William McDougall


Born in Lancashire, England, William McDougall was a major opponent of Watson’s behaviorism. Trained as a medical doctor, his interest in psychology was sparked by William James.

McDougall’s basically animistic philosophy (there is a bit of soul in everything) was in stark contrast to Watson’s mechanistic approach. According to McDougall, behavior is not simply a response to a stimuli but is goal seeking and purposive. Calling his approach “hormic psychology,” McDougall viewed behavior as being spontaneous, persistent, and goal directed.

McDougall opposed the use of introspection for studying mental processes. He held that behavior is instinctive and composed of cognitive, conative, and affective aspects. Cognition includes the perception and recognition of a stimulus. The predisposition to goal seeking action is the conative process. The affective aspect of behavior is what occurs between cognition and goal attainment. It is the “emotional core” of the individual.

For McDougall, a person’s emotional core was stable and unimpacted by learning. Learning can change perception (i.e., different stimuli can be used) and/or it can change action (i.e., improved performance) but a person’s emotional core remains untouched.

If McDougall’s emphasis on action as a discharge of energy is reminiscent of Jung, perhaps it reflects the fact that McDougall was personally psychoanalyzed by Jung. In any event, McDougall lists of basic instincts (which varied over time) included: hunger, curiosity, escape, self-assertion and sex. Later, McDougall differentiated between seven basic instincts (e.g., rejection, curiosity, escape, etc.) and their corresponding “emotional cores” (e.g., disgust, wonder, fear, etc.). Still later, the list was expanded to include 17 instincts.

Behavior was the result of individual and groups of instincts. If two or more instincts become attached to the same object, the tendency toward action is called a “sentiment.”

McDougall proposed that group behavior also was the result of instinctive behavior. Socialization is not a single instinct but is composed of instinct combinations. According to McDougall, emotions become stronger in groups. Coining the term “group mind,” McDougall applied his model of individual motivation to group process. Group action and emotion are essentially the same as for individuals but more intense.

You might enjoy this video on Psychology and Experimental Physiology.


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