 
challenge of many sorts of problems is really enjoyed. It is 
almost needless to say that the latter group is the one that 
is the more likely to get on in life and to effect achievements 
of first-rate importance. 

Only education can make one like a great work of art and 
dislike a poor one. Indeed, some of the finest tastes of 
human life can be acquired only as a result of considerable 
cultivation. Young children of little or no musical ex- 
perience like simple melodies, but most of us must listen 
many times to the more intricate forms of music, such as 
those found in symphonies, before we are capable of feeling 
a genuine enjoyment of them. 


Those tastes which are acquired only as the result of 
considerable experience are likely to furnish more permanent 
enjoyment than those which are born in us or which are 
acquired very easily and quickly. The former have to do 
especially with complicated matters, with the more highly 
developed forms of art, business, science, and the like. By 
virtue of their very complexity, these things furnish almost 
limitless possibilities for enjoyment after one has once gone 
to the trouble to become acquainted with them. We are all 
familiar with the fact that a person soon gets tired of too 
much candy, too many roller-coaster rides, too many puns, 
or too many detective stories. None of these contains 
enough variety to keep one pleased continuously for a great 
length of time. But this variety is just what is furnished 
by the objects of cultivated taste. Fine poetry, chemis- 
try, modern financial institutions, furnish an almost 
endless variety of interests to the man who has become 
schooled to understand them. Once the multitude of 
charms offered by such subjects has been felt, there is 
little possibility of their ever being laid aside through 

Many men get to the point where they find continuous 
enjoyment in their life work, and many women get to the 
point where they find continuous enjoyment in the manage- 
ment of a household. More than one fairly elaborate set of 
interests, however, are desirable, if not actually necessary, 
for a healthy and happy mental life. No matter how full of 
variety one's principal occupation may be, recreation of some 
sort is necessary. And there is nothing so likely to make a 
man or woman regular in seeking recreation than the posses- 
sion of a hobby which, itself, offers a wide range of interests 
and pleasures. Long walks are beneficial, but one is much 
more likely to take them regularly if he has cultivated a taste 


for observing geological formations or the kinds and habits 
of birds. Men, when they retire from business, and women, 
when the growing-up of their children has relieved them of 
domestic responsibilities, often find themselves exceedingly 
restless and unhappy, because during the previous years they 
have not developed capacities for enjoyment to which they 
can now devote themselves. They may turn to politics only 
to find that their knowledge of such matters is insufficient to 
make the subject an interesting one. They may try traveling 
only to find that lack of information about the people, the 
art, the customs, the industry of the places they visit, renders 
impossible anything but the most superficial interest in 
these new scenes. 

Moral education is a cultivation of wise likes and dislikes. 
The enjoyment of good deeds and the feeling of revulsion in 
the presence of evil is a product of proper training. The 
voice of conscience refers to that, inner discomfort which 
arises when a morally sound individual commits an un- 
worthy act or entertains the notion of committing such an 
act. There is an opinion sometimes held that every moral 
reaction should result from an elaborate process of reasoning 
on the part of the person making that reaction. As we have 
previously shown, this view is erroneous. While it is well 
for us to know why this type of conduct is praiseworthy 
and why that type is to be avoided, we should lead 
laborious, uncertain, and inefficient lives if we had to stop 
and consider all the conceivable arguments for and against 
every possibility of conduct which confronts us. In the 
well-organized individual, honesty, kindliness, unselfishness, 
are so strongly established as principles of conduct that, 
under all ordinary circumstances, the mere thought of 
violating them arouses, immediately and without pondering, 
a strong feeling of revulsion. 


Experience sometimes alters the conditions of feeling in 
undesirable as well as in desirable ways. The experiences 
which we have, if we are surrounded by the proper influ- 
ences, produce valuable interests and capacities for enjoy- 
ment and also equally valuable and worthy dislikes. There 
is the possibility, too, if we are surrounded by the wrong kind 
of influences, that our experiences may produce undesirable 
habits of feeling. We may, for example, acquire the unjust 
habit of disliking all foreigners and others whose manners 
and customs are not like our own. We may acquire a strong 
antipathy for all religious beliefs but our own, without 
learning to admire the meritorious elements that almost 
every religion contains. There is always present the neces- 
sity of guarding against the acquisition of prejudices of this 
kind. This does not mean that we should guard against 
strong feelings of liking and disliking. Without strong 
feelings of any sort a man would be a forceless creature. 
Neither does this mean (and we have made this point before) 
that one should reason out a justification for his feeling every 
time he experiences such a state. 

The practical fact is that we should, from time to time, 
consider what feelings tend to dominate our lives and affect 
our conduct in important ways. We then may ask our- 
selves whether sound or unsound influences have created 
those ways of feeling and whether we ought to remove 
certain influences that determine our feelings, or whether 
we ought to remove ourselves from these influences, in order 
that our feelings may become modified in a fashion worthy 
of our better ideals. I may suddenly realize some day that 
the very mention of a particular statesman's name arouses 
a powerful feeling of loathing and disgust. Under these 
circumstances it is only fair to my better self that I ask why 
I have such a strong feeling against this man. My ques- 


tioning may make it clear to me that all I have ever learned 
about him has been learned from the pages of a newspaper 
which represents a political party opposed to him. If I have 
reason to suspect that the paper is not always motivated by 
considerations of fairness and truth, I may do well to seek 
facts about the statesman's career at another source, in 
order that my feeling in regard to him may be established 
upon a fairer basis. 

On the other hand, my study of the case may convince 
me that the man really is a rascal and that my feeling about 
him is fully justified. In that event there is no reason why 
I should try to remove my dislike for him or for the political 
corruption which he represents. A little reflection may 
make clear to me that my dislike for a particular dish 
which is frequently set before me cannot be a, justifiable 
dislike. Others partake of it with enjoyment. Perhaps 
my own dislike of it is simply a habit acquired during child- 
hood. Perhaps on some occasion during that period I 
made myself sick through eating too heartily of it. Very 
often under such circumstances a happy modification of 
feeling habits can be brought about simply by ignoring the 
irrational dislike until it is no longer troublesome. This 
procedure will not always work, but when one possesses a 
petty dislike which is continually proving an embarrassment, 
the method is well worth trying. 

Unreasonable fears are frequent and unfortunate 
acquired feelings. The fearless daredevil is not the best- 
balanced person in the world. His very fearlessness makes 
it easy for him to expose himself to all sorts of dangers, one 
of which may some day prove his undoing. A person is 
actually better off if he has a certain amount of honest fear 
of neglecting his health, of going a mile a minute in a motor 
car, or of sailing a canoe far from shore on rough water. 


Many of us, however, possess, in addition to, or instead of, 
these reasonable, advantageous fears, others which are 
neither reasonable nor advantageous. Fears of this latter 
class are commonly known as phobias. 

The fear of mice and the unwarranted fear of catching 
some dread disease are examples of feeling habits which we 
are better off without. One difficulty in the way of ridding 
ourselves of unreasonable fears is that more often than not 
we know nothing of their origin. Dr. Coriat tells of a 
woman who "developed a fear of closed places because on 
one occasion, while in a state of fatigue, during a visit in a 
small, close room, there arose a slight fainting attack. In 
still another case there developed a fear of crowds because, 
some time previously at a crowded school celebration, the 
patient became slightly overcome by heat and felt like 
screaming." 1 Such persons, as Dr. Coriat goes on to say, 
are frequently unable to recall the event which first gave rise 
to the unreasonable fear. And where the original cause can 
be remembered, the sufferer, as likely as not, is unable to 
see any relationship between it and the phobia. 

Three methods of removing phobias. - The simplest 
method of removing unreasonable fear is that of keeping 
the sufferer away from anything capable of arousing it. 
One might, for example, adopt every precaution for pre- 
venting the person in question from seeing a mouse, from 
being reminded of sickness, or from getting into a closed 
place or into a crowd. This method has obvious short- 
comings. While the absence of the stimulus with which the 
fear reaction is unreasonably connected may in time lead 
to the actual breaking of that connection, there are perhaps 
just as many cases where nothing of the kind will happen. 
We may keep the person who is afraid of crowds away from 

1 Abnormal Psychology, p. 279 (William Rider and Son, London). 


crowds, but there is little guarantee that her fear will not 
be as strong as ever if our protection for one reason or 
another fails her. 

There is one type of situation in which the mere prevention 
of the occurrence of the fear by keeping the person away 
from the fear stimulus is justifiable and useful. If the fear 
reaction is so violent that it imposes a severe strain upon the 
frightened individual and possibly threatens his health or 
sanity, there is wisdom in protecting him from contact with 
the fear stimulus in order that he may reach that state of 
calm necessary for the application to his case of more thor- 
ough means of removing his phobia. The important point 
is this, that protection from contact with the fear stimulus 
will seldom, of itself, make the sufferer capable of meeting 
the stimulus without fear. And of course that is what is 
desired. The phobia should be so thoroughly removed that 
the former possessor of it becomes capable of facing the 
fear stimulus and reacting to it in a normal, healthy fashion. 

Another, the second, method of removing phobias is quite 
like the method which we suggested for removing unreason- 
able dislikes for certain dishes. Our suggestion was that 
one take himself in hand and eat olives, mayonnaise, and 
whatever he dislikes, and keep on eating them each time they 
are placed before him. In many cases one will become 
adapted in this way to whatever he does not like about 
these dishes, so that he will cease to dislike them so heartily. 
In fact, under circumstances like these, one will often develop 
a genuine liking for the formerly neglected food. Phobias 
are occasionally susceptible to this form of treatment. 
White rats are used to a considerable extent in the study of 
animal psychology. Many girls exhibit great fear when 
they are first required to work with and even handle these 
little beasts. This unreasonable fear is soon lost entirely in 


the majority of cases. Most of us have from time to time 
irrational fears which become removed by the simple process 
of getting used to the emotion-educing stimulus. 

There are conditions, it must be admitted, under which it 
is unwise to attempt the removal of a phobia by continuously 
confronting the person with the object of which he is afraid. 
This is true if the fear aroused by that object is a violent and 
deep-seated one. I remember a small child who in some 
way or other had become dreadfully afraid of false faces. 
He would scream in terror at the sight of a person wearing 
one of those hideous affairs. If an attempt had been made 
to cure this child's fright by exposing him to false faces upon 
all possible occasions, the result might have been lamentable. 
Such powerful fears as his may easily be accentuated if 
promiscuously stimulated. Fear, too frequently experienced, 
is likely to give rise to habits of worry and apprehension, 
and these latter conditions tend to make one more and 
more subject to violent states of fright. The belief was 
once commonly held that, if a child is afraid of the water, 
his fear can best be cured by throwing him in. This 
scheme may work well enough provided the child is not too 
much afraid and providing he is not too nervous and ex- 
citable. If he is nervous and excitable, such methods are 
more likely to create an incurable phobia which no amount of 
future training can eradicate. 

A third means of removing phobias is that of getting the 
subject to a point where he can take a rational attitude 
toward his fear. Although this method is often slow and 
difficult, it is the safest, and usually it leads to the most 
permanent results. Perhaps the majority of unreasonable 
fears are attributable to some particular, unpleasant expe- 
rience. The fears of closed places and of crowds mentioned 
by Dr. Coriat are cases in point. If the subject of a phobia 


can be made to understand that his fear is based upon some 
relatively trivial experience, he is in a favorable position to 
gain control over his unreasonable emotion and ultimately 
to uproot it. 

As we have said before, the sufferer from a phobia is often 
unable to remember the circumstances under which his 
fear first was felt. Sometimes the forgotten experience can 
be remembered if the subject is encouraged to think about 
the matter persistently enough. But there is a good chance 
of meeting the fear upon rational grounds, even if one cannot 
get at its actual origin. Although the effort to discover why a 
certain person is afraid of dogs, that is, what early experience 
or experiences gave rise to this particular fear, may be un- 
successful, there is still the possibility of convincing him that 
few dogs are actually dangerous, that oth^r people are not 
afraid of dogs, and so on. On this basis he may begin to 
reason with himself, and as soon as he begins to look upon 
his own fear as an intellectual problem in need of solution, 
the chances of his losing that fear are very good. It is 
common knowledge in psychology that, when one begins to 
observe his own experience in a calm way, emotional states 
tend at once to lose their intensity. And this principle is a 
most helpful one, not only in the case of unreasonable fears, 
but also in the case of prejudices and other unreasonable 

Poor health is sometimes the basis for undesirable feeling 
states. Phobias, prejudices, and other unfortunate feeling 
tendencies are in perhaps the majority of instances based 
upon something in the individual's experience. That is to 
say, they are simply bad habits, and their cure is a matter 
of habit breaking. Unreasonable fear and anger is, however, 
sometimes more a matter of health than of past experience 
and training. We have seen how fear and anger contain as 


essential ingredients disturbances in circulation, breathing, 
and other vital bodily processes. We have seen also how 
drugs which act directly upon the vital organs may arouse an 
actual emotional state. Bad health, and good health too for 
that matter, may act in much the same manner. Poor 
digestion or circulation is very likely to be a factor in 
prolonged states of worry or irritability. A vigorous, 
healthy condition of the vital functions of the body is 
just as likely to mean a strong disposition to be cour- 
ageous and joyful. 

These prolonged dispositions toward feeling states of a 
certain type are, of course, what we usually refer to as 

Moods are matters of habit as well as of health. The 
wrong type of food, too much stimulation or too little, in- 
sufficient sleep, eye strain, and other similar factors are 
important causes of unhappy moods. Under such cir- 
cumstances the surest method for removing the worry, 
irritability, and depression of the moody one is to get him to 
change his living habits. A wise physician, when con- 
sulted, is often able to suggest some apparently minor change 
in one's habits, such as a reduction in the amount of meat 
eaten or an increase in the amount of time spent out of doors, 
and such changes may have a striking effect upon the general 
feeling tone of one's life. 

In our discussion of emotional states we told how these 
states, when set up by external stimuli a loud and sudden 
sound, for example involve profound changes in the 
operations of the vital organs. Then we proceeded to show 
how an emotional state, such as that of joy, can be produced 
by drugs acting directly upon the internal systems of the 
body. We may well hold these facts in mind during our 
consideration of moods. We have shown how bodily health 


predisposes one to certain kinds of feelings. Now, the 
reverse is also true. Anger and fear, if we give way to those 
states too frequently, will have actually bad effects upon 
general health, and this impaired health will mean an 
increasing disposition to become angry and afraid. So that, 
even in those cases where worry and irritability depend imme- 
diately upon imperfect health, the imperfect health may be 
traceable to unfortunate habits of giving way to such 

Temperament consists of one's emotional habits. 
Each of us has his own peculiar emotional habits. Some 
persons throughout their lives become angry upon the 
slightest provocation. Some have an unusually strong 
tendency to worry and fret. Some seem to have an irre- 
pressible habit of being cheerful. Some are easily stimulated 
into a state of fear, anger, or joy. Still others are not easily 
stimulated into any sort of an emotional reaction. Such 
characteristics as these are what we know as temperament. 

