The Hormic Psychology

“In the volume Psychologies of 1925 I took the field as an exponent of purposive psychology. Anticipating a little the course of history, I shall here assume that the purposive nature of human action is no longer in dispute, and in this article shall endeavour to define and to justify that special form of purposive psychology which is now pretty widely known as hormic psychology. But first a few words in justification of this assumption.

Fifteen years ago American psychologists displayed almost without exception a complete blindness to the most peculiar, characteristic, and important feature of human and animal activity, namely, its goal-seeking. All bodily actions and all phases of experience were mechanical reactions to stimuli, and all learning was the modification of such reactions by the addition of one reaction to another according to the mechanical principles of association. The laws of learning were the laws of frequency, of recency, and of effect ; and, though the law of effect as formulated by Thorndike may have suggested to some few minds that the mechanical principles involved were not so clear as might be wished, the laws of frequency and recency could give rise to no such misgivings. The law of effect, with its uncomfortable suggestion of an effect that somehow causes its cause, was pretty generally regarded as something to be got rid of by the substitution of some less ambiguous and more clearly mechanical formula.

Now, happily, all this is changed ; the animal psychologists have begun to realise that any description of animal behaviour which ignores its goal-seeking nature is futile, any ‘explanation’ which leaves it out of account, fictitious, and any experimentation which ignores motivation, grossly misleading ; they are busy with the study of ‘drives’,’sets’, and  ‘incentives’. It is true that their recognition of goal-seeking is in general partial and grudging ; they do not explicitly recognise that a ‘set’ is a set toward an end, that ‘a drive’ is an active striving toward a goal, that an ‘incentive’ is some-thing that provokes such active striving. The terms ‘striving’ and ‘conation’ are still foreign to their vocabularies.”

William McDougall

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