Becoming Human

  • There are two basic approaches to understanding how we develop our personalities – broadly defined as an individual’s relatively stable pattern of behaviours and feelings – and become members of the larger society
  • These are the biological approach and the environmental approach, traditionally referred to as the nature vs. nurture debate

o   The nature side of the debate holds that our actions and feelings stem from our biological roots

o   The nurture side of the debate argue that we are the product of our socialization

The Nature Argument: Being Born You

  • The science of sociobiology uses evolutionary theory and genetic inheritance to examine the biological roots of social behaviour
  • It began in the early 1960s and is associated with the animal behaviour studies of Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) and the research into the social behaviour of ants by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson (1929-)
  • The core assertion of sociobiology is that social behaviour developed among humans, as with all organisms, has evolved over time to secure the survival of the species, the most important achievement for an organism is to leave as many offspring as possible
  • Those attributes (physical or behavioural) that help an individual’s ability to produce offspring are selected for, and those attributes that diminish an individual’s ability to produce offspring are selected against
  • Sociobiology has gained popularity in recent years under its new name: evolutionary psychology – argues that Darwinian inheritance can explain contemporary human behaviour

o   EX: the fact that the Achuar Indians of Ucuador have one of the world’s highest murder rates can be explained by the fact that killing is part of their culture and has been selected for over many generations

  • Empirical support for their overall assertion that human behaviour is determined by genetics remains contentious and has only limited support in the social services
  • Our capacity to reflect on our own behaviour is one that social scientists believe must be fully recognized and appreciated
  • Sociologists remain committed to the belief that the factors influencing the people we become are defined not by nature, but by nurture

The Nurture Argument: Learning to be You

  • The most compelling argument to explain why sociologists believe that we become the people we are through social interaction is what happens when young children are isolated from human contact
  • Effects of Social Isolation: Anna Case Study

o   Anna was found in a farm house by a social worker. She was tied to a chair and was so severely undernourished she could barely stand on her own. It was discovered that she had been born out of wedlock to a mentally handicapped mother and kept in the attic by her grandfather because he was embarrassed by her illegitimacy. Deprived of normal human contact and receiving only minimal amount of care to keep her alive, Anna could not talk, walk, or do anything that demonstrated even basic intellectual capacity.

  • The importance of human interaction is obvious in light of such cases of children who have suffered from severe neglect
  • Sociologists could argue that social reality is constructed  by people every time they interact with others
  • Our genetic makeup (nature) gives us capacity to be social beings, but it is the process of social interaction (nurture) that enables us to develop that capacity

Development of Self: Sociological Insights

  • The self may be defined as “a composite of thoughts and feelings” from which we derive our “conception of who and what” we are
  • The self, or one’s identity, comprises a set of learned values and attitudes that develops through social interaction and defines one’s self image
  • Our self-image is in introspective composition of various features and attributes that we see ourselves as
  • The self is a key component of personality, defined above as an individual’s relatively stable pattern of behaviours and feelings
  • In healthy individuals, the personality and self join to give an individual the sense that he or she is unique and special

Imagining How Others See Us: C.H. Cooley

  • Cooley’s concept of the looking-glass self, whereby what we think of ourselves is influenced by how we imagine other people see us
  • To be aware of oneself, one must be aware of society
  • Self-conciousness and social conciousness are inseperable because people cannot conceive of themselves without reference to others
  • Therefore, the self does not emerge independently I the mind but instead is the result of social interaction
  • “Imagine imaginations” < one of Cooley’s most famous sayings

o   sociologists could not hope to understand the social world until they could project themselves into the minds of others and see the world as those people did – the essence of the sociological imagination and the sociological perspective

Understanding Ourselves and Others: G.H. Mead

  • Building on Cooley’s investigation
  • Mead argued that the self is composed of two complementary elements: the I and the me
  • The I:

o   Part of the consciousness that responds to thing emotionally

o   Spontaneous, creative, impulsive, and often unpredictable

o   EX: imagine how you might respond if you found out that you had won a free trip to Mexico. Chances are you would jump up and down and wave your arms in the air to express your excitement