There is no doubt that temperament is to some extent 
inborn. The most tragic life circumstances are, in the case 
of some persons, incapable of destroying a dominant tone of 
joy. The most favorable circumstances are, in others, 
incapable of overcoming an equally dominant tone of irrit- 
ability and worry. Nevertheless, in many cases temperament 
is determined to an important degree by experience and train- 
ing. The assumption is often made that the different races of 
mankind possess inherent differences of temperament. The 
French, the Spanish, the Italians, and other peoples from 
the south of Europe display emotional reactions more fully 
ind more frequently, according to a prevalent opinion, than 
io the peoples of northern Europe. Now, the question 
irises as to the degree to which this alleged difference in 
emotional excitability is the result of inborn, physiological 


characteristics of the peoples and the degree to which it is 
the result of experience. While no final answer can at 
present be given, this much can be said: The difference in 
training between an Englishman aad an Italian and the 
differences between their environments might reasonably 
explain vast differences in temperament. 

Another frequent assumption in regard to temperament 
is that those inborn capacities which make it possible for 
certain rare individuals to achieve great things in art or 
science or in some other line of human endeavor are accom- 
panied by an inborn emotional excitability. Even though 
it be true, and there are reasons for believing that it is, that 
the genius is more prone to manifest emotion than the 
general run of mankind, we need not accept the doctrine 
that this peculiarity of genius is mostly inborn. Indeed, 
we may well realize that the man of unusual talents is often 
treated by those about him much as the typical spoiled child 
is treated. Because of his talents, even his relatives may 
stand in awe of him and cater to his every wish. Under 
such circumstances we should hardly expect anyone to 
develop a great amount of self-control. One needs to gain 
a regard for the opinion and feelings of those about him 
before he can be expected to suppress the emotionality and 
impulsiveness characteristic of childhood. When an in- 
dividual gives early evidence of remarkable intellect or 
artistic skill, the shaping and disciplining forces of education 
are not likely to be applied to him with the vigor and per- 
sistence with which they are applied to the ordinary child. 
As a consequence it is no wonder that many geniuses are 
impulsive and excitable, that so far as their emotional habits 
are concerned they remain childlike and undeveloped. 

There is evidence too that the temperaments of the 
ordinary mortals with whom we are acquainted are deter- 


mined to a large degree by training and environment. If 
a child's mother shows fear whenever the slightest threat 
occurs against the family welfare, if she is plainly terrified, 
for example, whenever a member of the household is sick, 
the chances are that the child will be strongly affected by her 
example. I know a woman who, when she cannot convince 
her husband of her need for money for a new hat, indulges in 
the unpleasant practice of screaming and sobbing in turn. 
It is not surprising that her daughter, now a grown woman, 
has similar emotional habits. 

If a child is brought up in surroundings where emotional 
control is exhibited by others and where he is made to see 
quite clearly that self-control is expected of him, the 
results are often marked. I well remember the type of 
family influences which acted upon the happiest and 
most courageous little four-year-old whom it has ever 
been my pleasure to know. One day David was playing 
on the lawn with a group of older boys. In the midst 
of the play one of the older boys lost his hold upon 
David and the latter fell violently to the ground and landed 
squarely upon his head. Everyone there except his parents, 
who happened to be looking on, expected him to burst out 
crying, at least by the time he had regained his feet. When 
he did scramble up, which was promptly, because his fall 
was painful rather than serious, he looked over toward 
where his mother and father were sitting. They returned 
his gaze as if nothing had happened that was at all worth 
getting excited about. David frowned a little, rubbed his 
head once or twice, and then signified that he was ready to 
resume the play. What a difference there would have been 
in David's character if his mother in such situations had 
rushed to his aid, taken him into her arms, and inquired in a 
quivering voice whether her darling were hurt! 


Why effect of experience upon feeling habits is important. 

We have stated that one's disposition toward feelings 
of joy or feelings of depression, or one's disposition toward 
feelings of every kind, may have a certain basis in one's 
inborn constitution. But we have in our discussion em- 
phasized the fact that experience and training have a great 
effect upon our emotional habits. And we have a very good 
reason for this 'emphasis. While society tries to control the 
kinds of individuals who come into the world to the extent of 
preventing, wherever possible, the marriage of those who are 
clearly insane or feeble-minded, and who might therefore be 
expected to have mentally unfit children, that control is not 
at all a strict one. Society still has all sorts of individuals 
with whom to deal arid out of whom to make useful human 
beings. Now the principal hope that society has in this 
task is to be found in the possibilities of education and 
training, and it is largely to the extent to which such training 
arid education can be effective that these problems are 
solvable by any practical scheme. It may be that a child's 
violent temper and fits of depression are mainly attributable 
to his inborn constitution. Our own main concern must 
be with the possibilities of effecting, through training and 
also through precautions as to physical health, the control 
of the child's moodiness. In other words, those char- 
acteristics of emotional life which are set at birth and un- 
alterable during life are things about which we can do little 
or nothing. But those characteristics of emotional life, 
on the other hand, that are susceptible to change by expe- 
rience are things about which something can be done. There- 
fore they are the ones which merit our main concern. 

Experience organizes our feelings. Experience does 
more than determine simple connections between objects, 
events, or ideas, on the one hand and states of feeling on the 


other. We have said that we have systems of feelings 
as well as simple feeling habite. That is to say, a human 
personality is not made up of isolated, independent ten- 
dencies to feel angry, afraid, joyful, or sorrowful under 
this or that specific condition. Our habits of feeling 
are organized by our experiences into unified systems 
that operate in accord with particular ends and purposes. 
To quote from our own earlier statement of the case: 
"As patriots we rejoice at the sight of our country's 
flag, become angered when our national honor is assailed, 
become afraid if our national progress is threatened, and 
grieve if our nation loses a great friend or leader. To acquire 
a friendship is to acquire habits of rejoicing, becoming angry 
and afraid, and grieving, according to the varying fortunes 
of him who is the object of our friendship. To acquire an 
appreciation of literature is to learn to approve of the 
artistically meritorious and also to disapprove of that which 
is lacking in literary value. " 


Feeling and reasoning are not opposite processes. 

According to an old, old custom, we are inclined to think of 
feeling and reasoning as being in some way opposed to each 
other. When we ask ourselves whether so-and-so is going to 
be ruled by his heart or his head in reaching a decision, we 
imply that feeling and reasoning bring about different 
indeed, opposed modes of conduct and that the two do 
not go on at the same time. Such a view, however, does not 
correspond with the facts. In reasoning we consider a 
number of ideas before reaching a final conclusion, by ex- 
pressing either to ourselves or in our conduct a choice for 
this or that idea. But why, in the last analysis, do we select 
one idea rather than another? The only answer to such a 


question is that our mental decision or our actual conduct 
takes one form rather than another, because the strongest 
feeling occurs when that possibility is tentatively considered. 
Now, of course, if we have powerful prejudices, fears, joys, 
attached to or associated with what for our own good they 
ought not be associated with, such feelings will alter the 
outcome of what reasoning we do. But under such cir- 
cumstances bad decisions are not the result of the fact that 
our conduct is governed more by feeling than by reasoning. 
The difficulty lies in the fact that these particular habits of 
feeling happen to make a successful outcome to our reasoning 

In the preceding chapter we made much of the point that 
efficiency and reliability are not to be judged from the mere 
fact that one does much reasoning. Efficiency and reliability 
must be determined by the results of reasoning, upon whether 
the conclusions reached are true or false. Now, in so far as 
feeling interferes with truth it does so, not by interfering 
with the process of reasoning, but rather because it enhances 
the apparent value of erroneous ideas and fails to enhance 
the value of those ideas which, in the interests of accuracy 
and truth, should dominate our reasoning. Under such 
conditions the process of reasoning is just as much a process 
of reasoning as ever. The trouble is, to speak figuratively, 
the process is pointed in the wrong direction. 

As a matter of fact, feelings are just as responsible for our 
reaching correct conclusions, when we do so, as for our 
reaching incorrect conclusions when we do that. The sound 
thinker is set into as vigorous a feeling state by an idea which 
is true and worth adopting as is a fool by the erroneous idea, 
the adoption of which marks him as a fool. 

Feeling has effect upon all forms of behavior. We have 
shown how that type of activity called feeling is intermingled, 


in actual life, with other activities. The art lover likes the 
picture while he is perceiving it, or remembering it, or think- 
ing about it. The baseball fan feels excited while he perceives, 
remembers, or imagines the home run with three on bases. 

Feeling not only goes on simultaneously with other activ- 
ities; it is so inseparably bound up with those other activities 
that it affects them in very important ways. When, in 
reasoning, we consider in ideational form, a number of 
alternatives, our final choice, as we have seen, is determined 
to a large degree by the particular feelings present with our 
different ideas. Our feeling activities have great influence 
also upon our perceiving, remembering, and imagining. 
He who is afraid of the bad opinion of others will perceive a 
host of slights where no slights are intended. He who fears 
that he has made a blunder will magnify his error in the act 
of remembering it. He who is worried about retaining his 
job is likely to imagine that his superior has thoughts of 
discharging him, although there are no grounds for such 

The effects of feeling also extend into our completer 
actions our bodily movements. Before a football game 
it is customary for many coaches and captains to arouse 
their men to a high pitch of excitement, because it is 
recognized that the energy and vigor of their play will thereby 
be enhanced. We are all familiar, too, with the fact that 
feeling may decrease efficiency of behavior. If the football 
player is unreasonably wrought up, this condition may 
make him run harder, but it may also lead to fumbling 
of the ball and to confusing signals. Whether our actions 
are to be increased or decreased in effectiveness by the 
feelings with which we embark upon them depends both 
upon the type of action and upon the type of feelings in- 
volved. A high pitch of emotional excitement may be an 


advantageous preparation for strenuous muscular exertion, 
hut usually action which must be accurate is better prepared 
for by feeling of less intensity. The boxer should feel 
energetic and confident as he goes into a bout, but he must 
not be so energetic and confident as to take unnecessary 
chances with his opponent. The same is true even when 
we embark upon intellectual undertakings. The salesman 
does well if he can work up in himself a certain amount of 
enthusiasm before approaching his prospective customer, 
but hie also requires sufficient calm to prevent preposterous 
statements about the merits of his goods. 


1. Feelings differ from cognitions in that they usually 
have to do more with the internal condition of the individual 
than with objects and events around him, and in that they 
are relatively diffuse and indefinite. There is not, however, 
a sharp line between the two. 

2. There are a great many kinds of feelings. Some of these 
are usually pleasant; they are of such a nature that we wish 
for their continuance, while others are usually unpleasant. 

3. Emotions are more intense and more definite than most 
feeling states. They depend upon the most vital of the 
bodily processes. 

4. Feelings, emotions, moods, and temperaments are 
greatly influenced by training and education. They are also 
dependent upon inborn conditions and upon bodily health. 

5. Experience determines what stimuli will arouse this 
feeling or that. Experience also organizes our feelings. 

6. Feeling and reasoning normally work together and are 
not necessarily opposed as common opinion often assumes. 

7. There are hardly any of our activities that are not 
importantly affected by feeling. Perceiving, imagining, 


remembering, and bodily movements are modified by the 
feeling states that precede or accompany these processes. 


1 . Make a list of ten experiences of your own which lacked any promi- 
nent feeling. Make a list of ten other experiences in which feelings were 
prominent and important constituents. 

2. Why is it harder for us to be definite in our descriptions of feelings 
than in our descriptions of cognitive processes? 

3. Enumerate some feelings which are ordinarily pleasant, but which 
are capable of becoming unpleasant. 

4. Why is it that we do not have to learn by experience how to be 
tired or energetic, tense or calm, cheerful or depressed? 

5. Upon which does our general health have the greater influence, our 
cognitive or our feeling activities? Why? 

6. In what manner is it possible for our feelings to become modified 
as a result of experience? 

7. How would you help a young child to get rid of a strong hatred for 
one of his playmates? 

8. Show how the temperament of the "spoiled" child is produced by 
the people about him. 

9. What experiences have produced in you that organization of feeling 
habits called patriotism? 


Dunlap, The Elements of Scientific Psychology, pp. 312-314; or Readings 
in General Psychology, Ch. XVII, Selection 2-C, p. 440 ff. 

Mlinsterberg, Psychology, (feneral and Applied, pp. 198-199; or Readings, 
Ch. XVII, Selection 3, p. 448 ff. 

Marshall, Pain, Pleasure, and Aesthetics, p. 191; or Readings, Ch. XVII, 
Selection 4, p. 449. 

Ebbinghaus, Psychology (tr. and ed. by Max Meyer), pp. 164-166; or 
Readings, Ch. XVII, Selection 5, p. 450 ff . 

Lange, in The Emotions (ed. by Knight Dunlap), pp. 33-34; or Readings 
Ch. XVIII, Selection 1, p. 452 ff. 

Stout, A Manual of Psychology (3d. ed.), pp. 405-409; or Readings, 
Ch. XVIII, Selection 2, p. 453 f. 

James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol. II, 449-453; or Readings, 
Ch. XVIII, Selection 3-A, p. 456 ff. 

Watson and Watson, Scientific Monthly, 1921, pp. 505-514; or Readings^ 
Ch. XVIII, Selection 8, p. 480 ff. 







1. What is personality? 

2. What makes for soundness of personality? 

There are certain characteristics common to all human 
nature. Bodily movement, perception, thought, feeling, 
and every other type of human activity depend in an in- 
timate way upon the structure and the operation of the 
nervous system. This is true for everybody, and it can 
scarcely be said to be more true for some than for others. 
Wherever there is human nature we may expect to find 
learning, and habits which result from such learning. Fur- 
thermore, there are general laws according to which learning 
takes place. The degree to which an act is fixed, for example, 
is affected in important measure by the frequency with 
which it has been repeated. This law of repetition is not 
an individual idiosyncrasy is not a law which holds true 
in the learning of some people, and not in that of others. 
It is a law which operates wherever learning takes place. 
And so we might go through a long list of psychological 
principles and find that they are manifested wherever human 
nature appears. In fact this is exactly what we have done 
in the preceding pages. While we have mentioned individual 



peculiarities from time to time, our main emphasis has been 
upon those characteristics common to all human nature. 

However, we have all observed that every person has 
peculiarities that distinguish him from others and give 
him his individuality. We cannot deny the practical im- 
portance of these differences among individuals. In the 
next two chapters, therefore, we shall consider, in particular, 
the fact that individuals differ from one another in the 
habits they have formed, in the ways in which those 
habits are interrelated, and in the efficiency with which 
those habits operate. 


An individual is an organized system of habits. An 

individual is made up of countless reflexes, habits of moving, 
intellectual habits, and habits of feeling. But the habits 
do not exist in isolation. They are organized into systems 
of habits. The athlete's skill in throwing a ball is not to be 
thought of as an independent achievement. It is closely 
connected with his ability to catch a ball and to wield a bat. 
It is, in short, one element in a larger habit system known as 
baseball playing. The geologist's skill in recognizing and 
explaining the origin of some rock formation is only a small 
part of that larger skill which we call his knowledge of 
geology. The thrill wiiich an American feels when he 
returns from a sojourn in Europe and first catches sight of 
the Statue of Liberty is only one of the several forms of 
feeling organized together into that system of feelings known 
as love of country. 

Even the larger habit systems of an individual are not to 
be considered independent. They are, in turn, parts of a 
yet larger habit system. The athlete's skill in sport is likely 
to be related closely to his loyalty to his school. The lawyer's 


mastery of his subject may be closely connected with his 
knowledge of related subjects, with his ambition to receive the 
recognition and praise of his colleagues, and with a number of 
the other systems into which his habits are organized. 
Patriotism is closely related to one's knowledge of his 
country's history and institutions, to his public spirit, and to 
his civic interest. 

