Psychology - A Study Of Mental Life
by Robert S. Woodworth
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The main point of this discussion is that all mental {47} phenomena, whether movements, sensations, emotions, impulses or thoughts, are a person's acts, but that every act is a response to some present stimulus. This rather obvious truth has not always seemed obvious. Some theorists, in emphasizing the spontaneity and "self-activity" of the individual, have pushed the stimulus away into the background; while others, fixing their attention on the stimulus, have treated the individual as the passive recipient of sensation and "experience" generally. Experience, however, is not received; it is lived, and that means done; only, it is done in response to stimuli. The concept of reaction covers the ground.

While speaking of sensations and thoughts as belonging under the general head of reactions, it is well, however, to bear in mind that all mental action tends to arouse and terminate in muscular and glandular activity. A thought or a feeling tends to "express itself" in words or (other) deeds. The motor response may be delayed, or inhibited altogether, but the tendency is always in that direction.

Different Sorts of Stimuli

To call all mental processes reactions means that it is always in order to ask for the stimulus. Typically, the stimulus is an external force or motion, such as light or sound, striking on a sense organ. There are also the internal stimuli, consisting of changes occurring within the body and acting on the sensory nerves that are distributed to the muscles, bones, lungs, stomach and most of the organs. The sensations of muscular strain and fatigue, and of hunger and thirst, are aroused by internal stimuli, and many reflexes are aroused in the same way.

Such internal stimuli as these are like the better known external stimuli in that they act upon sense organs; but it {48} seems necessary to recognize another sort of stimuli which act directly on the nerve centers in the brain. These may be called "central stimuli" and so contrasted with the "peripheral stimuli" that act on any sense organ, external or internal. To do this is to take considerable liberty with the plain meaning of "stimulus", and calls for justification. What is the excuse for thus expanding the notion of a stimulus?

The excuse is found in the frequent occurrence of mental processes that are not directly aroused by any peripheral stimulus, though they are plainly aroused by something else. Anything that arouses a thought or feeling can properly be called its stimulus. Now it often happens that a thought is aroused by another, just preceding thought; and it seems quite in order to call the first thought the stimulus and the second the response. A thought may arouse an emotion, as when the thought of my enemy, suddenly occurring to mind, makes me angry; the thought is then the stimulus arousing this emotional response.

If hearing you speak of Calcutta makes me think of India, your words are the stimulus and my thought the response. Well, then, if I think of Calcutta in the course of a train of thought, and next think of India, what else can we say than that the thought of Calcutta acts as a stimulus to arouse the thought of India as the response? In a long train of thought, where A reminds you of B and B of C and C of D, each of these items is, first, a response to the preceding, and, second, a stimulus to the one following.

There is no special difficulty with the notion of "central stimuli" from the physiological side. We have simply to think of one nerve center arousing another by means of the tract of axons connecting the two. Say the auditory center is aroused by hearing some one mention your friend's name, {49} and this promptly calls up a mental picture of your friend; here the auditory center has aroused the visual. What happens in a train of thought is that first one group of neurones is aroused to activity, and then this activity, spreading along the axons that extend from this group of neurones to another, arouses the second group to activity; and so on. The brain process may often be exceedingly complex, but this simple scheme gives the gist of it.

The way nerve currents must go shooting around the brain from one center or group of neurones to another, keeping it up for a long time without requiring any fresh peripheral stimulus, is remarkable. We have evidence of this sort of thing in a dream or fit of abstraction. Likely enough, the series of brain responses would peter out after awhile, in the absence of any fresh peripheral stimulus, and total inactivity ensue. But response of one brain center to nerve currents coming from another brain center, and not directly from any sense organ, must be the rule rather than the exception, since most of the brain neurones are not directly connected with any sense organ, but only with other parts of the brain itself. All the evidence we have would indicate that the brain is not "self-active", but only responsive; but, once thrown into activity at one point, it may successively become active at many other points, so that a long series of mental operations may follow upon a single sensory stimulus.

The Motor Centers, Lower and Higher

A "center" is a collection of nerve cells, located somewhere in the brain or cord, which gives off axons running to some other center or out to muscles or glands, while it also receives axons coming from other centers, or from sense organs. These incoming axons terminate in end-brushes and so form synapses with the dendrites of the local {50} nerve cells. The axons entering any center and terminating there arouse that center to activity, and this activity, when aroused, is transmitted out along the axons issuing from that center, and produces results where those axons terminate in their turn.

The lower motor centers, called also reflex centers, are located in the cord or brain stem, and their nerve cells give rise to the axons that form the motor nerves and connect with the muscles and glands. A muscle is thrown into action by nerve currents from its lower motor center.

The principal higher motor center is the "motor area" of the brain, located in the cortex or external layer of gray matter, in the cerebrum. More precisely, the motor area is a long, narrow strip of cortex, lying just forward of what is called the "central fissure" or "fissure of Rolando".


If you run your finger over the top of the head from one side to the other, about halfway back from the forehead, the motor areas of the two cerebral hemispheres will lie close under the path traced by your finger.

The motor area in the right hemisphere is connected with the left half of the cord and so with the muscles of the left half of the body; the motor area of the left hemisphere similarly affects {52} the right half of the body. Within the motor area are centers for the several limbs and other motor organs. Thus, at the top, near the middle line of the head (and just about where the phrenologists located their "bump of veneration"!), is the center for the legs; next below and to the side is the center for the trunk, next that for the arm, next that for head movements, and at the bottom, not far from the ears, is the center for tongue and mouth.

The largest nerve cells of all are found in the motor area, and are called, from their shape, the "giant pyramids". They have large dendrites and very long axons, which latter, {53} running in a thick bundle down from the cortex through the brain stem and cord, constitute the "pyramidal tract", the principal path of communication from the cerebrum to the lower centers. The motor area of the brain has no direct connection with any muscle, but acts through the pyramidal tract on the lower centers, which in turn act on the muscles.

How The Brain Produces Muscular Movements

The motor area is itself aroused to action by nerve currents entering it through axons coming from other parts of the cortex; and it is by way of the motor area that any other part of the cortex produces bodily movement. There are a few exceptions, as, for example, the movements of the eyes are produced generally by the "visual area" acting directly on the lower motor centers for the eye in the brain stem; but, in the main, any motor effect of brain action is exerted through the motor area. The motor area, as already mentioned, acts on the lower motor centers in the cord and brain stem, and these in turn on the muscles; but we must look into this matter a little more closely.

A lower motor center is a group of motor and central neurones, lying anywhere in the cord or brain stem, and capable of directly arousing a certain cooerdinated muscular movement. One such unit gives flexion of the leg, another gives extension of the leg, a third gives the rapid alternation of flexion and extension that we see in the scratching movement of the dog. Such a motor center can be aroused to activity by a sensory stimulus, and the resulting movement is then called a reflex.

The lower center can be aroused in quite another way, and that is by nerve currents coming from the brain, by way of the motor area and the pyramidal tract. Thus flexion of the leg can occur voluntarily as well as reflexly. The same {54} muscles, and the same motor neurones, do the job in either case. In the reflex, the lower center is aroused by a sensory nerve, and in the voluntary movement by the pyramidal tract.

The story is told of a stranger who was once dangling his legs over the edge of the station platform at a small backwoods town, when a native called out to him "Hist!" (hoist), pointing to the ground under the stranger's feet. He "histed" obediently, which is to say that he voluntarily threw into play the spinal center for leg flexion; and then, looking down, saw a rattler coiled just beneath where his feet had been hanging. Now even if he had spied the rattler first, the resulting flexion, though impulsive and involuntary, would still have been aroused by way of the motor area and the pyramidal tract, since the movement would have been a response to knowledge of what that object was and signified, and knowledge means action by the cerebral cortex, which we have seen to affect movement through the medium of the motor area. But if the snake had made the first move, the same leg movement on the man's part, made now in response to the painful sensory stimulus, would have been the flexion reflex.