A human being, then, is not only a composite of countless 
simple habits. He is made up of systems of habits, and 
even' these systems of habits are related to one another. 
By using the expression, related to one another, we really 
mean more than our words may seem to imply. We mean 
that these systems actually affect each other and determine 
each other's nature. The more ambitious the lawyer is for 
praise and promotion, the more assiduously will he pursue 
his subject. But if, at the same time, he is unusually fond 
of his family, he may hesitate to spend as much time in 
study as he would like. Thus, his love of family may act in 
partial opposition to his love of praise. On the other hand, 
he realizes that those financial rewards which will enable him 
to do more for his family depend upon his professional skill. 
So, from that point of view, his love of family may supple- 
ment his love of praise in driving him toward thorough study 
of his subject. We can readily see from this example how 
intricately each man's desires, feelings, manual skills, and 
types of knowledge are interwoven to make up his per- 
sonality. In fact, his personality is, itself, a great system of 

How personality is revealed. Although every one of 
an individual's habits is influenced to some degree by the 
other habits which he has formed, one's ordinary actions, 
considered by themselves, give little indication of the 
nature of one's complete make-up, of one's personality. 


There are some who believe that much can be learned about 
the total man from the neatness of his dress, the vigor of his 
handshake, and other characteristics of this kind. Perhaps 
there is a little truth in this, but bad mistakes will be made 
if such indications of personality are taken too seriously. 
The neat dresser will often turn out to be a careless thinker, 
and the vigorous hand shaker a chronic procrastinator. 

The complete make-up of an individual is adequately 
expressed in his behavior only during the course of years. 
A real knowledge of a personality, then, depends to a con- 
siderable extent upon the study of the history of that 

Personality is revealed in ideation. Through ideation 
one can represent in the present many of the more important 
events of one's past life. Through ideation one can construct 
events that have never yet occurred in one's personal ex- 
perience. It is owing to these facts that we can hope to 
learn much of a personality, even if we have not observed 
with care its past development, and even if many of its 
desires and fears have not yet appeared in actual behavior. 
If we can discover what a person is capable of remembering 
we shall know much of his important history, and if we can 
discover what he is in the habit of imagining we shall know 
much about the desires and fears which dominate his attitude 
toward the future. 

How the physician studies personality. In late years 
there has been an increasing recognition among members of 
the medical profession that many so-called nervous troubles 
are the result of a faulty organization of the patient's habits 
rather than a result of the ordinary forms of physical disease. 
The treatment of troubles of this type requires two definite 
steps. First, the physician must become thoroughly acquainted 
with the personality of his patient and, second, he must aid 


the patient in effecting a reconstruction of personality. It is 
the first step in which we are particularly interested just now. 

In order to learn as much as possible about the personality 
of his patient, the physician almost always asks a number of 
formal questions regarding illnesses, disappointments, and 
other obviously critical experiences which the patient has 
had. Sometimes the source of an individual's "nervousness" 
or personality disturbance can readily be detected in this way. 
In mild forms of personality disturbance, one does not 
normally consult a physician. For instance, people fre- 
quently take a disagreeable medicine with grape juice, 
lemon phosphate, or some other normally pleasant beverage, 
and later find the mere sight or smell of that beverage 
nauseating. In such cases the cause of this habit of un- 
favorable response is quite evident, and the person knows 
as well as anyone else the real cause of his trouble. 

There are many types of personality disturbances, how- 
ever, where the detection of the source of the difficulty is 
not such an easy matter. A man became troubled with 
palpitation of the heart. He underwent a thorough physical 
examination, but no explanation for his condition was found. 
Finally his physician began to study the mental make-up of 
the sufferer. In the course of this study the fact was dis- 
covered that the-patient had worried about losing his position, 
but he had never thought of this worry as a possible cause 
of his heart difficulty. The physician, however, realized 
that this condition might easily be caused by worry, and so 
he proceeded to build up in the patient a feeling of greater 
security and assurance, and the palpitations soon ceased. 
This was a case where the mental source of a physical dif- 
ficulty was not at all evident to the sufferer. 

Much, therefore, can be learned of a personality by dis- 
covering what the individual is capable of remembering and 


imagining and what are his hopes and fears. Sometimes 
such a study is called a psycho-a?ialysis, but whatever its 
name, the procedure has certain definite features. The 
patient is encouraged to communicate to the physician 
what he can remember and imagine and to express his 
ideas freely. Though it may require many interviews to 
achieve a really thorough view, gradually the physician 
obtains a clearer understanding of his patient's personal 
organization. When the weak places are finally discovered, 
the process of retraining or reorganization may be commenced. 

Of course it is only in rare cases that a personality requires 
exhaustive analysis by a physician, but we have discussed 
the method by which such an analysis can be made in order 
to show how one's complete organization or personality can 
be reached and understood through one's ideas. 

How a person gets acquainted with himself. We can 
easily realize that the understanding of another personality 
requires observation of the activities of that personality in a 
variety of situations. Thorough knowledge of another is 
not to be obtained merely by studying his facial expression or 
by engaging him in a single conversation. Similarly only 
prolonged experience can give a person an adequate knowl- 
edge of his own personality. 

A very young infant makes no distinction between his own 
personality and other personalities. Nor does he make 
any distinction between persons and things. Only after 
considerable experience does he learn the difference between 
persons and things, and between himself, as a person, and 
other persons. When the first difference between persons 
and things is observed by the infant, it is in all probability 
based upon simple factors. Persons move about more than 
things, they make more sounds, and they touch him in a 
way that things do not. The appreciation of just such 


simple facts as these lies at the basis of the child's notion of 

But how does he come to realize that he is, himself, a 
personality? Does he first appreciate the distinction be- 
tween other persons and things and then later come to 
classify himself with the persons rather than with the things? 
The truth of the matter is hardly as simple as that. The 
child's notion of his own personality is acquired on a double 
basis, from his experience with others and from his experience 
with himself. We cannot consider either of these two types 
of experience as first in time or in importance. 

Throughout the growth of a person's knowledge of himself, 
such knowledge continues to have this double basis. Just 
as we are continually interpreting others in terms of what 
we know about ourselves, so we are continually interpreting 
ourselves in terms of what we know about others. 

Impulsive behavior is least representative of total per- 
sonality. As we have said, one's ordinary actions give 
little indication of* the total personality. Of all types of 
behavior, that which we call impulsive tells us least about 
the whole man. Impulsive acts are not prepared for by 
processes of thought. Do we not, as a matter of fact, often 
speak of them as " thoughtless"? Such acts are performed 
on the spur of the moment without being fitted into our 
ultimate desires, purposes, and ambitions. 

We do not wish to infer for a moment, of course, that 
impulsive, thoughtless behavior is always to be regretted. 
In our discussion of reasoning we pointed out how inefficient 
a person would be if he stopped to engage in elaborate pro- 
cesses of thought in connection with every act. We simply 
want to point out here that impulsive actions are more 
independent of the total personality than are actions of a 
thoughtful sort. 


Voluntary action is more representative of the total per- 
sonality. When, as a result of deliberation and thought, 
we decide what line of action we are going to follow, that 
action is likely to be in fair accord with our more permanent 
habits. When we say that a certain act was performed 
purposely, we mean that, to a greater or less degree, we 
considered what the results of the act were likely to be and 
how the act fitted in with our more permanent ideals. When 
a man commits a crime, the question is almost always raised 
as to whether he calmly made up his mind to do as he did. 
If so, he is likely to receive severer punishment than he 
would if the act were impulsive and therefore less represen- 
tative of his whole personality. 

Since thought fulness is the mark of voluntary deliberation, 
a natural question arises: What relation does such deliber- 
ation bear to the usual processes of reasoning, as we have 
discussed them? The answer to this question is this: 
Voluntary deliberation is an instance of reasoning, but not 
all instances of reasoning are instances of voluntary deliber- 
ation. In voluntary deliberation, as in other reasoning, 
there is an attempt to solve a problem by means of ideas. 
The problem, however, is an intimate and personal one, and 
the ideas involved in its solution touch upon ideals, ambitions, 
and other more vital elements of personality. In this, 
voluntary deliberation is different from many other types of 
reasoning. It is possible to reason about problems remote 
from the issues of personal conduct, but voluntary delibera- 
tion is always reasoning of this personal sort. 

These considerations throw light upon the meaning of 
what we usually call will power. The will is nothing more 
nor less than a man's total personality, in so far as it is 
represented in his conduct. If a man is continually per- 
forming acts which he regrets at a later time, when he has 


leisure for thought, we say that he has a weak will. If, on 
the other hand, he seldom acts in a way which is out of accord 
with his larger ideals and life ambitions, we say that he 
has a strong will. Therefore, will is not something which 
operates independently of our habitual ways of acting, think- 
ing, and feeling. Will consists of our more permanent habits 
and their organization, in so far as these affect behavior. 

Is behavior ever involuntary? - Sometimes we say that 
behavior is impulsive, that it is uncontrolled by the more 
permanent and more typical elements of personality. Some- 
times we say that behavior is voluntary, that it is controlled 
and purposive. On still other occasions we say that behavior 
is involuntary, meaning that it is directly opposed to one's 
conscious desires. Involuntary behavior differs from im- 
pulsive behavior. Although impulsive behavior may not 
be in harmony with our truest interests, we do not realize 
at the time of performing an impulsive act, that it violates 
those standards most typical of the whole personality. In 
the case of involuntary behavior, however, we do realize 
clearly that we are acting out of accord with our complete 

Behavior is often involuntary because of some factor in 
the individual's surroundings the influence of which cannot be 
escaped. The man who is led away to prison goes against his 
will. He is perfectly aware that he has no desire to go, and 
also that he is unlikely ever to be glad that he went. Yet 
he goes, because he realizes that physical force will imme- 
diately be applied to him if he does not. Occasionally one 
of a person's habits or reflexes appears in action despite 
strong conscious opposition. The drug habit which a man 
has acquired may be fully recognized by him as out of line 
with all his other interests and tastes. Yet the habit may 
possess such strength that he cannot hold it in check, no 


matter how clearly he realizes that he is acting in a way he 
will later regret. 


Healthy personality has properly balanced habit systems. 

There exist in every human personality many habit 
systems which must operate in harmony. If they do not, 
there is likely to be trouble ahead. A spoiled child forms 
habits of constantly expecting the first consideration. These 
habits may work successfully enough within the family circle, 
but they do not correspond with the kind of habits necessary 
for success outside the family circle. And even though the 
spoiled child forms effective habits applicable to extra-family 
situations, if the habits of expecting first consideration and 
the like are still allowed to operate within the family, there 
is a strong possibility of their cropping out where they should 
not and interfering with more effective behavior. A man 
who is habitually ill-mannered and thoughtless during 
working hours finds it extremely difficult to maintain habits 
of kindliness and thoughtfulness at home. The work-a-day 
habit system is almost sure to interfere with the formation 
of a contrary or opposed system applicable to the home. 

The necessity is apparent of considering each habit system 
not only in and for itself, but also in its relation to other 
habit systems. The fact is well known that few people can 
draw a high salary for very long without modifying to an 
important extent their habits of spending money. Now, 
there is scarcely anyone who would hold that a man making 
ten thousand dollars a year should not spend more than a 
man making four thousand. That is to say, there is no 
intrinsic sin about becoming a more liberal spender as one's 
income is increased. Such a habit system as that of money 
spending cannot, however, be evaluated in and for itself. 


There are many lawyers who have had a lifelong ambition 
to become judges, but financial successes that came to 
them early in their careers built up standards of living, 
systems of spending habits, which now make it impossible 
for them to fulfill their ambition. The lower salary of 
the judge would make it necessary for them to change 
their spending habits too radically. As a consequence 
they find it easier to break the habits of thought and 
anticipation which constitute the desire to go upon the bench. 
Another relevant case is that of a woman who early in 
life developed skill both in the writing of fiction and 
in scientific investigation. But the time came when she 
felt that she had to choose between these systems of 
habits. In order to write entertaining fiction she found 
that she must forget herself and let sheer fancy have free 
play. She must not be too critical, at least until she had 
finished her writing and came to revise it, because the 
critical attitude seemed to impede her thought and suppress 
originality. Her scientific work, on the other hand, seemed 
to require an almost opposite frame of mind. She must be 
critical of each step in her thinking and she must keep close 
to the facts. As long as she tried to keep both sets or systems 
of habits and attempted to cultivate them by means of 
frequent practice, she found them interfering with each 
other. The critical attitude from among her scientific habits 
was constantly interfering when she tried to write fiction or 
else was failing to appear with necessary rigor during scien- 
tific thinking. Finally she decided to neglect her literary 
skill in favor of the scientific. But the important point for 
us is not which system of habits she chose to favor and which 
she chose to neglect. Our interest is in the fact that one of 
the two systems apparently had to be sacrificed if the other 
were to operate at maximum efficiency. 


Professor James has described this incompatibility of 
certain habit systems in his inimitably picturesque language. 
"Not that I would not, if I could, be both handsome and 
fat and well dressed, and a great athlete, and make a million 
a year, be a wit, a bon-vivant, and a lady-killer, as well as a 
philosopher; a philanthropist, statesman, warrior, and 
African explorer, as well as a 'tone-poet' and saint. But 
the thing is simply impossible. The millionaire's work 
would run counter to the saint's; the bon-vivant and the 
philanthropist would trip each other up; the philosopher and 
the lady-killer could not well keep house in the same tenement 
of clay. Such different characters may conceivably at the 
outset of life be alike possible to a man. But to make any 
one of them actual, the rest must more or less be sup- 
pressed." 1 

Personality usually has as a basis a small number of major 
interests and purposes. To say that there can be in one 
personality only a limited number of dominant habit systems 
is to say that one lii'e can be pursued with only a limited 
number of major interests and purposes. Otherwise the 
possessor of the personality becomes disorderly and shiftless 
in his living, and gets nowhere. 

A careful distinction needs to be made between the man 
who is broad in his interests and the man who is dominated 
by too many purposes. The man who has broad interests 
has built up a variety of habit systems which pertain to 
industry, politics, sport, art, and the like, but all of these fit 
into a larger organization of habits which represents his 
dominant interest and purpose in life. Some of them add 
directly to the effectiveness of his main life purpose. For 
instance, knowledge in the fields of industry and politics is 
essential if one's dominant purpose lies in the direction of a 

1 Principles of Psychology, Vol. I, pp. 309-310 (Henry Holt and Company). 


successful career in law. Other habit systems may aid one's 
main purpose principally by furnishing recreation which 
makes the pursuit of the main purpose more tolerable. 

The man who is dominated by too many purposes, on the 
other hand, is sure to have habit systems which seriously 
interfere with each other. A certain man of considerable 
brilliance has failed to attain success commensurate with his 
early promise for the reason that no one strong purpose has 
dominated his personality. He happens to be in banking, 
but his thoughts of the future dwell as frequently on the 
possibility of a shift to a career in law, diplomacy, or letters 
as they do on what he may expect to achieve along the lines 
of his present work. Since he has so many purposes, his 
efforts lack vigor and co-ordination. Each direction of his 
interest seems to take away something from the others. 
Such a personality is far different from that of the man who, 
although he has many interests, has a definite order among 
those interests. 