Facilitation and Inhibition

Not only can the motor area call out essentially the same movements that are also produced reflexly, but it can prevent or inhibit the execution of a reflex in spite of the sensory stimulus for the reflex being present, and it can reinforce or facilitate the action of the sensory stimulus so as to assist in the production of the reflex. We see excellent examples of cerebral facilitation and inhibition in the case of the knee jerk. This sharp forward kick of the foot and lower leg is aroused by a tap on the tendon running in front {55} of the knee. Cross the knee to be stimulated over the other leg, and tap the tendon just below the knee cap, and the knee jerk appears. So purely reflex is this movement that it cannot be duplicated voluntarily; for, though the foot can of course be voluntarily kicked forward, this voluntary movement does not have the suddenness and quickness of the true reflex. For all that, the cerebrum can exert an influence on the knee jerk. Anxious attention to the knee jerk inhibits it; gritting the teeth or clenching the fist reinforces it. These are cerebral influences acting by way of the pyramidal tract upon the spinal center for the reflex.

Thus the cortex controls the reflexes. Other examples of such control are seen when you prevent for a time the natural regular winking of the eyes by voluntarily holding them wide open, or when, carrying a hot dish which you know you must not drop, you check the flexion reflex which would naturally pull the hand away from the painful stimulus. The young child learns to control the reflexes of evacuation, and gradually comes to have control over the breathing movements, so as to hold his breath or breathe rapidly or deeply at will, and to expire vigorously in order to blow out a match.

The coughing, sneezing and swallowing reflexes likewise come under voluntary control. In all such cases, the motor area facilitates or inhibits the action of the lower centers.

Super-motor Centers in the Cortex

Another important effect of the motor area upon the lower centers consists in combining their action so as to produce what we know as skilled movements. It will be remembered that the lower centers themselves give cooerdinated movements, such as flexion or extension of the whole limb; but still higher cooerdinations result from cerebral control. {56} When the two hands, though executing different movements, work together to produce a definite result, we have cooerdination controlled by the cortex. Examples of this are seen in handling an ax or bat, or in playing the piano or violin. A movement of a single hand, as in writing or buttoning a coat, may also represent a higher or cortical cooerdination.

Now it appears that the essential work in producing these higher cooerdinations of skilled movement is performed not by the motor area, but by neighboring parts of the cortex, which act on the motor area in much the same way as the motor area acts on the lower centers. Some of these {57} skilled-movement centers, or super-motor centers, are located in the cortex just forward of the motor area, in the adjacent parts of the frontal lobe. Destruction of the cortex there, through injury or disease, deprives the individual of some of his skilled movements, though not really paralyzing him. He can still make simple movements, but not the complex movements of writing or handling an instrument.

It is a curious fact that the left hemisphere, which exerts control over the movements of the right hand and right side of the body generally, also plays the leading part in skilled movements of either hand. This is true, at least, of right-handed persons; probably in the left-handed the right hemisphere dominates.

Motor power may be lost through injury at various points in the nervous system. Injury to the spinal cord, destroying the lower motor center for the legs, brings complete paralysis. Injury to the motor area or to the pyramidal tract does not destroy reflex movement, but cuts off all voluntary movement and cerebral control. Injury to the "super-motor centers" causes loss of skilled movement, and produces the condition of "apraxia", in which the subject, though knowing what he wants to do, and though still able to move his limbs, simply cannot get the combination for the skilled act that he has in mind.

Speech Centers

Similar to apraxia is "aphasia" or loss of ability to speak. It bears the same relation to true paralysis of the speech organs that hand apraxia bears to paralysis of the hand. Through brain injury it sometimes happens that a person loses his ability to speak words, though he can still make vocal sounds. The cases differ in severity, some retaining the ability to speak only one or two words which {58} from frequent use have become almost reflex (swear words, sometimes, or "yes" and "no"), while others are able to pronounce single words, but can no longer put them together fluently into the customary form of phrases and sentences, and still others can utter simple sentences, but not any connected speech.

In pure cases of motor aphasia, the subject knows the words he wishes to say, but cannot get them out. The brain injury here lies in the frontal lobe in the left hemisphere, in right-handed people, just forward of the motor area for the mouth, tongue and larynx. This "motor speech center" is the best-known instance of a super-motor center. It cooerdinates the elementary speech movements into the combinations called words; and perhaps there is no other motor performance so highly skilled as this of speaking. It is acquired so early in life, and practised so constantly, that {59} we take it quite as a matter of course, and think of a word as a simple and single movement, while in fact even a short word, as spoken, is a complex movement requiring great motor skill.

There is some evidence that the motor speech center extends well forward into the frontal lobe, and that the front part of it is related to the part further back as this is to the motor area back of it. That is to say, the back of the speech center combines the motor units of the motor area into the skilled movements of speaking a word, while the more forward part of the speech center combines the word movements into the still more complex movement of speaking a sentence. It is even possible that the very front part of the speech center has to do with those still higher combinations of speech movements that give fluency and real excellence of speaking.

The Auditory Centers

Besides the motor aphasia, just mentioned, there is another type, called sensory aphasia, or, more precisely, auditory aphasia. In pure auditory aphasia there is no inability to pronounce words or even to speak fluently, but there is, first, an inability to "hear words", sometimes called word deafness, and there is often also an inability to find the right words to speak, so that the individual so afflicted, while speaking fluently enough and having sense in mind, misuses his words and utters a perfect jargon. One old gentleman mystified his friends one morning by declaring that he must go and "have his umbrella washed", till it was finally discovered that what he wanted was to have his hair cut.

The cortical area affected in this form of aphasia is located a little further back on the surface of the brain than {60} the motor speech center, being close to the auditory area proper. The latter is a small cortical region in the temporal lobe, connected (through lower centers) with the ear, and is the only part of the cortex to receive nerve currents from the organ of hearing. The auditory area is, indeed, the organ of hearing, or an organ of hearing, for without it the individual is deaf. He may make a few reflex responses to loud noises, but, consciously, he does not hear at all; he has no auditory sensations.

In the immediate neighborhood of the auditory area proper (or of the "auditory-sensory area", as it may well be called), are portions of the cortex intimately connected by axons with it, and concerned in what may be called auditory perceptions, i.e., with recognizing and understanding sounds. Probably different portions of the cortex near the auditory-sensory center have to do with different sorts of auditory perception. At least, we sometimes find individuals who, as a result of injury or disease affecting this general region, are unable any longer to follow and appreciate music. They cannot "catch the tune" any longer, though they may have been fine musicians before this portion of their cortex was destroyed. In other cases, we find, instead of this music deafness, the word deafness mentioned just above.

The jargon talk that so often accompanies word deafness reminds us of the fact that speech is first of all auditory to the child. He understands what is said to him before he talks himself, and his vocabulary for purposes of understanding always remains ahead of his speaking vocabulary. It appears that this precedence of auditory speech over motor remains the fact throughout life, in most persons, and that the auditory speech center is the most fundamental of all the speech centers, of which there is one more not yet mentioned, used in reading.



The Visual Centers

There is a visual-sensory area in the occipital lobe, at the back of the brain, that is connected with the eye in the same way as the auditory center is connected with the ear. Without it, the individual still shows the pupillary reflex to light, but has no sensations of sight. He is blind.

This visual-sensory area occupies only a small portion of the occipital lobe, and yet practically the whole lobe is concerned with vision. Some portions of the lobe are concerned in perceiving words in reading, and without them the individual is "word blind". Other portions are concerned in perceiving (recognizing, understanding) seen objects, and without them the individual is "object blind". Other {63} portions are concerned in perceiving color relations, and still other portions in perceiving spatial relations through the sense of sight and so knowing where seen objects are and being able to guide one's movements by sight.

Cortical Centers for the Other Senses

There is an olfactory area in a rather secluded part of the cortex, and this is related to the sense of smell in the same general way. Probably there is a similar taste center, but it has not been definitely located. Then there is a large and important area called the "somesthetic", connected with the body senses generally, i.e., chiefly with the skin and muscle senses. This area is located in a narrow strip just back of the central fissure, extending parallel to the motor area which lies just in front of the fissure, and corresponding part for part with it, so that the sensory area for the legs lies just behind the motor area for the legs, and so on. Destruction of any part of this somesthetic area brings loss of the sensations from the corresponding part of the body.

Just behind this direct sensory center for the body, in the parietal lobe, are portions of the cortex concerned in perceiving facts by aid of the body senses. Perception of size and shape by the sense of touch, perception of weight by the muscle sense, perception of degrees of warmth and cold by the temperature sense, are dependent on the parietal lobe and disappear when the cortex of this region is destroyed. It appears that there is a sort of hierarchy of centers here, as in the motor region and probably also in the visual and auditory regions. Skill in handling objects is partly dependent on the "feel" of the objects and so is impaired by injuries to the parietal lobe, as well as by injury to the frontal lobe; and knowing how to manage a fairly complex situation, as in lighting a fire when you have the various {64} materials assembled before you, seems also to depend largely on this part of the cortex.

Lower Sensory Centers

As already indicated, no portion of the cortex, not even the sensory areas, is directly connected with any sense organ. The sensory axons from the skin, for example, terminate in the spinal cord, in what may be called the lowest sensory centers. Here are nerve cells whose axons pass up through the cord and brain stem to the thalamus or interbrain, where they terminate in a second sensory center. And cells here send their axons up to the somesthetic area of the cortex.


The thalamus is remarkable as an intermediate center for all the senses, except smell; but exactly what is accomplished by this big intermediate sensory center remains rather a mystery, though it certainly appears that the thalamus has something to do with feeling and emotion.

The Cerebellum

Regarding the cerebellum, there is much knowledge at hand, but it is difficult to give the gist of it in a few words. On the one hand, the cerebellum receives a vast number of axons from the lower sensory centers; while, on the other hand, it certainly has nothing to do with conscious sensation or perception. Its use seems to be motor. It has much to do with maintaining the equilibrium of the body, and probably also with maintaining the steadiness and general efficiency of muscular contraction. Though it has no known sensory or intellectual functions, it is very closely connected with the cerebrum, receiving a tremendous bundle of axons from different parts of the cerebrum, by way of the brain stem. Possibly these are related to motor activity. The phrenologists taught that the cerebellum was the center for the sexual instinct, but there is no evidence in favor of this guess.

Different Levels of Reaction

Let a noise strike the ear and start nerve currents in along the auditory nerve, passing through the lowest and intermediate centers and reaching the auditory-sensory area of the cortex. When this last is aroused to activity, we have a sensation of sound, which is the first conscious reaction to the external stimulus. Axons running from the auditory-sensory to the near-by cortex give a perception of some fact indicated by the external stimulus, and this perception is a {66} second and higher conscious reaction, which, to be sure, ordinarily occurs so quickly after the first that introspection cannot distinguish one as first and the other as second; but the facts of brain injury, already mentioned, enable us to draw the distinction. The perceived fact may call up a mental image, or a recognition of some further fact less directly signified by the noise; these would be reactions of still higher order. Much of the cortex is apparently not very directly connected with either the sensory or the motor areas, and probably is concerned somehow in the recognition of facts that are only very indirectly indicated by any single sensory stimulus, or with the planning of actions that only indirectly issue in muscular movement.

On the sensory and intellectual side, the higher reactions follow the lower: sensation arouses perception and perception thought. On the motor side, the lower reactions are aroused by the higher. Thus the speech center arouses the motor centers for the speech organs, combining the action of these into the speaking of a word; and in a similar way, it seems, the intention to speak a sentence expressing a certain meaning acts as a stimulus to call up in order the separate words that make the sentence. A general plan of action precedes and arouses the particular acts and muscular movements that execute the plan.



1. Outline of the chapter. Fill in sub-topics under each of the following heads:

A. Mental processes of all kinds are reactions.

B. The stimulus that directly arouses a mental process is often "central".

C. Brain activities of all sorts influence the muscles by way of the motor area and the lower motor centers.

D. Brain action in skilled movement.

E. Brain action in speech.

F. Brain action in sensation.

G. Brain action in recognizing seen or heard objects.

H. Relations of reactions of different levels.

2. Define and illustrate these classes of stimuli:

A. Peripheral:

(1) External.

(2) Internal.

B. Central.

3. Show by a diagram how one cortical center arouses another. Compare the diagram in Fig. 9, p. 37.

4. Facilitation of the patellar reflex or "knee jerk". Let your subject sit with one leg hanging freely from the knee down. With the edge of your hand strike the patellar tendon just below the knee cap. (a) Compare the reflex movement so obtained with a voluntary imitation by the subject. Which is the quicker and briefer? (b) Apply a fairly strong auditory stimulus (a sudden noise) a fraction of a second before the tap on the tendon, and see whether the reflex response is reinforced, (c) Ask the subject to clench his fists or grit his teeth, and tap the tendon as he does so. Reinforcement? (d) Where is the reflex center for the patellar reflex, and whence comes the reinforcing influence?

5. Construct a diagram showing the different centers and connections involved in making the skilled movement of writing; and consider what loss of function would result from destruction of each of the centers.


Herrick's Introduction to Neurology, 1918, Chapter XX, on the "Functions of the Cerebrum".

Stile's Nervous System and Its Conservation, Chapters X, XI and XII.





One advantage of basing our psychology on reactions is that it keeps us "close to the ground", and prevents our discussions from sailing off into the clouds of picturesque but fanciful interpretation. Psychology is very apt to degenerate into a game of blowing bubbles, unless we pin ourselves down to hard-headed ways of thinking. The notion of a reaction is of great value here, just because it is so hard-headed and concrete. Whenever we have any human action before us for explanation, we have to ask what the stimulus is that arouses the individual to activity, and how he responds. Stimulus-response psychology is solid, and practical as well; for if it can establish the laws of reaction, so as to predict what response will be made to a given stimulus, and what stimulus can be depended on to arouse a desired response, it furnishes the "knowledge that is power". Perhaps no more suitable motto could be inscribed over the door of a psychological laboratory than these two words, "Stimulus-Response."

Such a motto would not frighten away the modern introspectionists, for they, no less than the behaviorists, could find a congenial home in a stimulus-response laboratory. They would begin by studying sensations, and, advancing to more complex responses, would observe the conscious processes entering into the response.


But, however useful the reaction may be as affording a sound basis for psychological study, we must not allow it to blind our eyes to any of the real facts of mental life; and, at first thought, it seems as if motives, interests and purposes did not fit into the stimulus-response program. Many hard-headed psychologists have fought shy of such matters, and some have flatly denied them any place in scientific psychology. But let us see.

S —-> R

Suppose we are looking out on a city street during the noon hour. We see numbers of people who—lunch over, nothing to do till one o'clock!—are standing or walking about, looking at anything that chances to catch their eye, waving their hands to friends across the street, whistling to a stray dog that comes past, or congregating about an automobile that has broken down in the crowded thoroughfare. These people are responding to stimuli, obviously enough, and there is no difficulty in fitting their behavior into the stimulus-response scheme.

But here comes some one who pays little attention to the sights and sounds of the street, simply keeping his eyes open enough to avoid colliding with any one else. He seems in a hurry, and we say of him, "He must have business on hand; he has to keep an appointment or catch a train". He is not simply responding to the stimuli that come to him, but has some purpose of his own that directs his movements.

Here is another who, while not in such a hurry, is not idling by any means, since he peers closely at the faces of the men, neglecting the women, and seems to be looking for some one in particular; or, perhaps, he neglects men and {70} women alike, and looks anxiously at the ground, as if he had lost something. Some inner motive shuts him off from most of the stimuli of the street, while making him extra responsive to certain sorts of stimuli.

Purposive Behavior

Now it would be a great mistake to rule these purposeful individuals out of our psychology. We wish to understand busy people as well as idlers. What makes a man busy is some inner purpose or motive. He still responds to present stimuli—otherwise he would be in a dream or trance and out of all touch with what was going on about him—but his actions are in part controlled by an inner motive.

To complete the foundations of our psychology, then, we need to fit purpose into the general plan of stimulus and response. At first thought, purpose seems a misfit here, since—

First, a purpose is an inner force, whereas what arouses a response should be a stimulus, and typically an external stimulus. We do not wish to drop back into the old "self-activity" psychology, which thought of the individual as originating his acts from within himself. But if we could show that a purpose is itself an inner response to some external stimulus, and acts in its turn as a "central stimulus" to further reactions, this difficulty would disappear.

Second, while a typical reaction, like the reflex or the simple reaction of the experiment, is prompt and over with at once, a purpose persists. It keeps the busy man, in our illustration, hurrying all the way down the street and around the corner and how much farther we cannot say. It is very different from a momentary response, or from a stimulus that arouses a momentary response and nothing more.