Another man is keenly interested in scores of different 
topics. About each of these he has accumulated an 
astonishing amount of information, owing to his habit of 
inquiring into every matter with which he conies in contact. 
So well informed is he that he can talk intelligently about 
almost anything, from stocks and bonds to methods of 
shoeing horses or mixing paints. But, in spite of the breadth 
of his interests, he is not what one would call a successful 
man. Now, his lack of success is by no means owing to the 
mere fact that he has many interests. It is the result, rather 
of the fact that, among all these sets of habits that he has 
formed, one set is just about as strong as the next one. Con- 
sequently his efforts do not keep him working long enough 
in one direction to accomplish anything of importance. 
He is a ship without a rudder. 


Actual incompetence is sometimes the result of lack of 
dominating interests. Most of us have a few harmonious 
habit systems that dominate our personalities. One of these 
is likely to pertain to our profession or business, another to 
our home, arid another to a recreational activity, such as 
some form of art, sport, or travel. With strong interests in 
home, work, and one or more other matters, a person has 
the best sort of guarantee against useless worry, restlessness, 
and discontent. Without such interests, on the other hand, 
severe disturbances of personality frequently result. 

Worry, irritability, discontent, and actual sickness are 
often found in women whose wealth relieves them of house- 
hold cares, unless some new interest develops to give balance 
and direction to their lives. And this new interest, whether 
it be in church work, charity, sport, art, science, or merely in 
" social climbing/' needs to be powerful and whole-hearted 
if it is to give balance to the personality. The new line of 
activity which is entered upon must be capable of sustaining 
more than a passing interest. It must be capable of getting 
such a hold on the woman that she will not have time or 
energy left for wanting to do something else or for wanting 
to go somewhere else. It must keep her so busy that she 
will disregard the trivial changes that take place in her 
own health. The statement is often made that poor, hard- 
working women do not have time to be sick. There is 
something to this. The too ample leisure that wealth 
creates, unless there be new and wholesome interests to 
replace the former ones, gives opportunity for worrying over 
one's health. And continuous worry over health is one of 
the best ways in the world for making of oneself a chronic 

Incompetence is sometimes the result of too few interests. 
Only the other day I learned of a man who owes his happiness 


to the fact that he had a strong system of recreational habits 
as well as a strong system pertaining to his profession. In 
boyhood he had built up an interest in moths and had begun 
a collection of them. After he had grown up and entered 
upon a business career he did not let this interest lapse. 
Since the moth collecting could be carried on as a recreational 
activity, there was no conflict between this habit system and 
that pertaining to his business life. Consequently nothing 
was lost by this simultaneous cultivation of both sets of 
habits. A few years ago this gentleman became seriously 
sick. When he had partially recovered he was told by his 
physician that, as he had saved enough on which to live, it 
would l)e better for him to retire from business and devote 
the remainder of his life to less strenuous affairs. And right 
here is where his interest in moths saved him much unhappi- 
ness. The habits making up this interest were strong 
enough to keep him busy and to enable him to forget himself. 
Many men, lacking some keen interest of this kind, would 
have found retirement a state of misery. They would 
have had too much time to pity themselves. Consequently, 
what reserve of health they possessed might easily have been 
lost as u result of the very bad influence of a gloomy state of 

Even though most of us never have to fall back upon some 
recreational activity as our chief life interest, there are other 
dangers that confront the person whose entire life is domi- 
nated by a single habit system. We are all familiar with 
men who have no dominating interest except that which has 
to do with their business. Home is a place where they talk 
over the day's happenings in the office or the morrow's 
business prospects, and where they rest merely in order to fit 
themselves for further working. The only friends who interest 
them are business friends. The only current news to which 


they pay attention is that which throws light upon business 
prosperity. Men of this variety, unlike those earlier men- 
tioned, with many interests but no dominant one, are likely 
to be successful in a certain sense. They are likely to make 
money and to develop the size and prestige of their business. 
They are likely to enjoy the lives they lead and to be too busy 
to indulge in aimless worry and discontent. Their lives are 
likely to be orderly and, of course, they have no lack of aim. 
Their personalities, however, suffer from the fact that they 
are narrow. 

Successful living demands the guidance which some 
one strong interest or habit system can furnish, and 
perhaps no one interest is more worthy of determining the 
direction of our lives than interest in our life work. Never- 
theless, it does not follow from this that there is wisdom in 
protecting our dominant interest from interference by failing 
to cultivate any other interests. We have obligations to 
meet as citizens and as members of a family; we have oppor- 
tunities for a fuller life than any one set of interests can give. 
There is, therefore, a real reason for us to cultivate more 
than one strong habit system. A powerful interest in 
politics, art, sport, or even a powerful interest in one's family 
and the affairs of its members may, it is true, interfere from 
time to time with the pursuit of one's profession, but one 
cannot expect to avoid all such interferences. In the long 
run it is better to have a certain amount of competition 
among one's interests, so long as that competition does not 
have really serious effects, than to have one's life entirely 
dominated by a single, narrow interest. 

Personality may be organized around almost any habit 
systems or interests. There is practically no limit to the 
kinds of habits and systems of habits which can be incor- 
porated into a human personality. There is likewise hardly 


any limit to the habit systems which may dominate per- 
sonalities. This is clear when we consider that there are no 
two individuals in this world who are exactly alike. 

There is probably not a single phase of life which is not 
or has riot been a dominant interest for some person or 
group of persons. The building of bridges, ships, loco- 
motives, telephone lines, each represents a type of 
activity that has been the chief and guiding interest in the 
lives of thousands of men. Every religious creed, every art, 
every field of human knowledge has at some time or other 
been the central element in the life of some individual. Every 
vice and every virtue, every trait demonstrated in human 
character has the capacity of becoming the dominant interest 
in someone's life. Personalities have been ruled by the love 
of gold, by the love of food and drink, by an irresistible 
passion for lies and deceit, as well as by charity, temperance, 
and a passion for justice arid honesty. 

The prevalence of these various interests, the values 
attached to them, and their prominence as cornerstones of 
personality differ greatly, of course, among different groups 
of people and at different periods of history. Interest 
in business is the major interest in a relatively great per- 
centage of citizens of the United States of America in this 
twentieth century. Among the Indians, especially before 
the white man came, war and the hunt were the big facts of 
life for the vast majority. At one time in ancient Athens, 
art and sport were principal interests of men of the upper 

Personality depends upon our surroundings. It is not 
strange that the American boy of today should so naturally 
find his chief interest and ambition leading him toward a 
business career. Except in those rare times of actual war, 
military glory is made little of by the American people. 


Art, scholarship, agriculture, medicine, and other worthy 
pursuits are held in high esteem, but business offers the 
greatest opportunities for money making, and money, these 
days, seems the most tangible reward th'at ability and 
endeavor can command. The same boy, if he had been born 
at another time and in another place, would have found his 
personality becoming organized around quite other dominant 
interests. Suppose that he had been born in a community 
where business and trade were held in low esteem and where 
warlike achievements brought' the greatest honors and 
rewards. Is it not likely that he would have found thoughts 
of battle and plans for a military career the most potent 
factors in his life? 

Not only the objects of our principal interests and the 
purposes around which our habits of action, thought, and 
feeling are developed, but also the detailed nature of our 
personalities is determined to a remarkable degree by our 
surroundings. The boy who is directed by the example of his 
elders toward military ambitions will develop attitudes 
toward bravery, toward physical suffering, toward obedience, 
quite different from those which would be developed in the 
same boy if his principal ambition had been for business 
success. In the truest sense he would not be the same boy 
at all. ' 

Many varieties of personality develop even in a single 
community. Our general surroundings, the country, the 
period in which we live, favor the development of personality 
along certain lines. They may favor our being more in- 
terested in business than in poetry. They may favor our 
being more interested in justice than in personal gain. 
Nevertheless, no two of us develop personalities that are 
exactly alike. No matter how commercial the spirit of a 
community may be, now and then there will occur some 


individuals whose lives are centered around an interest in 
poetry. No matter how high the moral standards of a 
community may be, there will occur some individuals whose 
ruling habits are immoral. 

Since each personality within a single town, and even 
within a single family, may develop in any one of many 
directions, we well may look upon our own development as 
largely in our own hands. Within wide limits we may choose 
our life work, our friends, our moral code, our reading. If 
we Hut learn to look at ourselves frankly and consider our- 
selves thoroughly our own masters, we may govern our own 
personal growth as no one else could. 

No one can tell anyone else exactly how his personality 
should be built up, just what habit systems should be in- 
cluded in it, and just what amounts of emphasis should be 
placed upon this interest and upon that. The world needs 
farmers and mechanics as well as statesmen and surgeons; 
and vigorous, prompt-acting men as well as others of calmer 
habits. Who shall play each of the many roles which the 
life of society demands cannot be decided in any cut-and- 
dried manner. Within wide limits, as we have already said, 
each individual who will may choose for himself. Still, 
there are some general facts concerning the selection of 
dominant interests to which we all may well pay attention. 
We shall, as our next step, inquire into the nature of a 
number of these facts. 

Our guiding interests should be in reality. Those 
personalities that are soundest and most capable of standing 
up stanchly and bravely in the face of the stresses and strains 
of actual life are personalities whose dominating interests 
are in the world of reality. Thinking, planning, dreaming 
along the lines of our principal ambitions are natural. The 
greatest achievements of mankind are first worked out in 


;hought. But, as we said in our chapter on imagination, 
:hought is not in itself a worthy end. Thought needs 
jO be based upon reality and to be expressed from time to 
nme in actions of genuine consequence. 

If one's personality is dominated by interests which, by 
he very nature of the case, can have no bearing upon the 
*eal business of living, one's accomplishments are not likely 
,o be important. One cannot identify himself completely 
vith matters that have no counterpart in the world in which 
lis actual living must be done and still remain a happy and 
efficient citizen. The personality of Miniver Cheevy, so 
Brilliantly described in the poem by Edwin Arlington 
lobinson, is a sick personality because ruled by ideals and 
nterests which are out of touch with the actual world. 

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, 

Grew lean while he assailed the seasons; 
He wept that he was ever born, 

And he had reasons. 

Miniver loved the days of old 

When swords were bright and steeds were prancing; 
The vision of a warrior bold 

Would set him dancing. 

Miniver sighed for what was not, 

And dreamed, and rested from his labors; 
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot, 

And Priam's neighbors. 

Miniver mourned the ripe renown 

That made so many a name so fragrant; 
He mourned Romance, now on the town, 

And Art, a vagrant. 

Miniver loved the Medici, 

Albeit he had never seen one; 
He would have sinned incessantly 

Could he have been one. 


Miniver cursed the commonplace 

And eyed a khaki suit with loathing; 
He missed the mediaeval grace 

Of iron clothing. 

Miniver scorned the gold he sought 

But sore annoyed was he without it; 
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought, 

And thought about it. 

Miniver Cheevy, born too late, 

Scratched his head and kept on thinking; 

Miniver coughed, and called it fate, 
And kept on drinking. 1 

Within us all there occasionally arise longings for ad- 
venture, for romance, for luxury which the seemingly hum- 
drum course of everyday life cannot supply. The well- 
organized personality satisfies these longings in art, literature, 
and the "castles in Spain " which his own imagination 
devises. But there are those in whom these longings, which 
are not susceptible to satisfaction in actual life, become, as 
for Miniver Cheevy, ruling interests. When this occurs 
one may take refuge in his dreams from the problems which 
he should be trying energetically to solve. Or he may 
become a discontented seeker after those things which real 
life cannot give him. Dickens' Mr. Micawber became so 
engrossed in the idea of having fortune fall into his lap some 
day, that he gave up the effort to better his situation by 
any such practical and prosaic plan as setting to work. All 
of us are familiar with those who imitate the dress and 
manners of the wealthy as if that would really give them the 
things they long for. The shop girl and the school girl who 
don silks and gaudy finery in which to go about their daily 
tasks are plainly getting their dreams mixed with reality. 

Reprinted by special arrangement from The Town Down the River 


Guiding interests should harmonize with the community 
in which we live. There are times when individuals are 
needed who can develop ideals and interests contrary to 
those of the community at large; and there are times when 
communities derive great benefits from the fact that these 
so-called radicals express their own peculiar, dominating 
interests in such a way as to bring them into sharp conflict 
with the habits of mind of the majority. Long before there 
were any real signs of prohibition going into effect, there 
were occasional persons whose lives were ruled by a savage 
hatred for alcoholic beverages and for everything connected 
with them. There is no doubt that these radical persons 
were influential in altering the attitude of the public at large 
toward alcohol. Probaj^ly no great change ever occurs in 
public ideals withou^some radicals some persons domi- 
nated by ideals confaary to the prevalent ones of their time 
playing a part in the change. 

But it is one matter to discuss the radical in terms of the 
part he often plays in public progress (of course, as often as 
not his peculiarities are no more representative of progress 
than of the reverse), and quite another matter to discuss 
radicalism as a trait of personality. It is quite possible to 
show that those afflicted with grave mental disorders may 
play a useful part in the life of society, but if you were in- 
trusted with the training of a child you would hardly choose 
to produce a queer adult, dominated by strange ideas. 
You would not choose to do this even though you are aware 
that his very queerness might make him useful from a social 
point of view. Great poems, great religious ideas, great 
deeds have at times come from minds which were perilously 
near insanity, if not actually in that state. Yet few of us 
would wish to be insane or even to be cranks for the sake of 
some marvelous contribution .to society which we might,, 


but in all probability would not, make by virtue of our 

One may have a healthy, well-organized personality 
without giving in to custom and majority opinion at every 
turn. One may have ideals that depart from those most 
common among one's contemporaries without coming 
into constant conflict with those contemporaries. But in 
order for this to be true it is necessary that one have, 
v along with the interests and ideas which dominate his own 
life, some appreciation of the interests and ideals of others. 
It is necessary for him, in some degree at least, to be able to 
put himself into the other fellow's shoes. This is what the 
crank is unable to do. He can see no point of view other than 
his own. He thinks that the rest of the population is made 
up of fools or miscreants and he acts toward them accordingly. 
As a consequence, he is likely to be avoided, laughed at, and 
at times treated with cruel injustice, no matter what the 
ultimate value of his ideas may be. And this treatment 
typically leads him to become more and more bitter and 
intolerant toward those among whom he is forced to live. 
It is true that the crank, by virtue of this fact that he has 
such a narrow vision, is often willing to sacrifice everything 
for his own notions. And occasionally, as we have said, 
great accomplishment results. Nevertheless, the crank is 
out of tune with the world and furnishes a poor model of 
personal organization. 

Although great things are sometimes done by persons who 
are out of sympathy with the ideas and interests of those 
with whom they live, the mere fact that one is queer furnishes, 
as we have said, no guarantee of such accomplishment. 
Furthermore, the fact that one is so organized that he is able 
to get on with his fellows and to take a sympathetic view of 
their ideas, even when he does not agree with them, is no 


reason why he should not make important and original con- 
tributions to the welfare and happiness of society. From all 
we know of William Shakespeare's more productive years, 
they were spent as a well-balanced individual might expect 
to spend them. Apparently his plays were written to please 
the theater-going public and not to reform it. And the fact 
that, when produced, the plays were well attended and fin- 
ancially successful indicates that, with all his great ability 
and originality, he understood and sympathized with public 
taste. Shakespeare, if we may judge from the historical 
records of his career, was an up-to-date, successful citizen. 
He knew what people wanted, he gave it to them, and in 
return he received liberal rewards in the form of both ad- 
miration and money. Nor is there any reason to believe 
that his genius was less because it was in harmony with the 
spirit of his time. 