Third, what persists, in purposive behavior, is the tendency {71} towards some end or goal. The purposeful person wants something he has not yet got, and is striving towards some future result. Whereas a stimulus pushes him from behind, a goal beckons to him from ahead. This element of action directed towards some end is absent from the simple response to a stimulus.

In short, we have to find room in our stimulus-response psychology for action persistently steered in a certain direction by some cause acting from within the individual. We must find room for internal states that last for a time and direct action. In addition, we sometimes, though not always, need to find room for conscious foreknowledge of the goal towards which the action is directed.

"Purpose" is not the best general term to cover all the internal factors that direct activity, since this word rather implies foresight of the goal, which demands the intellectual ability to imagine a result not present to the senses. This highest level of inner control over one's behavior had best be left for consideration in later chapters on imagination and will. There are two levels below this. In the middle level, the individual has an inner steer towards a certain result, though without conscious foresight of that result. At the lowest level, we can scarcely speak of the individual as being directed towards any precise goal, but still his {72} internal state is such as to predispose him for certain reactions and against other reactions.

The lowest level, that of organic states, is typified by fatigue. The middle level, that of internal steer, is typified by the hunting dog, striving towards his prey, though not, as far as we know, having any clear idea of the result at which his actions are aimed. The highest level, that of conscious purpose, is represented by any one who knows exactly what he wants and means to get.

No single word in the language stands out clearly as the proper term to cover all three levels. "Motives" would serve, if we agree at the outset that a motive is not always clearly conscious or definite, but may be any inner state or force that drives the individual in a given direction. "Wants" or "needs" might be substituted for "motives", and would apply better than "motives" to the lowest of our three levels. "Tendencies", or "tendencies to reaction", carries about the right meaning, namely that the individual, because of his internal state, tends towards a certain action. "Determining tendencies" (perhaps better, "directive tendencies") is a term that has been much used in psychology, with the meaning that the inner tendency determines or directs behavior. Much used also are "adjustment" and "mental set", the idea here being to liken the individual to an adjustable machine which can be set for one or another sort of work. Often "preparation" or "readiness for action" is the best expression.

Organic States that Influence Behavior

Beginning at the lowest of our three levels, let us observe not even the simplest animal, but a single muscle. If we give a muscle electric shocks as stimuli, it responds to each shock by contracting. To a weak stimulus, the response is weak; {73} to a strong stimulus, strong. But now let us apply a long series of equal shocks of moderate intensity, one shock every two seconds. Then we shall get from the muscle what is called a "fatigue curve", the response growing weaker and weaker, in spite of the continued equality of the stimuli. How is such a thing possible? Evidently because the inner condition of the muscle has been altered by its long-continued activity. The muscle has become fatigued, and physiologists, examining into the nature of this fatigue, have found the muscle to be poisoned by "fatigue substances" produced by its own activity. Muscular contraction depends on the oxidation of fuel, and produces oxidized wastes, of which carbon dioxide is the best known; and these waste products, being produced in continued strong activity faster than the blood can carry them away, accumulate in the muscle and partially poison it. The "organic state" is here definitely chemical.

This simple experiment is worth thinking over. Each muscular contraction is a response to an electric stimulus, but the force of the contraction is determined in part by the internal state of the muscle. Fatigue is an inner state of the muscle that persists for a time (till the blood carries away the wastes), and that predisposes the muscle towards a certain kind of response, namely, weak response. Thus the three characteristics of purposive behavior that seemed so {74} difficult to fit into the scheme of stimulus and response are all here in a rudimentary form.

But notice this fact also: the inner condition of muscular fatigue is itself a response to external stimuli. It is part and parcel of the total muscular response to a stimulus. The total response includes an internal change of condition, which, persisting for a time, is a factor in determining how the muscle shall respond to later stimuli. These facts afford, in a simple form, the solution of our problem.

Before leaving the muscle, let us take note of one further fact. If you examine the "fatigue curve" closely, you will see that a perfectly fresh muscle gains in strength from its first few responses. It is said to "warm up" through exercise; and the inner nature of this warming up has been found to consist in a moderate accumulation of the same products which, in greater accumulation, produce fatigue. The warmed-up condition is then another instance of an "organic state".

There will be more to say of "organic states" when we come to the emotions. For the present, do not the facts already cited compel us to enlarge somewhat the conception of a reaction as we left it in the preceding chapters? Besides the external response, there is often an internal response to a stimulus, a changed organic state that persists for a time and has an influence on behavior. The motor response to a given stimulus is determined partly by that stimulus, and partly by the organic state left behind by just preceding stimuli. You cannot predict what response will be made to a given stimulus, unless you know the organic state present when the stimulus arrives.

Preparation for Action

At the second level, the inner state that partly governs the response is more neural than chemical, and is directed {75} specifically towards a certain end-result. As good an instance as any is afforded by the "simple reaction", described in an earlier chapter. If the subject in that experiment is to raise his finger promptly from the telegraph key on hearing a given sound, he must be prepared, for there is no permanent reflex connection between this particular stimulus and this particular response. You tell your subject to be ready, whereupon he places his finger on the key, and gets all ready for this particular stimulus and response. The response is determined as much by his inner state of readiness as by the stimulus. Indeed, he sometimes gets too ready, and makes the response before he receives the stimulus.

The preparation in such a case is more specific, less a general organic state, than in the previous cases of fatigue, etc. It is confined for the most part to the nervous system and the sense organ and muscles that are to be used. In an untrained subject, it includes a conscious purpose to make the finger movement quickly when the sound is heard; but as he becomes used to the experiment he loses clear consciousness of what he is to do. He is, as a matter of fact, ready for a specific reaction, but all he is conscious of is a general readiness. He feels ready for what is coming, but does not have to keep his mind on it, since the specific neural adjustment has become automatic with continued use.

Examples of internal states of preparedness might be multiplied indefinitely, and it may be worth while to consider a few more, and try out on them the formula that has already been suggested, to the effect that preparation is an inner adjustment for a specific reaction, set up in response to some stimulus (like the "Ready!" signal), persisting for a time, and predisposing the individual to make the specified reaction whenever a suitable stimulus for it arrives. The preparation may or may not be conscious. It might be named "orientation" or "steer", with the meaning that {76} the individual is headed or directed towards a certain end-result. It is like so setting the rudder of a sailboat that, when a puff of wind arrives, the boat will respond by turning to the one side.

The runner on the mark, "set" for a quick start, is a perfect picture of preparedness. Here the onlookers can see the preparation, since the ready signal has aroused visible muscular response in the shape of a crouching position. It is not simple crouching, but "crouching to spring." But if the onlookers imagine themselves to be seeing the whole preparation—if they suppose the preparation to be simply an affair of the muscles—they overlook the established fact that the muscles are held in action by the nerve centers, and would relax instantly if the nerve centers should stop acting. The preparation is neural more than muscular. The neural apparatus is set to respond to the pistol shot by strong discharge into the leg muscles.

What the animal psychologists have called the delayed reaction is a very instructive example of preparation. An animal is placed before a row of three food boxes, all looking just alike, two of them, however, being locked while the third is unlocked. Sometimes one is unlocked and sometimes another, and the one which at any time is unlocked is designated by an electric bulb lighted above the door. The animal is first trained to go to whichever box shows the light; he always gets food from the lighted box. When he has thoroughly learned to respond in this way, the "delayed reaction" experiment begins. Now the animal is held while the light is burning, and only released a certain time after the light is out, and the question is whether, after this delay, he will still follow the signal and go straight to the right door. It is found that he will do so, provided the delay is not too long—how long depends on the animal. With rats the delay cannot exceed 5 seconds, with cats it can reach 18 {77} seconds, with dogs 1 to 3 minutes, with children (in a similar test) it increased from 20 seconds at the age of fifteen months to 50 seconds at two and a half years, and to 20 minutes or more at the age of five years.

Rats and cats, in this experiment, need to keep their heads or bodies turned towards the designated box during the interval between the signal and the release; or else lose their orientation. Some dogs, however, and children generally, can shift their position and still, through some inner orientation, react correctly when released. The point of the experiment is that the light signal puts the animal or child into a state tending towards a certain result, and that, when that result is not immediately attainable, the state persists for a time and produces results a little later.