We should learn to see ourselves as others see us. 
There is a strong tendency in each of us to consider that our 
own interests designate what are really the most important 
things in life. If we like painting, we assume that painting 
is the finest form of art. If we are business men, we assume 
that other than business affairs have a merely superficial 
value. If we are scholars, we assume that no human accom- 
plishments are quite so praiseworthy as those of learning. 
When such assumptions are made just as we have stated 
them, without due allowance for our personal bias, they 
mark a certain defect in personal organization. 

wad some power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as others see us! 
It wad frae monie a blunder free us 
And foolish notion. 

Now this ability occasionally to look upon our own 
opinions and interests from other people's points of view 


is as important as understanding what are the ruling factors 
in the lives of others. If I am constantly coming into 
conflict with my fellows I cannot for long maintain a calm, 
stable, healthy personality. And the avoidance of such 
conflict depends quite as much upon understanding what 
others think of me and my interests as it does upon my 
understanding of their interests. 

There are few elements of personality that better indicate 
good or poor personal organization than one's sense of humor. 
To be able to see a joke on oneself, to be able to see the 
humorous aspects of one's own character, these are great 
assets when it comes to standing up under the stresses and 
strains of life. The minister who can see a funny side to the 
fact that his occupation is supposed automatically to make 
him sinless is much more likely to get on well with himself 
and with his layman fellows than the minister who takes 
himself too seriously. If the scholar, interested in some 
remote corner of knowledge, can appreciate and actually 
enjoy the ridiculousness of his occupation as viewed 
through the eyes of the average man, he is hardly likely to 
feel himself cut off from society because of the pecu- 
liarity of his interests. An important fact about this 
ability to see a joke on oneself is that it indicates a larger 
ability to see oneself, not only from one's own necessarily 
prejudiced point of view, but also from the point of view of 
others. The ability to smile at one's own peculiarities means 
that one has that much poise and self-control. 

Our guiding interests should be in definite accomplish- 
ments. Several years ago one of the greatest Americans 
of his time attended a meeting of a small group of men who 
were studying for the ministry. During the course of the 
meeting the great man was called upon to say a few words to 
this group of earnest students. The essential message which 


he delivered to them was summed up in one brief sentence : 
" There is nothing in all the world so priggish as the cultivation 
of character." 

Now what did he mean by this? Surely he did not mean 
that honesty, courage, kindliness, and the whole list of 
virtues were worthless, nor did he mean that these virtues 
could be cultivated only in a spirit of conceit. What he 
did mean is plainly this, that the finer qualities of character 
can be cultivated successfully only indirectly through con- 
crete achievements. Courage in the abstract is less im- 
portant than the definite situations in which one can learn 
to act courageously. One can learn to endure physical 
suffering, to speak the truth where the truth needs to be 
spoken, to stand up bravely under criticism, and under many 
other circumstances to act courageously, but any attempt 
to cultivate courage apart from specific habits of action, 
thought, and feeling is almost sure to fail. 

It is astonishing how many personalities are lacking in 
forcefulness precisely because of the vague indefimteness of 
their ruling interests. Many a man, dominated by a desire 
for wealth or fame, is hopelessly lacking in ideas regarding 
the concrete business of carrying out his desires. If he were 
primarily interested in banking or politics and only second- 
arily interested in wealth or fame, his chances of acquiring 
the latter would be considerably enhanced. Of course, it is 
well for a man to know toward what distant goal he is 
working, but interest in a distant goal will seldom keep one 
expending his best efforts day in and day out over a long 
period of time. There needs to be a strong interest in the 
work as well as in the hoped-for outcome. Wealth and 
fame are matters of a far-away and indefinite future which, 
for most of us, will never actually arrive. If our main 
interest in life is in those things, the concrete achievements 


of everyday life are likely to seem dull and trivial. As a 
consequence our efforts are prone to flag and we may come 
to seek satisfaction in dreaming rather than in doing. The 
concrete actualities of daily work are, however, close to all of 
us. If we can but find a strong interest in them, there will 
be little doubt of our staying on the track, of our putting our 
best into our jobs. 

We should try to understand our own motives and in- 
terests. Suppose we ask a woman why she attends the 
opera. It is fairly certain, is it not, that she will tell us of 
her great love of music. Almost everyone knows that such 
an answer may or may not be true. If it is not true, we are 
by no means justified in saying that the woman has tried to 
deceive us. It is quite possible that she would never attend 
the opera if fashion had not made it the correct thine/ to do. 
But in that case she may be totally unaware of why she goes 
to the opera. She may sincerely think that she is a thorough 
music lover. In the chapter on reasoning we said that a 
statement that sounds well is very likely to be accepted as 
true. Especially is this so if the statement is not easily 
checked up in some way. Nowhere do we find this 
acceptance of the high-sounding explanation so ready as 
in the case of our own actions. And here, too, a strong 
reason for its acceptance lies in the fact that it is not easily 
checked. Let us suppose that fashion is the strongest factor 
in making the woman we have questioned attend the opera. 
The woman has never had an opportunity to go to a musically 
meritorious, but unfashionable opera. If she had, she might 
have come to realize that music meant less to her than style, 
but, since she has not, she is perfectly willing to give the best 
reason she can think of as her reason for attending the opera. 
This business of making up a high-sounding explanation of 
one's own actions and accepting it without criticism is 


indulged in to some extent by everybody. Psychologists 
call it rationalizing. 

The universal tendency to rationalize is one thing that 
makes it rather difficult for people to understand themselves. 
Since the vast majority of people are not even aware of the 
prevalence of the tendency, they go on fooling themselves 
without making an attempt to get at their real motives. 

Sometimes our motives for acting as we do lie beyond the 
possibility of immediate discovery and can be got at only by 
a long-continued study of ourselves. I know a man who has 
an antagonistic attitude toward those who have had more 
education than he has had. He can enumerate a long list 
of faults which he firmly believes most college men possess. 
He also believes that it is because they have these faults 
that he is prejudiced against men with college training. To 
be thoroughly accounted for, however, this prejudice would 
have to be traced back to factors in his own life. Many of 
these he may have forgotten, or, if he has not forgotten them, 
it is unlikely that he could see any relationship between 
them and his antagonism toward college men. He may at 
one time have wanted very much to go to college and perhaps 
he was disappointed. Under these conditions a person will 
often get over his disappointment by the " sour-grapes 
method"- by telling himself that college breeds more conceit 
than learning, that college men become impractical, and so on. 

In other cases the real motives that underlie our rational- 
izing are more easily discovered. If I come upon a hard 
problem in connection with my work, I can think of a dozen 
fine-sounding excuses for putting off its solution. I can 
think of all the physical benefit to be derived from a half day 
in the country. I can think of a dozen reasons why I should 
take my mind off this troublesome affair until my head is 
clearer, and so on, and so on. And yet, if I but pause a 


moment to be honest with myself, I can scarcely help 
seeing that my real motive is a desire to get away from a 
difficult task which I shall be no better prepared to solve 
later than I am now. 

In order to understand ourselves then and self-control 
can scarcely be gained without such understanding we 
must no more be deceived by the false arguments that we 
concoct than by those concocted by others. 

This above all : to thine own self be true, 
And it must follow as the night the day, 
Thou canst not then be false to any man. 


1. An individual consists of all his habits and also of the 
organization of these habits. 

2. We cannot discover from one act of behavior the nature 
of the personality behind that act. Only a prolonged study 
of a person, in which we get acquainted with his ideas, can 
give us a notion of the total man. Considerable experience 
is required even as a basis for understanding one's own 

3. Our behavior is sometimes more representative of our 
total personality than at other times. Impulsive, thought- 
less behavior is least representative of the whole man. 
Voluntary behavior is most representative of the whole man. 
There are, of course, some occasions upon which behavior is 
in direct violation of what one knows to be his real per- 
sonality. Such is the nature of what we call involuntary 

4. In a healthy personality the various habits and systems 
of habits must be properly balanced. Not all kinds of habits 
will go together successfully. 

5. It is necessary for a person to be more or less dominated 


by a small number of interests. This does not mean that 
there is a disadvantage in being interested in many things, 
but merely that it is necessary for a few interests to dominate 
the rest. Otherwise one's life lacks purpose and plan. 

6. Almost any habit systems or lines of interest are 
capable of dominating a personality. What interests are 
most frequently found dominating persons varies from time 
to time and from community to community. Even at the 
same time and in the same community we find considerable 
variety in the factors dominating different people. 

7. It would be unwise to try to dictate in the case of every 
child just what shall be the principal interest around which 
his personality should be organized. There are nevertheless 
certain general rules about the selection of such interests 
which may well be kept in mind. " 

a. Guiding interests should be in the world of reality rather 

than in a fictitious world arranged to suit one's fancy. 

b. Guiding interests should fit in reasonably well with the 

community in which we live. Even if we cannot 
support the main beliefs and interests of that com- 
munity, we shall get on much better if we at least 
make an effort to understand why the ideas of those 
around us are not the same as ours. 

c. We should learn to see ourselves from the other fellow's 

point of view. This does not mean giving up our 
own interests, but merely learning to realize how we 
must seem to a person whose interests are other than 
our own. 

d. Guiding interests should be in definite accomplishments 

rather than in the cultivation of abstract traits of 
character or in the reaching of remote and im- 
probable goals. It is wise to hitch our wagon to a 
star only if we are willing to forget the star's pulling 


power and to depend largely upon the pushing power 
which we can exert upon our wagon from behind, 
e. We should seek knowledge about what our dominant 
interests really are. The fact that we have dominant 
interests does not mean that we even half understand 
them. Yet such understanding is necessary for the 
attainment of self-control. 


1. What points in the summary deal with the first of the questions 
raised at the beginning of the chapter? With the second? 

2. Write a description of the personality of someone whom you know 
very well. (It will be better not to give his name.) Show how your 
knowledge of this person is based upon his ideas as well as upon his be- 
havior. Show also how your knowledge of your own personality has 
helped you to understand this individual. 

3. Tell how your knowledge of your own personality has been aided 
by what you know of other people. 

4. Describe an instance of voluntary behavior, of impulsive behavior, 
of involuntary behavior. Discuss the degree to which the whole person- 
ality is represented in each case. 

5. No personality is perfect. What steps might you take to make 
yourself a more effective individual? 


James, Psychology, Briefer Course, pp. 176-181; or Readings in 
General Psychology, Oh. XX, Selection 3-A, p. 527 fT. 

Wash burn, in Studies in Psychology, (in honor of Professor Titchener), 
pp. 11-17; or Redd ings. Oh. XX, Selection 5-A, p. 539 ff. 

Hcrrick, Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 1904, 
pp. 120-123; or Readings, Oh. XX, Selection 5-B, p. 545 if. 

Hart, The Psychology of Insanity (3d. ed.), pp. 40-52; or Readings, 
Ch. XX, Selection 7, p. '551 ff. 

Cory, Psychological Review, 1919, pp. 397-406; or Readings, Ch. XX, 
Selection 8-A, p. 555 ff. 

Cory, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1919, pp. 281-285; or Readings, 
Ch. XX, Selection 8-B, p. 563 ff. 

Wells, Mental Adjustments, Dp. 11-12; or Readings, Ch. XIX, Selection 
10, p. 518 f. 









1. How can abilities be measured? 

2. Plow are high, medium, and low abilities distributed among people 
in general? 

3. What are complex abilities, and how are they measured? 

4. What are general abilities, and how are they measured? 

Abilities are elements of personality. What an indi- 
vidual is and how well he is able to face the trials of life 
depend, as we have seen, upon what habits he has formed 
and the manner in which those habits are organized. But 
in order to know an individual well we must do more than 
ask ourselves what habits he has formed and how those 
habits are organized. We must also ask ourselves at what 
level of efficiency his various habits are capable of operating. 
There is some value in knowing that a man is interested in 
politics, but there is more value in knowing how expert his 
judgment is in this field; there is some value in knowing 
that a man sells life insurance for a living, but there is more 
value in knowing just how good a salesman he is; there is 
some value in knowing that a man plays tennis, but there is 
more value in knowing how well he plays that game. Thus, 



in the study of individuality we should give considerable 
attention to differences in the efficiency of people's habits 
and to the methods by means of which we measure such 

The efficiency of any of an individual's many habits can 
be considered. A habit considered in regard to the level of 
efficiency at which it operates, is usually spoken of as an 


Abilities, like physical traits, are subject to measurement. 

Whenever we wish to describe such a physical trait as 
height, we do so in terms of quantity. We say that John 
is six feet, one and one-half inches tall, or, if we lack precise 
information, that John is a little taller than his father and a 
little shorter than his older brother. In either case we have 
described John's height in terms of quantity, though it is of 
course apparent that the description in terms of inches is 
considerably more exact than the rough comparison between 
John's height and the heights of two other people. Weight 
and diameter of skull are other traits which are capable of 
being measured and described in fairly exact, quantitative 

It is also possible to measure and describe quantitatively 
many of the abilities which individuals possess. By means 
of the proper instruments we can measure strength of grip, 
speed of running different distances, and height or distance 
that can be jumped. In schools, by means of tests and 
examinations, teachers measure the ability of their pupils 
to spell, to name the capitals of states, to solve problems 
in arithmetic and algebra. Business executives keep track 
of the orders taken by their salesmen so that as accurate 
measurements as possible can be made of their ability to sell. 


Human abilities are often measured in terms of rank 
order. As we have shown, even when we lack instru- 
ments for exact measurement, it is possible to give a rough 
quantitative statement of the height of an individual by 
comparing him with other individuals. We can say of John, 
for instance, that within that group of persons made up of 
John, his father, and his older brother, he is in the middle 
position in respect to height. This method of measurement 
in terms of rank is often the only one that can be satis- 


This and the following samples of handwriting (Figs 42, 43, and 44) range from the very 
poor to the very good They can bo used as a sort of measuring stick for rating other speci- 
mens (From the Ayres Handwriting Scale ) 

factorily employed in measuring human ability. Although 
ability to run fast can be measured in terms of seconds, 
ability to jump in terms of feet and inches, and ability to 
shoot a rifle in terms of the number of times a target of a 
certain size can be hit from a given distance, there are many 
human abilities to which these or similar units of measure- 
ment cannot be applied. Handwriting is a case in point. 
About the only practicable way of measuring the quality of a 
person's handwriting is to compare a fair specimen of it with 


specimens from the handwriting of other persons. It is 
possible from such comparisons to judge about how much 

FIG. 42 

merit a given specimen of handwriting possesses in terms 
of where this specimen belongs within a larger group of 

Skill at tennis is another ability which cannot be measured 
satisfactorily except in terms of rank order. By matching 

. ff ' 

FIG. 43 

a player first with one and then with another of a group of 
players, it is possible to determine the standing of the first 


player within the group. We can consider that those whom 
our player beats have less ability than he, and that those 
who beat him have more ability than he. If, as a result of 
nine matches, we discover eight players whom he can defeat 
and one who can defeat him, we can say that he ranks second 
in the whole group. The baseball-playing ability of each 
league team is measured in terms of rank. By means of 
contests, which are arranged so as to bring all teams into 
conflict with all other teams in the league an equal number 

v ff 

FIG. 44 

of times, the abilities of the teams are compared. From 
these contests the ranks of the teams are arrived at, and 
these ranks are measurements of their skill. In other words, 
there is no way of stating, at the end of the season, just 
how much playing ability is possessed by the Giants, except 
by comparing them with the teams against whom they have 
beto playing. 