Preparatory Reactions

In the delayed reaction, the inner orientation does little during the interval before the final reaction, except to maintain a readiness for making that reaction; but often "preparatory reactions" occur before the final reaction can take place. Suppose you whistle for your dog when he is some distance off and out of sight. You give one loud whistle and wait. Presently the dog swings around the corner and dashes up to you. Now, what kept the dog running towards you after your whistle had ceased and before he caught sight of you? Evidently he was directed towards the end-result of reaching you, and this directing tendency governed his movements during the process. He made many preparatory reactions on the way to his final reaction of jumping up on you; and these preparatory reactions were, of course, responses to the particular trees he had to dodge, and the ditches he had to jump; but they were at the same time governed by the inner state set up in him by your {78 } whistle. This inner state favored certain reactions and excluded others that would have occurred if the dog had not been in a hurry. He passed another dog on the way without so much as saying, "How d'ye do?" And he responded to a fence by leaping over it, instead of trotting around through the gate. That is to say, the inner state set up in him by your whistle facilitated reactions that were preparatory to the final reaction, and inhibited reactions that were not in that line.

A hunting dog following the trail furnishes another good example of a directive tendency. Give a bloodhound the scent of a particular man and he will follow that scent persistently, not turning aside to respond to stimuli that would otherwise influence him, nor even to follow the scent of another man. Evidently an inner neural adjustment has been set up in him predisposing him to respond to a certain stimulus and not to others.

The homing of the carrier pigeon is a good instance of activity directed in part by an inner adjustment, since, when released at a distance from home, he is evidently "set" to get back home, and often persists and reaches home after a very long flight. Or, take the parallel case of the terns, birds which nest on a little island not far from Key West. Of ten birds taken from their nests and transported on shipboard out into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and released 500 miles from home, eight reappeared at their nests after intervals varying from four to eight days. How they found their way over the open sea remains a mystery, but one thing is clear: they persisted in a certain line of activity until a certain end-result was reached, on which this line of activity ceased.

One characteristic of tendencies that has not previously been mentioned comes out in this example. When a tendency has been aroused, the animal (or man) is tense and {79} restless till the goal has been reached, and then quiets down. The animal may or may not be clearly conscious of the goal, but he is restless till the goal has been attained, and his restlessness then ceases. In terms of behavior, what we see is a series of actions which continues till a certain result has been reached and then gives way to rest. Introspectively, what we feel (apart from any clear mental picture of the goal) is a restlessness and tenseness during a series of acts, giving way to relief and satisfaction when a certain result has been reached.

A hungry or thirsty animal is restless; he seeks food or drink, which means that he is making a series of preparatory reactions, which continues till food or drink has been found, and terminates in the end-reaction of eating or drinking.

What the Preparatory Reactions Accomplish

The behavior of a hungry or thirsty individual is worth some further attention—for it is the business of psychology to interest itself in the most commonplace happenings, to wonder about things that usually pass for matters of course, and, if not to find "sermons in stones", to derive high instruction from very lowly forms of animal behavior. Now, what is hunger? Fundamentally an organic state; next, a sensation produced by this organic state acting on the internal sensory nerves, and through them arousing in the nerve centers an adjustment or tendency towards a certain end-reaction, namely, eating. Now, I ask you, if hunger is a stimulus to the eating movements, why does not the hungry individual eat at once? Why, at least, does he not go through the motions of eating? You say, because he has nothing to eat. But he could still make the movements; there is no physical impossibility in his making chewing and swallowing movements without the presence of food. {80} Speaking rationally, you perhaps say that he does not make these movements because he sees they would be of no use without food to chew; but this explanation would scarcely apply to the lower sorts of animal, and besides, you do not have to check your jaws by any such rational considerations. They simply do not start to chew except when food is in the mouth. Well, then, you say, chewing is a response to the presence of food in the mouth; and taking food into the mouth is a response to the stimulus of actually present food. The response does not occur unless the stimulus is present; that is simple.

Not quite so simple, either. Unless one is hungry, the presence of food does not arouse the feeding reaction; and even food actually present in the mouth will be spewed out instead of chewed and swallowed, if one is already satiated. Try to get a baby to take more from his bottle than he wants! Eating only occurs when one is both hungry and in the presence of food. Two conditions must be met: the internal state of hunger and the external stimulus of food; then, and then only, will the eating reaction take place.

Hunger, though a tendency to eat, does not arouse the eating movements while the stimulus of present food is lacking; but, for all that, hunger does arouse immediate action. It typically arouses the preparatory reactions of seeking food. Any such reaction is at the same time a response to some actually present stimulus. Just as the dog coming at your whistle was responding every instant of his progress to some particular object—leaping fences, dodging trees—so the dog aroused to action by the pangs of hunger begins at once to respond to present objects. He does not start to eat them, because they are not the sort of stimuli that produce this response, but he responds by dodging them or finding his way by them in his quest for food. The responses that the hungry dog makes to other objects than {81} food are preparatory reactions, and these, if successful, put the dog in the presence of food. That is to say, the preparatory reactions provide the stimulus that is necessary to arouse the end-reaction. They bring the individual to the stimulus, or the stimulus to the individual.

What we can say about the modus operandi of hunger, then, amounts to this: Hunger is an inner state and adjustment predisposing the individual to make eating movements in response to the stimulus of present food; in the absence of food, hunger predisposes to such other responses to various stimuli as will bring the food stimulus into play, and thus complete the conditions necessary for the eating reaction. In general, an aroused reaction-tendency predisposes the individual to make a certain end-reaction when the proper stimulus for that reaction is present; otherwise, it predisposes him to respond to other stimuli, which are present, by preparatory reactions that eventually bring to bear on the individual the stimulus required to arouse the end-reaction.

Let us apply our formula to one more simple case. While reading in the late afternoon, I find the daylight growing dim, rise and turn on the electric light. The stimulus that sets this series of acts going is the dim light; the first, inner response is a need for light. This need tends, by force of habit, to make me turn the button, but it does not make me execute this movement in the air. I only make this movement when the button is in reaching distance. My first {82} reaction, rising from my chair, is preparatory and brings the button close enough to act as a stimulus for the hand reaction. The button within reach is not by itself sufficient to arouse the turning reaction, nor is the need for light alone sufficient. The two conditions must be present together, and the preparatory reaction is such that, given the need, the other condition will be met and the reaction then aroused.

What a Tendency Is, in Terms of Nerve Action

Very little need be added to our neural conception of a reaction in order to get a satisfactory conception of a tendency to reaction. Principally, we must add this fact, that a nerve center aroused to activity does not always discharge instantly and completely into the muscles, or into some other center, and come to rest itself. It does so, usually, in the case of a reflex, and in other momentary reactions; as when A makes you think of B, and B at once of C, and so on, each thought occupying you but a moment. But a tendency means the arousing of a nerve center under conditions which do not allow that center to discharge at once. The center remains in a condition of tension; energy is dammed up there, unable to find an outlet.

We have already seen what the conditions are that cause this damming up of energy. The center that is aroused tends to arouse in turn some lower motor center, but by itself does not have complete control over that lower center, since the lower center also requires a certain external stimulus in order to arouse it to the discharging point. Until the proper external stimulus arrives to complete the arousal of the lower center, the higher center cannot discharge its energy.

When there is an "organic state" present, such as hunger or thirst, this may act as a persistent stimulus to the sensory nerves and through them to the higher center in {83} question; and then we can readily understand how it is that the center remains active until the organic state is relieved. But where there is no such persistent organic stimulus, as there can scarcely be in the case of the bloodhound or of the man hurrying to a train or seeking in the crowd for a friend, there we have to suppose that a center, once aroused to activity and prevented from complete discharge, remains active by virtue of energy dammed up in itself. There is pretty good physiological evidence that this sort of thing is a fundamental fact; for there are certain rhythmical reflexes, like scratching or stepping, that, when started going by a momentary sensory stimulus, keep it up for a time after the stimulus has ceased. There seems to be no doubt that a nerve center, once aroused, may stay aroused for a time.

The "dammed-up energy" here is not to be confused with the "stored energy" spoken of under the head of reactions. We said, in that connection, that a stimulus released energy stored in the organism. That, however, was potential energy, dormant within the organism till aroused; but what we have here in mind is active or kinetic energy. Stored energy is like that of coal in the bin; dammed-up energy is like that of steam in the boiler.

Dammed-up energy in the nerve centers accounts for the persistence of a tendency to reaction after the stimulus has ceased. It accounts for the "delayed reaction" and similar cases. But how shall we account for preparatory reactions? We have a nerve center in an active state, tending to discharge into a certain lower motor center, but unable to do so because a peripheral stimulus is necessary, in addition, in order to arouse this lower center. Then we find the higher center discharging into other lower centers, and so giving rise to preparatory reactions. More precisely, what we find is that the higher center facilitates the response {84} of certain lower centers to their proper peripheral stimuli, while inhibiting the response of other lower centers to their appropriate stimuli. This is the same sort of thing that we observe in all control exerted by a higher center over a lower. It means that the higher center, besides its main line of connection with the lower center that will give the end-reaction, has minor lines of connection with certain other lower centers; some of these centers it facilitates and others it inhibits. These connections between the main and the subordinate centers may have been established by inborn nature, or by previous training, as will be explained in later chapters.

The action of the main center on the subordinate centers concerned in executing preparatory reactions does not relieve the tension in the main center. The dammed-up energy stays there till the proper stimulus is procured for arousing the end-reaction, and then escapes through its main channel of discharge, and the main center then finally comes to rest.

It may fairly be urged that no violence has been done to the general conception of a reaction by these additions, and also that with the additions the notion of a reaction has room for tendencies or inner adjustments. So that we conclude that stimulus-response psychology is adequate to the job, and will do justice to all forms of human behavior. It has a place for sensations, perceptions and thoughts, as we saw in the preceding chapter, and it has a place also for purposes, desires and motives generally.


In the present chapter, desirous of "keeping close to the ground", we have said little of distinctively human motives. That will come later. In general, a motive is a tendency towards a certain end-result or end-reaction, a tendency which is itself aroused by some stimulus, and which {85} persists for a time because its end-reaction is not at once made. The end-reaction is not made at once because it can only be aroused by an appropriate stimulus, acting in conjunction with the motive. But the motive, persisting in its inner activity, facilitates reactions to certain stimuli and inhibits others. The reactions it facilitates are preparatory to the end-reaction, in that they provide the necessary conditions for that reaction to occur, which means that they bring to bear on the individual the necessary stimulus which can arouse the end-reaction. The restlessness that characterizes an individual driven by an inner motive gives way to rest and satisfaction when the end-result is reached.

Motives range from the primitive or primal, like hunger, to the very advanced, such as zeal for a cause. They range from the momentary, illustrated by the need for more light in reading, to the great permanent forces of life, like amour propre and esprit de corps. But the permanent motives are not always active; they sleep and are awakened again by appropriate stimuli.

In everyday speech we are apt to use the words "motive" and "reason" interchangeably, as in asking some one what his "motive", or what his "reason" is for doing so and so. A motive, however, is not necessarily a reason, nor a reason a motive. A reason is thought-out and conscious, which a motive need not be. On the other hand, a reason does not become a motive unless it takes hold of us and arouses a genuine tendency towards the planned result. You may prove to me, logically, the desirability of a course of action, but your reasons do not necessarily make me desire it. You can give a child excellent reasons for studying his lessons, but you have to stir some real motive of child life in order to get action. In the highest type of conduct, to be sure, motive and reason pull together, reason showing the way to the goal at which motive is aimed.



1. Complete the following outline of the chapter, by filling in main headings to fit the subordinate headings that are given below:


(1) It keeps close to the facts.

(2) It has room for introspective as well as behavior study.

(3) It can be applied practically.


(1) A stimulus is typically external, a purpose internal.

(2) A stimulus typically acts for a moment, a purpose persists for some time.

(3) A stimulus is not directed towards a result, a purpose is so directed.


(1) Organic or physiological states that predispose towards certain forms of behavior.

(2) Inner adjustments towards certain results, without foresight of the results.

(3) Conscious purpose.


(1) They are aroused by stimuli.

(2) They persist for a time.

(3) They influence the response to other stimuli.


(1) They are neural rather than chemical.

(2) They amount to a preparation or readiness for a certain response.

(3) They persist sometimes for only a few seconds, sometimes for many minutes at least.


(1) A whole series of acts may be set going by a single stimulus.

(2) The series comes to an end when a certain result has been reached.

(3) Each act in the series is a response to some particular stimulus, and yet would not be aroused by that stimulus except for the active adjustment towards the end-result. {87} (4) The end-result cannot be reached until a particular stimulus helps the adjustment to arouse the end-reaction.

(5) The preliminary acts in the series bring the required stimulus that can give the end-reaction.


(1) It may be kept active by a continuing peripheral stimulus.

(2) It may be unable to discharge fully because its main path of discharge is blocked.


(1) The main center has minor connections with other centers, in addition to its main path of discharge.

(2) The persisting activity of the main center influences other centers by way of facilitation and inhibition.

2. Fill in the blanks in the following paragraph:

"A motive or (1) is a reaction that has not yet come off. It has been (2) by some stimulus, and it tends towards a certain (3), which however it is unable of itself to produce, but requires the assistance of another (4) which is not yet present. The motive gives rise to (5) responses, which, if (6), finally bring the required (7), and this, combined with the (8) arouses the (9), and so brings the whole (10) of acts to a close."

3. Cite cases illustrating the importance of preparatory adjustment (a) for securing prompt reaction, and (b) for securing keen observation.

4. Cite a case where some need or desire gives rise to a series of preparatory reactions.

5. Cite a case where a need or desire leads to the omission (inhibition) of acts that would otherwise have occurred.

6. What is meant by the last sentence in the chapter?

7. An experiment on the "delayed reaction". Take two sheets of paper, and on each write the letters A, B, C, D, E, and F, scattering them irregularly over the sheet. The task, in general, is now to take aim at one of the letters, while your hand, holding a pencil, is raised to the side of your head, and then to close the eyes and strike at the letter aimed for. First aim at A, and mark the point hit with an a, then the same with B, and so on. With the first sheet, strike as soon as you have got your aim and closed your eyes; but with the second sheet, aim, close your eyes, and count ten slowly before striking, keeping the eyes closed till the stroke has been made. Two sorts of observation should now be made: first, introspective—record at once what you can of the way you kept your aim during the delay. Second, objective—measure the errors, and determine how much the delay affected your aim. What conclusions can you draw from the experiment?



On the "delayed reaction", see Walter S. Hunter, "The Delayed Reaction in Animals and Children", Behavior Monographs, No. 6, 1913. A brief summary of this work can also be found in Hunter's General Psychology, 1919, pp. 31-33.

On the homing of pigeons and terns, see Watson and Lashley, An Historical and Experimental Study of Homing, published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1915.

Interesting examples of changed organic states affecting the behavior of unicellular animals are given by Jennings in his Behavior of the Lower Organisms, 1906, and by Margaret F. Washburn in The Animal Mind, 2nd edition, 1917, pp. 246-257.





John Doe is a strongly built man, over six feet high, with big bones and muscles, erect, vigorous, with plenty of color in his face, dark-haired, blue-eyed, clean-shaven, with a scar on his cheek, broad face and large ears. He is easy-going, even-tempered, fond of children and also of women, rather slangy and even profane in his talk, has a deep, sonorous voice and can carry the bass in a chorus. He is handy with tools, can drive or repair an automobile, is a fairly good carpet salesman, but much prefers out-of-door work. Rather free in spending his money, he has never run into debt except on one occasion, which turned out badly for him. Which of these traits of John Doe are native and which are acquired? How far are his physical, mental and moral characteristics the result of his "original nature" and how far have they been ingrained in him or imposed upon him by his training and environment?