All measurements of human ability are based upon 
comparison of actual individuals. When we measure the 
ability of one individual by assigning to him his relative 
position or rank among other individuals, we have to make 


certain direct comparisons among the individuals involved. 
When we say that John ranks between his father and his 
older brother in regard to height, we have to compare 
John directly with each of these other persons. Now there 
are instances, as we have already said, in which human 
ability can be measured in terms other than those of rank. 
We can, for example, measure the speed with which a man 
can run by timing him over a one-hundred-yard stretch. 
We can then describe his ability to run by saying that he 
can do the one-hundred-yard dash in ten seconds. Clearly 
such a measurement as this does not demand that the speed 
of the runner in question be brought into comparison 
with the speed of other runner's. It would be perfectly 
possible to state the rate at which Jones can do the one- 
hundred-yard dash, even if no other human being had ever 
run that far before. This stands in marked contrast with 
the method we use when we measure the merit of hand- 
writing. If no one but Jones had ever written before, it 
would be totally impossible to determine how well Jones 
can write. 

From our discussion thus far it might seem that measure- 
ments in terms of seconds, feet, and the like, which do not 
demand the direct comparison of individuals with individuals, 
are vastly superior to those in terms of rank order. A little 
thought, however, quickly reveals the fact that measure- 
ments of human ability in terms other than those of rank are 
not so much better after all. Let us suppose that we have 
timed Jones and have discovered that he can run one hundred 
yards in ten seconds. Do we know from this whether Jones 
is a fast or a slow runner? Of course, anyone who is familiar 
with sport knows that this is good time. Nevertheless it is 
good time only because it is better time than can be made 
by the vast majority of people. In other words, it is only 


because of what we know of other runners that we are able 
to say that Jones's running ability is of a good order. If we 
knew nothing about the ability to run possessed by others, 
Jones's time would not give us any very intelligible infor- 
mation about his ability to run. 

Let us suppose that we had tested out Brown's ability to 
learn poetry by heart and that in that test he had succeeded 
in memorizing ten stanzas of "The Ancient Mariner" during 
the thirty minutes allowed him for study. We could state 
in definite, quantitative terms Brown's ability as u memorizer, 
but this statement, however definite, would not in itself be 
especially enlightening. In fact, it would not be nearly so 
enlightening as a mere statement of Brown's rank as a 
memorizer among other memorizers. Something would 
have to be known about the memorizing ability of some other 
individuals and Brown's achievement would have to be 
brought into comparison with the achievements of those 
others before it would really mean anything. Te.n stanzas 
learned in thirty minutes might designate either good or 
poor memorizing ability. All depends upon how much 
other persons can memorize during the same length of 

Thus we see that, even when an ability is of such a kind as 
to make possible its measurement in seconds, feet, or other 
similar units, we are never rid of the necessity of interpreting 
one man's ability in terms of the ability of others. Only to 
the extent to which comparisons of this kind are made do 
seconds, for example, become meaningful. The standards 
in respect to which human abilities are measured must 
always be based upon abilities as they actually occur in 
human life. There are no absolute standards of ability 
that can be applied without reference to real human 


Attempt to determine one man's ability without reference 
to ability possessed by others often leads to false results. 
The other day I heard of a teacher of mathematics who had 
given very low marks to over half of the members of a large 
class. Not only that, but he was in the habit of giving a 
large number of low marks year after year. This meant 
that he considered most of his students very low in mathe- 
matical ability. The probability is, however, that he and 
hi$ methods of marking, rather than his students, were the 
real source of the difficulty. If his standard of high ability 
had been taken from the achievements of the better students 
under his instruction, his standard of average ability from 
the achievements of the average students under his instruc- 
tion, and his standard of low ability from the poorer students 
under his instruction, he could hardly have designated more 
than half his class as of low ability. Instead of this he had 
created standards of ability with little or no reference to 
what students are actually capable of doing. It is 
very easy also to find teachers who err in the opposite 
direction. They give high marks to such a large number of 
their students that excellence no longer has any real meaning. 

There is a tendency present in most of us to judge human 
ability in terms of ideal, or even fanciful, standards instead 
of in terms of standards based upon what people actually 
can do. If we ask the average physician what are the 
capacities of a good physician, the chances are that he will 
describe someone whose powers are superior to those of any 
existing man. Without realizing it he will describe, not the 
abilities of a good physician, but rather the abilities of an 
ideal physician. Of course, the strict application of such 
standards to the flesh-and-blood physicians who actually 
exist would result in most of them appearing to be of very 
low ability. But it is not so much their own lack of ability 


as it is the false nature of the standard applied to them 
which puts them in such an unsatisfactory light. 

Scales for measuring ability need to be calibrated. 
If I knew that Jones were six feet and four inches tall, I still 
should not know whether he were a tall man or a short man, 
unless I knew something also about the heights of other men. 
Six feet and four inches happens to be an extreme height, 
but the only reason for this is to be found in the fact that a 
very small percentage of the population is so tall. If 
most people were even taller, six feet and four inches would 
designate shortness of stature. Thus it is apparent that the 
ordinary measuring scale of inches and feet can be applied 
intelligently to the measurement of height only after the 
meaning of each point on such a scale has been defined in 
terms of the statures of actual people. The process of 
establishing these meanings for different points on the scale 
is called calibrating the scale. Sometimes the whole pro- 
cedure is spoken of as the establishment of norms. 

In practice these calibrations or norms are likely to take 
some such form as the following table, which gives the 
average height of boys and the average height of girls at 
different ages. Having such data and knowing the height, 
age, and sex of a given child, we can say whether it is fair 
to consider him as tall, short, or approximately average. 



Age Average height of boys Average height of girls 

6.0 110.69 109.66 

6.5 113.25 112.51 

7.0 115.82 115.37 

7.5 118.39 118.22 

8.0 120.93 120.49 

8.5 123.48 122.75 

9.0 126.14 125.24 

9.5 128.80 127.74 

10.0 : ^.91 130.07 


Scales for measuring ability, like scales for measuring such 
physical characteristics as height, weight, and the like, need 
to be calibrated in terms of the performance of actual people. 
Psychologists sometimes record the rate at which a person 
can tap with a metal point upon a brass plate. Let us 
suppose that a certain subject, when tested, taps 184 times 
in 30 seconds. Is his rate of movement rapid or slow? It is 
evident that we must have more information than that 


The subject taps as fast as ho can with the pointer, and the number of taps is recorded 
by an electric counter attached to the board. 

supplied by the figures themselves before we can answer the 
question. We must know how fast other persons can tap. 

But even that would not give us a reliable basis for judg- 
ment unless those other people were of the same general sort as 
the person tested. If our subject be a boy of thirteen years, 
his rate of tapping should be interpreted in terms of the rates 
of other thirteen-year-old boys and not in terms of the tapping 
rates of girls, or of men, or of boys of ages differing from his. 
Furthermore, the rates of those other thirteen-year-olds 
should have been established by the same kind of expert- 


ment as that by which his rate was established. If his 
tapping was performed with his right hand, it should be 
compared with tapping rates attained by others with the 
same hand. The accompanying table furnishes a basis for 
interpreting the meaning of a tapping rate of 184 per 30 sec- 
onds in a boy of thirteen years. From it we learn that the 
subject in question is neither a rapid nor a slow tapper, but 
one of average speed. 



^ Average taps per i>() sees, , Average taps per 30 sees. 

with right hand ' ' with right hand 

S H7 14 184 

<) l. r ,L 15 191 

10 161 1() 196 

11 1(59 17 196 

12 170 IS 197 

13 1S1 

Accurate calibration requires more than average. If 

we know the height of a man and know also the average 
height of other men, we can say roughly whether the man 
in question is relatively short or relatively tall. If we know 
that a certain boy taps 196 times in 30 seconds arid if we 
know also the average tapping rate, with the same hand, of 
boys of his own age, we can say roughly whether the boy in 
question is a relatively slow or a relatively rapid tapper. 
But that is about all we can say in these cases. We cannot 
say without more basis than this whether the man who is 
taller than average is very much or only slightly taller; we 
cannot say whether the rapid tapper is very much or only 
slightly more rapid than the average boy of his age. In 
order to do more than this we need to know, not only what 
the average attainment is, but just how widely scattered 
people are about that average. We happen to know that 


a man six feet and four inches tall is very much taller than 
average. Our knowledge here is not, however, based upon 
the simple fact that the average height is about five feet and 
eight inches. A divergence of eight inches from the average 
height is actually a large divergence, but that is not because 
eight inches is necessarily a great distance. It is rather 
because so few people happen to differ this much from the 

Norms of the more complete variety necessary for accurate 
interpretations of ability may take the form of the following 





Number of digits Frequency in 6th- . r , , Frequency in 

i - s, f > i 7 / -i i N umber of -pairs , . , , , 

corned in 60 seconds grade child r en ;7 , ' * , high-school 

1 * added in 60 seconds * - 7 

t o 9 pupils 

10 to 19 12 20 to 29 2 

20 to 29 22 30 to 39 4 

30 to 39 IS 40 to 49 41 

40 to 49 57 50 to 59 113 

50 to 59 107 GO to 69 272 

60 to 69 291 70 to 79 235 

70 to 79 536 SO to 89 196 

SO to 89 1274 90 to 99 86 

90 to 99 1256 100 to 109 43 

100 to 109 1066 110 to 119 2 

110 to 119 494 120 to 129 2 

120 to 129 359 

130 to 139 61 

140 to 149 36 

150 to 159 19 

160 to 169 47 

170 to 179 2 

ISO to 189 1 

The first of these tables shows how many sixth-grade 
children copied between and 9 digits in 60 seconds, how 
many copied between 10 and 19 digits in 60 seconds, and so 



on. While the average number copied has not been cal- 
culated, we can tell by mere observation that it lies some- 
where between 80 and 109 digits in 60 seconds. Any 
individual child, therefore, making a score of between 80 and 
109 in this test may fairly be judged to be neither fast nor 





The test consinted HI dictating ten rnonos> liable nouns The persons then recorded tho 
number of worclb that they remembered The hori/ontal axis indicates the number of words 
arid the vertical axis indicates the number of persons having each memory abihty. (From 
Starch, Educational Psychology, The Macnullan Company.) 

slow, but medium, in copying digits. A child who scores 
65 is clearly slower than the average, and yet he can hardly 
be judged extremely slow because there are, after all, a good 
many children who copy no faster or even more slowly. A 
child whose score is 125 is clearly faster than the average, and 
yet he can hardly be judged extremely fast, because there are 
a good many children who copy as fast or faster. But a 


child who scores 6 is certainly to be described as extremely 
slow and the child who scores 175 is certainly to be described 
as extremely fast. In the former case we are dealing with 
one of the nine slowest out of several thousand individuals, 


20 80 40 

Associations per 15 Seconds 


FIG. 47. 


The horizontal axis represents the number of words given in !."> aeeonds. The vertiea 
axis represents the number of persons of each ability. Based on the records of 135 persord 
(From Starch, \bid ) 

and in the latter with one of the three fastest out of several 

Data regarding the distribution of ability are often made 
vivid by being shown in the form of a graphic figure like those 
above. (Figs. 46 and 47) 

Most abilities are distributed in the same general manner. 
The distribution of the abilities represented in the forq- 


going tables and in the graphs are fairly typical of abilities 
of all sorts. In the first place, if we consider the various 
amounts of ability from the highest to the lowest, and if 
we consider a great many individuals, we usually find 
that every intermediate degree is represented by some- 
body. That is to say, there are no great gaps in our tables 
or our graphs. In the second place, a great many persons 
are clustered near the average. As we depart from the 
average we find fewer and fewer persons possessing each 
degree of ability encountered, until finally we come to 
degrees of ability so low or so high that they are possessed 
by no one or by practically no one. In the third place, we 


The base line represents varying degrees of some ability. The height of the graph at each 
point shows the number of persons having that degree of ability. 

usually find about as many persons of less than average 
ability as we do persons of more than average ability. 

The facts learned from the study of how abilities actually 
are distributed are of some consequence, because they show 
us the error in certain common opinions. For example, we 
sometimes hear it said of a certain ability that a person either 
has it to a high degree or else does not have it at all. If 
that were true, we should find people clustering around two 
regions around a region high in the scale of measurement 
and around a region low in the scale of measurement and 
we should find a pronounced gap between the two. If such 
a distribution were represented graphically, it would appear 
something like Figure 48. Distributions of ability rarely, 
however, take such form. In fact, they practically never .do 


unless there is something other than the ability in question 
which tends to divide the persons whose ability is measured 
into two distinct groups. If we represented in the same 
graph the distribution of running ability of 100 ten-year-olds 
and 100 fifteen-year-olds, we should undoubtedly find our 
individuals clustering about two points rather than one. 
But this division would be caused by the difference in ages 
rather than by the nature of the trait itself. It would by 
no means snow that people tend to be either fast runners or 
slow runners. 


Abilities may be simple or complex. As we showed in 
Chapter III, every individual possesses not only simple 
habits, but also systems or organizations of such habits. 
We may now properly call the level of efficiency of a simple 
habit, such as distinguishing the higher from the lower of 
two tones, a simple ability. The level of efficiency of a 
complex system of habits, such as tennis playing, we may 
properly call a complex ability. 

Simple abilities are easier to measure. As a general 
rule, the simpler an ability, the easier is the task of measuring 
it and the more likely is the measurement to be accurate. 
One can measure the accuracy with which a baseball player 
can throw or the speed with which he can run very much 
more easily than one can measure his efficiency in baseball 
playing as a whole. One can measure a student's efficiency 
in giving the French equivalents for a list of English words 
more easily than one can measure as a whole the same 
student's ability to use the French language. 

This fact that complex abilities are usually harder to 
measure than simpler ones has much practical importance. 
While we do, upon occasion, wish to know how well someone 


can distinguish between higher and lower tones, how quickly 
he can run one hundred yards, or how accurately he can 
translate a certain French sentence, still we are more often 
concerned with abilities of greater complexity. What we 
are likely to need in everyday life is knowledge, not of some- 
one's simpler abilities, but rather of his ability as a pianist, 
his ability as a football player, or his ability to use 

We can sometimes analyze complex abilities into simpler 
abilities. Since simpler abilities are, as a rule, easier to 
measure accurately than are those of greater complexity, it 
is only natural for us to ask ourselves whether it would not be 
possible to break up a complex ability into a number of 
abilities of a simpler sort, and then to measure these simpler 
abilities separately. This procedure has, as a matter of fact, 
been found practicable in many instances. Consider, for 
example, the ability to drive an automobile. On the face of 
it, any attempt to measure this complex ability as a single 
whole would be extremely difficult. A practice which has 
sometimes been adopted is that of analyzing automobile 
driving into such simpler abilities as steering, shifting gears, 
starting, stopping, backing, and braking. Upon the basis 
of one's performance in these simpler tasks a judgment is 
made of one's efficiency in the complex business of driving a 
car. In a similar way the young doctor's ability in medicine 
is determined by dividing this great field of knowledge into 
a number of simpler parts, such as anatomy and physiology, 
and then measuring his mastery of those parts. 