The distinction between native and acquired is clearest in the field of anatomy. Hair color and eye color are evidently native, and so, in the main, is the size of the body, though undoubtedly growth may be stunted by poor nutrition, and the individual fail to reach his "natural" height and weight. On the other hand, scars, tan, and the after-effects of disease or injury, are evidently acquired. Of movements, the native character of the reflexes has already been noted, and it is clear that skill in handling tools or {90} managing the voice is learned, though the individual may have a natural aptitude for these performances. Temperament and emotional traits we usually think of as belonging to a man's "nature", though we have to admit that a naturally cheerful disposition may be soured by ill treatment. On the other hand, while we reckon habits, such as profanity, or free spending, or an erect carriage, as belonging with the acquired traits, we know that some natures are prone to certain habits, and other natures to other habits. Thus the effects of "nature" and "experience" are almost inextricably interwoven in the behavior of an adult person.

Difficult as it certainly is to separate the native from the acquired in human action, the attempt must be made. We cannot dodge so fundamental a problem. Scientifically it is important as the starting-point of a genetic study; we must know where the individual starts in order to understand the course of his development. Practically it is important because there is reason to believe that native traits are deeply seated and not easily eradicated, even though they can be modified and specialized in different ways. If a habit is not simply a habit, but at the same time a means of gratifying some natural tendency, then it is almost imperative to find a substitute gratification in order to eliminate the habit. The individual's nature also sets limits beyond which he cannot be brought by no matter how much training and effort; and this is true of mental development as well as of physical.

The Source of Native Traits

"Native" means a little more than "congenital." A child may be born blind, having been infected by disease germs shortly before birth; he may be congenitally an idiot because of head injury during a difficult birth; or his mentality may have been impaired, during his uterine life, by {91} alcohol reaching his brain from a drunken mother. Such traits are congenital, but acquired. Native traits date back to the original constitution of the child, which was fully determined at the time when his individual life began, nine months before birth. The "fertilized ovum", formed by the combination of two cells, one from each of the parents, though microscopic in size and a simple sphere in shape, somehow contains the determiners for all the native or inherited traits of the new individual.

It is very mysterious, certainly. This microscopic, featureless creature is already a human individual, with certain of its future traits—those that we call "native"—already settled. It is a human being as distinguished from any other species, it is a white or colored individual, male or female, blonde or brunette, short or tall, stocky or slender, mentally gifted or deficient, perhaps a "born" musician or adventurer or leader of men. These and all other native traits are already determined and latent within it; and the only question, regarding such traits, is whether the environment is going to be such as to enable this young individual to live and mature and unfold what is latent within it.

Reactions Appearing at Birth Must Be Native

For the first few months of the individual's existence, sheltered as it is within the mother's body, there is no chance for any acquisition, except of certain abnormalities such as were alluded to above. What occurs during this prenatal period is natural development, not learning or any effect of experience. The traits displayed by the new-born child are, accordingly, native traits. His breathing, crying, starting at a noise, squirming, stretching, grasping, sucking and swallowing, and other movements made from birth on, are to be counted as native reactions, that is to say, as {92} reactions executed by sensory, muscular and nervous machinery that have become ready for use by the mere process of natural growth. This is the first and clearest sign of a native trait, that it shall appear at birth.

Reactions That Cannot Be Learned Must Be Native

But native traits continue to make their appearance as the child's development proceeds after birth. Inherited anatomical traits, like stature and build, hair color, beard, and shape of nose, though certainly determined by native constitution, do not fully make their appearance till maturity. In fact, what does maturity mean, except that the natural characteristics have finally reached their complete development? And it is as true of internal structure as of external, that natural development, far from being complete at birth, keeps on till maturity. The neurones continue to grow, and their synapses in the nerve centers to become closer knit, just by virtue of natural growth; and thus reflex arcs, and other reaction machinery, one by one reach the ready-to-use stage during the individual's growing-up, especially during the first few years. With the growth to a functional condition of their sensori-neuro-muscular mechanisms, mental and motor reactions that are native, though not present at birth, make their appearance. The native intelligence of the child gradually unfolds, likewise his special native "gifts" and his inherited emotional and impulsive traits.

Of course it is more difficult to make sure that a trait is native when it does not appear till some time after birth, for the chance of acquiring it by a process of learning has to be taken into account. If you can so control the conditions under which the young individual grows as to eliminate the possibility of learning a certain act, then you can {93} make sure whether the act is acquired or provided by the native constitution.

Experimental Detection of Native Reactions

Take the question whether birds learn to fly or simply come to fly when their natural development has gone far enough. The newly hatched bird cannot fly; its muscles are not strong enough, its wings are not feathered, and its nerve mechanism for cooerdinating the wing movements has still some growth to make before being ready for use. But, under ordinary conditions, the young bird has some chance to learn flying, by watching the old birds fly and by trying and gradually getting the motion. The old birds, after a time, push the young ones from the nest and seem, to our eyes, to be teaching them to fly. Experiment enables us to decide the question. One of the earliest experiments in animal psychology was made by Spalding in 1873. He took newly hatched birds from the nest and shut each one separately in a little box that gave it no chance to stretch its wings or to see other birds fly. Here he fed and cared for them till the age at which flying usually begins, and then released them. Off they flew, skilfully managing wings and tail, swooping around the trees and soon disappearing from sight. A very successful experiment!—and conclusive. The little birds had had no chance to learn to fly, yet they flew. Flying must have come to them in the natural course of growth.

Compare with this experiment another one no less successful, though it turned out differently. To discover whether the song of the oriole is fixed by nature or learned by imitation, Scott took some little ones, just hatched, and brought them up away from older birds. After a time, when growth had advanced to a certain stage, the birds began {94} to sing. The elementary notes and rattles characteristic of the oriole made their appearance, but were combined in unusual ways, so that the characteristic song of the oriole did not appear, but a new song. When these birds had grown up in the laboratory, other new-hatched orioles were brought up with them, and adopted this new song; so that the laboratory became the center for a new school of oriole music. The experiment showed that the elements of the oriole's song were provided by nature, while the combination of these elements was acquired by imitation.

Probably this last is about the result one would get in the analogous case of human speech, if a similar experiment should be tried on children. Without an experiment, we have certain facts that point to a conclusion. The child uses his vocal organs from birth on; and before he reaches the age when he imitates the speech of others, he produces various vowels and consonants, and even puts them together into simple compounds, as "da-da" and "goo-goo." So far, deaf children do about the same as others, affording additional evidence that so much of speech is native. To get real speech, however, further combinations of the speech movements must be made, and the combinations (words) must have meaning attached to them. These higher achievements are evidently the result of learning, since the child uses the words that it hears spoken, and attaches the same meanings to them as people do about it. The child comes to speak the language of those about it, without regard to the speech of its ancestors. His "native language" is therefore acquired, though the elements of vocal utterance are truly native, and apparently are alike all over the world without regard to the various languages spoken.


Is Walking Native or Acquired?

As another example of this same general problem of distinguishing native from acquired reactions, and of the kind of evidence that throws light on the problem in the absence of direct experiment, let us consider the child's walking. Does the child learn to walk, or does it simply come to walk when its natural development has gone far enough? We think the child learns to walk because it begins very imperfectly and usually takes several weeks before it can be described as really walking of itself. We even think we teach it to walk, though when we examine our teaching we soon convince ourselves that we do not know how we walk, and that what we are doing with the baby is to stimulate and encourage him to walk, protect him from hurting himself, etc., rather than teaching him as we later teach the child to write. An experiment to settle the matter might be conducted along the lines of Spalding's experiment on the young birds. We might prevent the baby from making any attempt to walk till it had fully reached the normal age for walking, and then turn it loose and see whether it walked of itself.

Such an experiment has never been made under strict laboratory conditions; but here is a well-attested case that approximates to an experiment. A little girl of seven months, a very active child, seemed to want to get on her feet; but the doctor decided that her feet were too small to use, and directed that she be put back in long dresses. For four months she was kept in long dresses, and great care was exercised never to place her on the floor without them. Then, one day, she was set down without her dress, and immediately up she got and walked; and from that moment she was very agile on her feet.

Another rather different case, but tending towards the {96} same conclusion, is that of a little girl who, in contrast to the preceding, gave her parents some anxiety because, up to the age of seventeen months, she wouldn't walk. She would stand holding on, but not trust herself to her feet alone. One noon her father came in from his work and, removing his cuffs, laid them on the table. The little girl crept to the table, and raised herself to a standing position, holding on to the table. She then took a cuff in one hand, and inserted the other hand into it, thus, for the first time, standing unsupported. She put on the other cuff in like manner, and then marched across the room, as proud as you please. For a few days she could walk only with cuffs, but after that was able to dispense with them. There are a few other cases, differing in details, but agreeing on the main point, that the baby walked well on its first trial and went through nothing that could properly be interpreted as a process of learning.