But this determination of the level of a complex ability 
through the measurement of its parts is by no means an 
infallible procedure. Even when we are able to detect all 
the simple abilities composing a complex ability (and this 
is a very difficult matter), we are faced with the question as 


to just how, in the complex ability, the simpler ones are 
organized. It is certainly evident that braking, gear shifting, 
steering, and the rest are not all of equal importance in 
automobile driving. Although all of them are important, a 
high degree of ability in steering should probably receive 
more weight than a high degree of ability in shifting gears. 
But how much more weight? The difficulty of answering 
that question in any exact terms is clear. 

There is another prevalent source of error in the analytic 
measurement of complex abilities. Often the important 
fact about one of these complex abilities is how well the 
simpler acts which compose it operate in combination. A 
difficult situation" might easily arise in which a driver, who 
could ordinarily steer accurately and shift gears easily, would 
perform wretchedly when faced with the necessity of doing 
both well at once. Now, just this type of circumstance is 
likely to be overlooked when we judge a complex ability on 
the basis of the simpler abilities of which it consists. 


General abilities also may be measured. There is 
often a need for measuring such general abilities as manual 
dexterity or intelligence. The problem which such a need 
presents is in many ways more difficult than the measure- 
ment of complex abilities of the type we have just been dis- 
cussing. Manual dexterity in general involves all of the 
manifestations of such dexterity of which the individual is 
capable. It may mean his dexterity with a hundred dif- 
ferent kinds of tools, his dexterity in all the games of skill 
that he knows, his dexterity with foodstuffs or chemicals, his 
dexterity in driving a car, and so on. Obviously the measure- 
ment of even the greater part of these would be impossible. 
The actual procedure in measuring a general ability like 



dexterity is usually this: From among all of the simpler 
manual abilities of the individual a few are selected which 
seem to be fairly representative of the rest. These are 
measured, and upon this basis a conclusion is reached as to 
the general ability. 

The measurement of dexterity. In the case of a general 
ability, like dexterity, it may not be feasible to measure its 
usual manifestations. One reason for this state of affairs 
is that even such relatively simple manipulations as tying 
a shoe or eating salad may be extremely difficult, if not 
impossible, to measure. As a result, special tests are some- 

times devised for the 
measurement of vari- 
ous aspects of dexter- 
ity. The speed with 
which one can move 
the hand may be 
measured by having 
a person push down- 
4 _, _ ward on a telegraph 


HAND key at a given signal. 

Such reactions nor- 
n . , . ., 

mally take in the 
neighborhood of only one-tenth of a second, so that delicate 
apparatus is required. Such apparatus is to be found, 
however, in many psychological laboratories. Another test 
for speed of movement is the one that requires the sub- 
ject to strike a metal plate with a metal pointer as often 
as possible within a stated interval of time (see Fig. 45). 
The number of contacts of pointer on plate is registered by 
means of an electric counter. There are many other tests of 
dexterity. In one the subject holds a metal pointer in a 
small hole in a metal plate as long as possible without letting 

Every time the stylus touches the edge of the hole there 
is an electrical registration. 


it touch the edge of the hole. In another he thrusts with 
a pencil at a paper target. 

The measurement of general intelligence. In modern 
life it is perhaps even more necessary to measure general 
intellectual ability than it is to measure general dexterity. 
Many tests have been devised by psychologists for this 
purpose. The method employed is essentially that which 
we have already described. A number of sample intellectual 
abilities thought to be fairly representative are selected and 
measurements are made of these. 

Alfred Binet, about the beginning of the present century, 
devised one of the first tests of general intelligence. His 
test was really a series of tests applicable to children of 
different ages. A revision of the Binet tests made by Pro- 
fessor Terman of Stanford University is widely used in 
American schools. The following summaries of the tests for 
three-year-olds and for ten-year-olds give an excellent idea 
of the wide variety of intellectual abilities measured for the 
purpose of determining intellectual ability in general. 1 

AGE 3 

Points to the nose, eyes, mouth, hair. To pass the test, the child 
must succeed in 3 of the 4 tasks. 

Names familiar objects key, penny, closed knife, watch, pencil. 
Subject must succeed in 3 of the 5 tests. 

Enumerates at least 3 objects seen in 1 of 3 pictures displayed sep- 

Gives sex, i.e., boy or girl. 
Tells last name. 

Repeats sentence containing 6 or 7 syllables; e.g., "The dog runs 
after the cat." 
Repeats 3 digits, one success in 3 trials. 

AGE 10 

Defines satisfactorily at least 30 words of a list of 50, ranged in order 
from easy to difficult. Words at about the 10-year level of difficulty 

1 Summary taken from Gates, Psychology for Students of Education, p. 423 
(The Macmillan Company). 



are: bewail, priceless, disproportionate, tolerate, artless, depredation, 
lotus, frustrate. The hardest words in the list which are mainly too 
difficult for the average adult are: piscatorial, sudorific, parterre, 
shagreen, and complot. 

Detects the "absurdity " in 4 out of 5 statements such as the following: 
"A man said: 'I know a road from my house to the city which is 
down hill all the way to the city and down hill all the way back home." 
Copies from memory a geometrical figure previously studied for 
10 seconds. 

Gives satisfactory answers to 2 out of 3 questions such as the fol- 
lowing: "What ought you to say when someone asks your opinion 
about a person you don't know very well?" 

Must be able to say spontaneously at least 60 words any words of 
which the subject can think in a period of 3 minutes. 

There are also tests of general intelligence designed pri- 
marily for adults. One of the best known of these is the 

Army Alpha examination 
which was devised for 
measuring the general 
intelligence of soldiers. 
Like all other tests of 
general intelligence, this 
one requires the examinee 
to perform a variety of 
tasks. There are direc- 
tions to follow such as 
these: Make a cross in 
the space which is in 
the triangle but not in 
the square, and also make a figure 1 in the space which is 
in the triangle and in the square. (Not over 10 seconds 

There are 20 arithmetic problems to be solved. One part 
of the test requires the subject to select out of several possi- 
bilities the best reason why some fact is true. For example, 


FIG. 50. 

Square and triangle for Army Alpha examination. 
(See text.) 


the statement appears that cats are useful animals. The 
examinee must determine whether this is because : 

they catch mice 

they are gentle 

they are afraid of dogs 

In another place the examinee is required to complete a 
number series like 

10 15 20 25 30 35 
or 3 6 9 12 15 18 
These examples are sufficient to show the variety of tasks 
incorporated in this test of general intelligence. 

General ability tests employ the method of sampling. 
The method of measurement employed in the case of 
general abilities has parallels in other fields of measurement. 
If a man wishes to know the general quality of a carload of 
ore which he is purchasing, he does not have every piece in 
the car examined. That would usually not be feasible. 
Instead, therefore, he selects a number of pieces from various 
parts of the car and judges the carload in terms of these 
samples. Similarly in the measurement of general ability, 
the level of the general trait is based upon the samples. 

Why are general abilities important? In the affairs of 
everyday life it is not general dexterity nor general intelli- 
gence with which we have our practical dealings. The 
dexterity with which we are concerned is dexterity in this, 
that, and the other specific task. And the same is true for 
intelligence. Why then, one might ask, is it important to 
take measurements of general abilities? Perhaps the main 
reason runs something like this : Often we want to know how 
well a person is likely to acquire some complex habit or set 
of habits which he does not yet possess or which he now 
possesses to only a very limited degree. For example, 
we often want to know what chances a freshman has of 


profiting from a college course. We cannot wait until the 
end of his training to find out. Neither can we measure 
his ability in subjects which he has not yet studied. But 
we can measure his ability in intellectual realms where he has 
had experience. We can, for example, take into account the 
grades he made in high school. Consider the situation which 
confronted army officials as thousands of recruits poured into 
the cantonments following our entrance into the Great War. 
The officers wanted to know how able these men were to 
learn the science of warfare. Most of them had had no 
experience with military affairs, however, and clearly a test 
of their military ability would be of little significance. So, 
by means of the Army Alpha examination, measurements 
were taken of intellectual abilities which most of the recruits 
had had ample opportunities to acquire. In this way fairly 
reliable results could be obtained in regard to what level of 
intellectual attainment might be expected of these men in 
the future. Of men rating above C+ in this examination 
only 8.65 per cent failed to make good when put into an 
officers' training school. Of men rating below C+, 58.27 per 
cent failed to make good. 

The measurement of general musical ability. One of 
the most interesting attempts to measure a general ability is 
that which has been made by Professor Seashore of the 
University of Iowa in the field of music. Every child, from 
the early years of his life, has experience with tones of dif- 
ferent pitches, intensities, and timbres. He also comes into 
contact with harmonies, melodies, and rhythms. These 
experiences are often casual, but, nevertheless, some children 
learn a great deal from them. Others, of course, learn much 
less and still others learn scarcely anything at all. But here 
is the important point! The capacity of a person to profit 
by a formal musical education piano lessons, let us say 


can be predicted quite accurately from the musical abilities 
which he has acquired as a result of the informal musical 
experiences which almost everyone has. 

By means of laboratory methods, which there is no need 



Sense of Pitch 
Sense of Intensity 
Sense of Time 
Sense of Consonance 
Acuity of Hearing 
Auditory Imagery 
Timed Action 
Rhythmic Action 
Singing Key 
Singing Interval 
Voice Control 
Register of Voice 
Quality of Voice 


The scale at the top shows whether a large or a small amount of the talent is possessed, 
1 being the lowest unit and 100 the highebt (From Seashore, Psychology of Musical 
Talent, by permission of Silver, Burdett and Company.) 



for us to describe here, it is possible to measure those musical 
abilities upon which later development along this line will 
depend. -The results of such measurements are ordinarily 
put into the form of such charts as those shown by Figures 51, 
52, and 53. 

Sense of Pitch 
Sense of Intensity 
Sense of Time 
Sense of Consonance 
Acuity of Hearing 
Auditory Imagery 
Timed Action 
Rhythmic Action 
Singing Key 
Singing Interval 
Voice Control 
Register of Voice 
Quality of Voice 

) 1 

20 30 40 

50 60 70 80 90 10 



The explanation of Figure 51 applies to this chart also. (From Seashore, Psychology 
of Musical, Talent, by permission of Silver, Burdett and Company.) 


Mr. White scored high in practically all of the simpler 
musical abilities in respect to which he was measure 1. 

10 20 80 40 50 60 70 

90 100 

Sense of Pitch 
Sense of Intensity 
Sense of Time 
Sense of Consonance 
Acuity of Hearing 
Auditory Imagery 
Memory > 
Tuned Action 
Rhythmic Action 
Singing Key 
Singing Interval 
Voice Control 
Register of Voice 
Quality of Voice 



The explanation of Figure 51 applies to this chart also. (From Seashore, Psychology 
of Musical Talent, by permission of Silver, Burdett and Company.) 

Mr. Black, on the other hand, scored low in practically all of 
the simple musical abilities in respect to which he was 


measured. We may confidently say then that Mr. White 
is a man of good general musical ability, and we may feel 
fairly certain that he would profit from almost any sort of 
formal musical training. But Mr. Black possesses inferior 
general musical ability, and formal musical training in his 
case would probably be a waste of time and money. Mr. 
Gray's chart is more difficult to interpret. Some of his 
simpler musical abilities are good, some are poor, and some 
are medium. One might say, on these grounds, that his 
general musical ability is about average. There is a 
possibility, however, that he might develop considerable 
musical ability in some particular field of music where 
too great demands would not be made upon his weaker 

Measurement of general abilities has certain definite 
sources of error. In the measurement and interpretation 
of such general abilities as dexterity, intelligence, general 
musical ability, and the like, there are possibilities for 
making mistakes and these possibilities should be squarely 
faced. In the first place we may err by measuring too 
few of the abilities which are represented by the general 
ability in question. Such errors are frequently made in 
the measurement of general intelligence. Intellect may be 
shown in dealing with people, in dealing with physical 
objects, or in dealing with words and numbers. Never- 
theless the majority of tests which pretend to measure 
general intelligence (and this is certainly true of the Army 
Alpha examination of which we have spoken) take account 
almost solely of the subject's intelligence with words and 
numbers. As long as such tests are used for predicting how 
well one can get along with work which is largely a matter 
of words and numbers, no practical harm is done, but when 
judgments are made upon such a basis as to how well a 


person will be able to deal with people or with machinery 
there may be serious mistakes. 

If the individuals whose general ability is measured have 
had very unequal opportunities to acquire those particular 
abilities which are taken as representative of this general type 
of activity, then it is difficult to apply our measurements ac- 
curately. A high score in a test of general intelligence may 
mean that the person making this score picks up intellectual 
habits easily or that he has so far had unusually good oppor- 
tunities for picking up such habits. In practice we try to 
avoid this source of error by selecting as samples of a general 
ability the abilities which the individuals whom we are 
going to measure have had practically equal opportunities to 

Another important source of error occurs in the application 
of these measurements of general abilities. The virtue of 
measurements of dexterity in general is that they give us 
grounds upon which to predict how well a person will get 
along in any work or play requiring dexterity. The wider 
the variety of dexterities which we measure in determining 
general dexterity, the wider the variety of still unacquired 
dexterities that we can make predictions about. It is right 
here that there lies a source of error. A general ability 
may be so general that it gives some ground for predicting 
future abilities of almost any kind, but this very generality 
means that our predictions are likely to possess a low degree 
of accuracy. Let us suppose that we had measured a man's 
efficiency in 300 intellectual tasks and that 100 of them had 
dealt largely with words and numbers, 100 with people, and 
100 with physical objects. As a result we have some notion 
of his general intelligence which enables us to say something 
about how well he will get along in any situation requiring 
intelligent action, But our prediction of how well he will get 


on with words and numbers will be more accurate if we base 
that prediction, not upon his intelligence so far as it embraces 
all of his manifestations of intelligence, but rather so far as it 
embraces only his manifestations of intelligence in dealing 
with words and numbers. In other words, it is usually true 
that the more abilities are included in some general ability, 
the more widely, but the less accurately, we can apply our 
knowledge of that general ability. 

It is difficult to measure abilities under natural condi- 
tions. We have said that one reason for the invention of 
laboratory tests for different types of dexterity is the diffi- 
culty of measuring the precise abilities which are operative 
in actual, everyday life. We spoke of how difficult it would 
be to measure the efficiency of tying a shoe or eating salad. 
The difficulty of measuring abilities just as they appear in 
actual life is a source of error in all varieties of measurements 
of ability. Even when, for test purposes, it is possible to 
measure the ability to steer, the ability to shift gears, or 
some other ability of indisputable importance for practical 
life, it is usually impossible to test them under natural 
conditions. Sometimes the conditions under which the 
test is performed make a person very much more anxious 
to do well than he normally is. The test conditions 
may also be of such a nature as to disturb his usual calm 


Value of measurements of ability depends upon how well 
they work in practice. Whenever sources of error are 
pointed out in any procedure, there are always some people 
who want to throw over the procedure in disgust. Since it k 
not possible for human beings to have perfect methods foi 
measuring ability, or for any other purpose so far as that goes 


such an attitude is absurd. Although our present methods 
of measuring abilities give us only approximations, still 
approximations are better than mere guesses. And we shall 
be led to increase the accuracy of our present approximations, 
not by neglecting sources of error, but by facing and ac- 
knowledging them. 