It would really be very surprising if the human infant were left to learn locomotion for himself, while all other animals have this power by nature. Just because the human infant matures slowly, and learns a vast deal while maturing, is no reason for overlooking the fact that it does mature, i.e., that its native powers are gradually growing and reaching the condition of being ready for use. The most probable conception of "learning to walk," in the light of the evidence, is about as follows. At the age when the child's bones and muscles have become strong enough for walking, the nerve connections for cooerdinating this complex movement have also just about reached the stage of development when they are ready for business. The numerous synapses in the nerve centers that must be traversed by nerve currents in order to arouse the muscles to this particular act are not, we may suppose, all ready at the same instant, and it takes some little time for them to pass from {97} the stage when they will first conduct to the stage when, having grown more, they conduct perfectly. In other words, the neural mechanism for walking can function imperfectly before it can function perfectly. It takes several weeks of growth to pass from the barely functional condition to the fully functional condition; and it is during these weeks that the child seems to be learning to walk, while really his exercise of the partially developed neural mechanisms has no effect except to hasten their growth to some extent.

Universality as a Criterion of Native Reactions

The fundamental sign or criterion of a native trait, in accordance with what we have been saying, is that it shall make its appearance when there has been no chance to acquire it through experience. This is the one perfect criterion; but unfortunately it cannot always be applied, especially with a slowly maturing and much-learning species such as the human. We need other criteria, and one of some value is the criterion of universality.

Consider, for example, the attraction between the sexes, and ask whether this represents a native tendency, or whether each individual acquires it, as he does his "native language", by learning from his elders. Before the body reaches sexual maturity, there has been abundant opportunity for the quick-learning child to observe sex attraction in older people. Yet it is highly improbable that the liking for the other sex which he begins to show strongly in youth is simply an acquired taste. It is improbable because the attraction between the sexes is so universal not only among mankind but among birds and mammals and, indeed, practically throughout the animal kingdom.

Fighting is a similar case. Not so universal as the sex instinct, it still appears almost universally among birds and mammals.


The human individual is an animal, and some of his native traits are universal among animals. He is a vertebrate, and some of his traits, though not present in all animals, are universal among vertebrates. He is a mammal, with mammalian traits; a primate, with primate traits; a man with human traits; a Chinaman or Indian or European with racial traits; belongs to a more or less definite stock or breed within the race, and possesses the traits that are common to members of that stock; and the same with family traits. The criterion of universality, in the light of these facts, comes down to this: that when all individuals having the same descent show a trait in common, that trait is to be regarded as belonging to their native constitution—unless evidence can be brought forward to the contrary.

Smoking is universal among many Malay peoples, but we know, as a historical fact, that it was introduced among them after the discovery of America, not very many generations ago. Superstition is universal among some peoples, but we see the superstitious beliefs and practices taught by the older to the younger generation. Similarly with any specific language. It may very well be true in such cases that the universal practice appeals to some native tendency of the people; but the specific practice is handed down by tradition and not by inheritance.

Some Native Traits Are Far from Being Universal

Though the universality of a trait creates a certain presumption in favor of its being native, the opposite is not always true, for a trait may be native and yet appear in only a fraction of those who have a common descent. Eye color is certainly native, and yet one of two brothers may have blue eyes and the other brown. Mental deficiency runs in families, but usually some members of such families have {99} normal mentality. Genius is almost certainly a native trait, but it is the reverse of universal. The fact is that, along with certain traits that appear in all, the native constitution of a stock provides also for traits that appear only sporadically. Enough has been said to show that the criterion of universality is one that needs to be applied with judgment.

Why Acquired Traits Differ from One Individual to Another

Acquired traits are on the whole much less universal, much more individual, than native traits. They are readjustments of the individual to environmental conditions; and, as the environment varies, so the adjustments vary, even when native traits are the same. Acquired traits are often specializations of the native traits, as any specific language is a specialization of the vocal utterances that are native and common to all men, and as the peculiar gait of an individual is a specialization of the universal walking movement. The gait differs with the environmental differences to which the individual has adapted himself, and will be different in one who has been accustomed to walk over rough ground and in one whose walking has been done on the city streets.

Acquired traits are not independent of native, but are developed on the basis of the native traits. They are acquired not by laying aside native tendencies and working out something entirely new, but by acting in accordance with the native tendencies and making such readjustments as the environment demands. The acquisition of mental traits is accomplished by the process of learning, and we shall later have abundant occasion to examine it in more detail.


What Mental Traits Are Native?

For the present, let us simply take a brief survey of the mental field, and notice what types of reactions are native and what acquired. On the motor side, the reflexes are native, while habitual and skilled movements are acquired. On the sensory side, nature provides the use of the sense organs and the sensations immediately resulting from their stimulation. The baby responds to touch, warmth, cold, sound and light as soon as it is born, or practically so, and undoubtedly has the corresponding sensations. In other words, the rudiments of seeing, hearing, etc., are provided by nature. But when we say, "I see a dog" we mean more than that we are getting certain visual sensations; we mean that we see a known object or known sort of object. This implies recognition of the object, either as an individual thing or as one of a class; and this the baby can scarcely be supposed to do at first. He sees the dog to the extent that he responds by visual sensations to the light coming from the dog, but not to the extent that he recognizes the dog as a dog. In short, the meanings of sensations are acquired, though the sensations themselves are native.

Things come to be known by use of the senses, and when thus known are not only recognized when present, but also remembered and thought of when they are not present to the senses. Such memories and items of knowledge, dependent as they are on experience, are to be reckoned among the acquired reactions. Ideas or conceptions of things also belong here.

Of the emotions, some are called "primary" or native—anger and fear are examples—while others result from the compounding of these primary emotions and are therefore acquired. As people and things come to be known, emotional reactions become attached to them, and give what {101} are often named "sentiments", such as love for this person, contempt for that one, family pride, patriotism. These sentiments, bound up as they are with knowledge and ideas, are certainly acquired.

Closely akin to the primary emotions are the native impulses, as the impulse to eat, to cry, to laugh, to escape from danger, to resist external compulsion and to overcome obstacles. The native impulses are the raw material out of which the numerous acquired desires of child and adult are formed. One sort of native impulse is the impulse to notice or pay attention to certain sorts of stimuli. These native interests of the child give birth to the various specialized interests of the adult. The baby's attention to a bright light represents a native interest; the older child's fixing his eyes on a dark brown piece of chocolate represents an acquired interest which has developed in a way that is easy to understand.

Finally, we must count among the native traits of the individual his inherited aptitudes for certain kinds of work. One child shows a natural aptitude for music, another for acting, another for mathematics, another for mechanical things, another for language, and so on. As any of these "natural gifts" is present in some degree in nearly all members of the human family, and not to anything like the same degree in animals, they are the characteristically human traits. It is on the basis of such native aptitudes that each individual proceeds, through the processes of learning, to build up his various acquired abilities, such as the ability to sing, to speak a certain language, to add, to work with tools, to perform athletic feats, and to take part in social activities of various sorts.

Our next task will be to examine more closely the native equipment of man, and after that to take up the process of learning, which is the way reactions are acquired. First the native, then the acquired. The acquired is based upon {102} the native. Acquired reactions are indeed so numerous that we cannot attempt even to list them all, let alone examine each one separately; but we can at least study the way in which they are acquired. Native reactions are much less numerous, so that the student may hope to obtain a fairly comprehensive survey of this field, though, of course, without much detail.

The general plan of this book, then, is as follows. Up to this point, it has been providing a stock of methods and general conceptions to serve as tools in psychological study: consciousness and behavior, the introspective and objective methods, reactions and tendencies to reaction, native and acquired, and the part played by the nervous system. Next comes a survey of reactions provided by the native constitution, and after that a study of the process of learning or acquiring reactions. Finally, there are several chapters devoted to such topics as imagination, reasoning and will, which are ways in which the individual utilizes his whole equipment, native and acquired, in meeting the exigencies of life.

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