We have considered a few of the outstanding sources of 
error in measurements of ability. Knowing what these are, 
we are enabled to go about the business of measurement more 
wisely. Nevertheless, the real determination of the accuracy 
of our measurements must depend upon how well they work 
in practice. The accuracy of our measurements of skill in 
automobile driving can get its final and most reliable check 
only in terms of how well these measurements agree with the 
abilities which men show after they have actually been on 
the job driving a car. We have said that high-school 
grades are used as measurements of general scholarly ability 
and that, upon this basis, predictions are made as to how 
well freshmen will get along with college studies. The final 
test of how well such a procedure operates must come from a 
study of how well college students with good high-school 
grades get along as compared with students with poorer 
high-school grades. When he who does well in tests of auto- 
mobile driving also proves to be a good driver under the 
conditions of real life, we say that there is a positive correlation 
between ability as tested and ability as manifested on the 
actual job. Similarly, we say that there is a positive cor- 
relation between high-school grades and scholarly achieve- 
ment in college if those who jnake the highest grades in 
high school also make the highest grades in college. The 
practical success of measurements of ability, then, depends 
upon whether they have a good correlation with some later 
manifestation of ability which it is desirable for us to predict. 



Employee *^ 
A 1 


, Ranking in 
y ability by two 









F . . 





















Q *. 





in the above table we can see how well a test designed to 
measure general alertness correlates with actual success in an 
office job. Nineteen employees were tested and ranked 
according to their performance in the test. The person 
making the highest score was given a rank of 1, and the 
person making the lowest score was given a rank of 19. 
The others were arranged between according to their scores. 
The reason why two of the employees were given ranks of 
7.5 is that they both made the same score. In the right-hand 
column of the table are the ranks of the same employees as 
decided by supervisors who knew their performance, not 
in the test, but on the job. The correspondence between 
the two sets of ranks is, in this case, fairly good. While 
only one employee has the same rank according to test and 

1 Adapted from Korahauser and Kingsbury. 


supervisors, still the individuals having high ranks in one 
column have, in most cases, high ranks in the other column, 
and the same is true for those with low ranks. Such a test is 
decidedly useful. Its measurements are not perfectly 
accurate in their application, but they give us a basis for 
predicting later success, which is very much better than no 
basis at all. 

The correspondence between test ratings and later per- 
fo^mance can also be studied by means of such a chart as 


00 O 


ooo oooo ooo 

oooooooo ooooo 

000000000*0000 OO 

~/ 2 3 + f 6 7 8 9 K> II 12 13 ' (4 15 16 17 /e 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 

FIG. 54. 

SEE TEXT FOR EXPLANATION. (After Thurstono, from Kornhauser and Kmgsbury.) 

Figure 54. Each person who was tested is represented by a 
circle. The circles are placed according to the scores made 
by different subjects in the test. Thus there are two circles 
at 27, which means that two persons made that score in the 
test, three circles at 26, and so on. The individuals whose 
records are shown here were students. Those who failed 
to make good in their class work are shown by solid black 
circles. The others are shown by unshaded circles. Now 
a glance at this chart shows that there is a positive correlation, 
or correspondence, between the test records and scholarship. 
Of the 15 individuals with a test score of below 9, not a single 
one made good in class work, while of those making higher 


scores 85 out of 98 (87 per cent) did satisfactorily in their 
class work. By means of such a test of general ability it 
would not be possible, perhaps, to keep all of the future 
failures from attempting college work, but certainly it would 
be possible to eliminate many for whom such study would be 
largely a waste of time. 


1. For an adequate understanding of an individual we 
must know, not only what habits he possesses and how they 
are organized, but also the levels of efficiency at which these 
habits operate. 

2. Human abilities, like physical traits, can be measured. 
That is to say, they can be described in terms of quantity. 

3. The measurement of an ability in one person can be 
rendered meaningful only by interpreting that measurement 
in terms of the amount of the same ability possessed by other 

4. When we attempt to classify persons according to the 
amounts of some ability which they possess, we find that 
they cannot be grouped, as is sometimes assumed, into two 
distinct classes: those having much of the ability in question 
and those having little of it. The majority of individuals are 
usually found to possess a medium degree of the ability, and 
fewer are found to possess very high or very low degrees. 

5. The abilities easiest to measure are those which rep- 
present the efficiency of simple habits, but the abilities with 
which we are most concerned in actual life are those of 
greater complexity. 

6. We can sometimes measure a complex ability by 
analyzing it into simpler abilities and then measuring those. 
The difficulty of this procedure lies in the facts that the 
analysis itself may be difficult, that we cannot always decide 


which of the simpler abilities play the most important parts 
in the complex ability, and that the complex ability depends 
as much upon how our simple habits are organized as it does 
upon the efficiency of those simple habits in isolation. 

7. General abilities, such as intelligence, dexterity, and 
general musical ability, can also be measured. What we 
are seeking here is a determination of the average level of a 
number of related abilities. From this we may make pre- 
dictions as to how well another similar, but still unacquired, 
ability will be picked up. Here again there are errors to 
be avoided, but the final test of measurements of general 
ability must be found by putting those measurements to 
actual use. 


1. A certain clerical position requires the ability to read, the ability to 
write, and the ability to perform simple multiplications. In selecting a 
person to fill this position what would we want to know about him besides 
the fact that he possesses these abilities? What important information 
about a baseball player is still to be acquired after we know that he can 
bat, catch, throw, and run? 

2. Write down a list of those traits and abilities in respect to which 
you have, at some time or other, been measured. 

3. A boy, sixteen years of age, was asked to write as many words as he 
could think of in three minutes. (The words were not to be in sentences.) 
He wrote 33 words. What information would you have to have in order 
to say whether his performance was unusually good, a little better than 
average, average, a little worse than average, or unusually poor? 

4. Suppose that you wanted to show the distribution of ability in the 
standing broad jump among the members of your class. Would you 
construct separate graphs for boys and girls? Explain. 

5. Enumerate some relatively simple abilities, some relatively complex 
abilities, and some relatively general abilities other than those mentioned 
in the text. 

6. Enumerate some abilities which would be fairly easy to measure 
and some which would be more difficult. Show why the latter would be 
difficult to measure. 


7. Let the teacher give to the whole class any one of the well-known 
general intelligence tests applicable to groups. 1 Show by graph arid table 
the distribution of scores for the class. How do the scores made by dif- 
ferent members of the class correspond with their grades in psychology? 
Show this by means of a table similar to that on p. 470. 


Kornhauser and Kingsbury, Psychological Tests in Business, pp. 9-12; 
or Readings in General Psychology, Oh. XXI, Selection 2, p. 598 ff. 

Kornhauser and Kingsbury, Psychological Tests in Business, pp. 17-42; 
or Readings, Ch. XXI, Selection 4, p. 607 ff. 



Angell, Chapters from Modern Psychology. Longmans, Green and 
Company, 1913. 

Drever, The Psychology of Everyday Life. Methuen, 1921. 

Griffith, General Introduction to Psychology.- The Macmillan Company, 

Humphrey, The Story of Man's Mind. Small, Maynard and Com- 
pany, 1923. 

James, Psychology, Briefer Course. Henry Holt and Company, 1923. 
James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology: and to Students on Some of 
Life's Ideals. Henry Holt and Company, 1906. 

Seashore, Psychology in Daily Life. 1). Appleton and Company, 1923. 

Swift, Mind in the Making. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909. 

Swift, Psychology and the Day's Work. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918. 


Freeman, How Children Learn. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917. 
Kitson, How to Use Your Mind. J. B. Lippincott Company, 1916. 
Pear, Skill in Work and Play. E. P. Button and Company, 1924. 
Watt, The Economy and Training of Memory. Longmans, Green and 
Company, 1909. 

1 Copies of these can be secured through the C. H. Stoelting Company or 
through the World Book Company. 



Binet, The Psychology of Reasoning. Open Court Publishing Company, 

Dewey, How We Think. D. C. Heath and Company, 1910. 


Valentine, An Introduction to the Experimental Psychology of Beauty. 
The Dodge Publishing Company, 1913. 


Bogardus, Essentials of Social Psychology. University of Southern 
California Press, 1920. 

(fault, Social Psychology. Henry Holt and Company, 1923. 
Ross, Social Psychology. The Macmillan Company, 1916. 


Carrol, The Mastery of Nervousness. The Macmillan Company, 1917. 
Coriat, Abnormal Psychology. William Rider and Son, 1910. 
Hart, The Psychology of Insanity. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1912. 
Ribot, Diseases of Memory. D. Appleton and Company, 1893. 


Pintner, Intelligence Testing. Henry Holt and Company, 1923. 

Myers, An Introduction to Experimental Psychology. G. P. Putnam's 
Sons, 1911. 


Griffitts, Fundamentals of Vocational Psychology. The Macmillan 
Company, 1924. 

Hollingworth, Vocational Psychology. D. Appleton and Company, 1916. 

Hollingworth and Poffenberger, Applied Psychology. D. Appleton 
and Company, 1917. 

Kitson, The Mind of the Buyer. The Macmillan Company, 1921. 

Miinsterberg, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency. Houghton Mifflin 
Company, 1913. 

Miinsterberg, On the Witness Stand. Doubleday, Page and Company, 

Scott, Increasing Human Efficiency in Business. The Macmillan 
Company, 1923. 


Abilities, 44; measurements of, 441; 
simple, 455; complex, 456; general, 
457; general intelligence, 459 

Abnormal psychology, 6 

Accuracy and efficiency, 133 

Adams, G. K., 163 

Animals, study of behavior of, 7 

Arai, T., 139 

Association of ideas, 243; classifica- 
tion of, 246 

Attention, distribution of, in learning, 
104; direction of, in learning, 105; 
and perception, 161; and interests, 

Austen, Jane, 265 

Autonomic system, 28 

Bcrgstrom, J. A., 316 
Blake, Wm., 311 
Brain, 31 
Breese, B. B., 166 
Bryan and Harter, 116 
Biirnham, W. H., 288 

Calkins, M. W., 304 
Cerebro-spinal system, 28 
Chapman, J. C., 113, 114, 115 
Chapman and Hills, 118 
Chapman and Nolan, 146 
Cognition and feeling, 373 
Color, 191; color spindle, 192 
Color blindness, 194 
Concepts, nature of, 248; develop- 
ment of, and language, 252 
Conditioned reflexes, 71 
Coriat, I. H., 393 
Courtis, S. A., 451 
Cowper, Wm., 304 
Cramming, 277 
Curve, of learning, 110; of work, 

138; plateau in learning, 116 


Curve of work, initial spurt, 146; 
warming up, 148; end spurt, 149; 
decrement in, 138 

Day dreams, 317 
Deductive reasoning, 361 
Dreams, 318 

Ear, 204 

Effectors, 18; 24 

Efficiency, and habit, 132; meanings 

of, 133 

Effort, and efficiency, 135 
Emotion, and feeling, 377 
Experiments, 9, 245 
Exteroceptors, 24, 208, 377 
Eye, 198 

Feeling, and cognition, 373; and 
emotions, 377; and other forms of 
activity, 402; origin and develop- 
ment of, 385; education, 388; and 
action, 403 

Forgetting, 281 

Foss, Sam, 306 

Gates, A. I., 459 
Gault, R. H., 286 
Glands, 18; 25 

Habits, origin of, 48, 68; usefulness 
of, 49; fixity of, 50; types of, 51; 
elimination of , 121; features of, 119 

Hearing, 201 

Ideation, 227; forms of, 229 
Illusion, 166 

Imagery, 230; uses of, 231 
Images, 230; and words, 233 
Imagination, nature of, 294; char- 



acteristics of and thought, 299; 
- and originality, 299; and fantasy, 

317; and memory, 295; reality, 

316, 323 

Individual, measurement of, 440 
Inductive reasoning, 361 
Instinct theory, 57 
Intelligence, measurements of general, 


Interests, 420 
Interoceptors, 24, 377 

James, Bertha T., 320 

James, Win., 60, 265, 280, 310, 

Jeffries, B. J., 194 

Knowing, as perception, 161; as 

ideation, 229; and feeling, 373 
Kornhauser and Kingsbury, 470 

Ladd and Woodworth, 283 

Lange, C. G., 381 

Language, and ideation, 232; written, 

Lashley, K. S., 112 

Learning, conditions of, 75; and 
instruction, 77; and imitation, 79; 
rate of, 90; limit of, 107; transfer 
of, 91; and repetition, 100; and 
attention, 103; curve, 110; pla- 
teau, 116 

Luh, C. W., 284 

Measurements, 440; methods, 441; 
of simple abilities, 455; of complex 
abilities, 456; of general abilities, 
457; test of value of, 468; of 
general intelligence, 459; of musical 
ability, 462 

Memorizing, 265; rote, 271 

Memory, nature of, 263; training 
of, 279 

Miniver Cheevy, 428 

Moods, 297 

Motives, 153, 435 

Miinsterberg, 284 

Muscular action, 18 

Nerves, structure of, 33; peripheral, 
28; cranial, 28; connections, 30 

Nervous system, importance of, 18; 
structure of, 19; function of, 20, 
27; divisions of, 28 

Neural arc, 26 

Originality in thinking, 299 

Pain, sense of, 212 

Pasteur, L., 347 

Pearson, K., 353 

Perception, meaning of, 161 ; and 
attention, 177; and movement, 
183; and habit, 164; and illusion, 
166; and sense organs, 190; of 
bodilv position, 216; of size, 217; 
of distance, 217 

Personality, 409; and habit, 410; 
organization of sound, 418 

Phobias, 392; removal of, 393 

Plateau, in learning curve, 116 

Poineare, J. H., 311 

Prescott, F. C., 311 

Pressure, sense of, 209 

Proprioecptors, 24, 377 

Psycho-anal vsis. 412 

Psychology, meaning of term, 3; 
methods of, 7; subject matter of, 
5; uses of, 10 

Radosauljevich, P. R., 283 

Reasoning, nature of, 328; value of, 
333; and feeling and action, 
330, 366; and ideas, 339; basis of, 
339; process of, 353; deductive, 
361; inductive, 361; results of, 362 

Receptors, 18, 21 

Reflexes, 45; types of, 46; organiza- 
tion of, 48; conditioned, 71 

Robinson, E. A., 428 

Robinson and Heron, 148 

Ross, E. A., 83, 306 

Seashore, C. R, 165; 463 
Sense organs, 18; 22; interoceptors, 
24, 377; exteroceptors, 24, 208, 



377; proprioceptors, 24, 207; eye, 

198; ear, 204; nose, 207; tongue, 

212; skin, 209 
Sensory adaptation, 213 
Shelley, P. H., 304 
Sherard, H. II., 313 
SkilUind practice, 107 
Smell, 206 

Speed and efficiency, 134 
Starch, D., 452, 453 
Study, methods of, 267; distribution 

of, 276 

Swift, E. J., Ill 
Symons, A., 312 
Synapse, 35 

Taste, sense of, 212 
Temperament, 398 
Temperature, sense, 211 
Thorndike, E. L., 144, 451 

Thurstone, L. L., 471 
Training, transfer of, 91 

Vision and the eye, 199; color-vision, 


Visual qualities, 196 
Voluntary action, 416 

Watson, J. B., 386 

Weber's law, 213 

Wells, F. L., 138 

Whipple, G. M., 448, 450 

White, W. A., 308 

Will power, 416 

Woodworth, R. S., 234, 274 

Work, effects of, 138; decrement, 
139; curves, 138; conditions affect- 
ing efficiency of, 140 

Written language, 256 

Zola, E., 312