  • The me:

o   The socialized element of the self

o   The part of consciousness that thinks about how to behave so that, for example, you don’t embarrass yourself

o   Helps us to control the spontaneous impulses of the I

  • People whom we went to impress or gain approval from Mead termed significant others

o   When we are children, our parents are the most important people in ourlives, and so are considered significant others

  • Generalized others – not anyone specific, but rather a compilation of attributes that we associate with the average member of society

o   As we mature, the importance of our family wanes somewhat and we become aware of those in the broader social world who influence our behaviours

  • Critical to explaining symbolic interactionists’ analysis of how we interpret ourselves, other people, and the social world is the concept of role-taking – assuming the position of another to better understand that person’s perspective

o   Role taking is critical for empathizing with another person’s situation

o   EX: by imagining what it would be like to be homeless, you inevitable become more empathetic to how homeless people must feel and more compassionate about their needs

  • Mead also contributed to understanding how we develop our sense of self through social interaction by investigating how young children are socialized. He asserted that, as they grow up, children pass through a series of three distinct stages:

o   Preparatory stage (birth to age three)

§  Young children’s first experiences with others are to imitate what they see others doing

§  The want to please the significant others in their lives (usually their parents)

§  Through positive and negative reinforcement, children begin to develop the I, but the me is also forming in the background

o   Play stage (ages three to five)

§  Children learn a great deal about themselves and the society around them through play

§  As children being to assume the roles of others, they move beyond simple imitation and assume the imagined roles of the characters they’re playing

§  During this stage, the me continues to grow because children want to receive positive reinforcement from their significant others

§  Because language skills are developing throughout this stage, children can more accurately communicate their thoughts and feelings – a skill that must be mastered before a stable sense of self can emerge

o   Game Stage (elementary-school years)

  • Children become increasingly proficient at taking on multiple roles at once (student, son or daughter, friend) and by doing so begin to identify with the generalized other
  • Participating in complex games that require them to play a particular role (e.g., playing defence on a field hockey team) teaches them to understand their individual position as well as the needs of the group
  • This stage marks the period during which primary socialization – people learn attitudes, values, and appropriate behaviours for individuals in their culture – occurs
  • Secondary socialization occurs later, through participation in groups that are more specific than the broader society and that have defined roles and expectations (part time jobs, city-wide sports, volunteer activities)

Development of Self: Psychological Insights

Psychosexual Development: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

  • Freud believed that people behave according to drives and experiences of which they are not always aware
  • He suggested that the unconscious mind is full of memories of events, experiences, and traumas from childhood – many of which are sexual in nature
  • Defence mechanism – describes the ways in which individuals manage painful memories
  • Freud believed that people use a great deal of mental energy to form and maintain defence mechanism, and that not resolving painful memories could limit a person’s ability to lead a full and satisfying life
  • Freud’s model of the human personality: id, superego, and ego
  • EX: Suppose you have gone downtown without your wallet and suddenly find yourself feeling famished. As you walk by an outdoor deli, you spot a sandwich left unattended. Your id tells you to scoop it up, your superego tells you not to because it would be stealing, and your ego reminds you that a friend lives close by and suggests that maybe she could give you something to eat
  • Difference between Mead and Freud: Mead believed that the I and the me worked together as a creative and dynamic force, while Freud focused on the tension between the id and the superego
    • Id: an individual’s biological drives and impulses that strive for instant gratification
    • Superego: all of the norms, values, and morals that are learned through socialization
    • Ego: the intermediary between id and the superego that provides socially acceptable ways to achieve wants

Psychosocial Development: Erik Erikson (1902-1994)

  • Erikson believed that early childhood experiences are important for personality development and that socialization is marked by crises throughout one’s life
  • Unlike Freud, Erikson suggested that culture also plays a critical role
  • Erikson integrated ideas from anthropology that showed that children from different cultures learn different values and goals and experience vastly different kinds of parenting styles and guidance
  • Erikson believed that there are universal development processes as well; he defined eight stages of development that all people must go through from infancy to old age
  • The stages are referred to as psychosocial because they reflect both individual psychological processes and social challenges that everyone faces during their lives

Cognitive Development: Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

  • Piaget was also interested in showing how young people gradually progress through distinct developmental stages, and he discovered that children think and reason differently at different times in their lives
  • He believed that children pass through four distinct stages; although every healthy child passes through stages in the same order, there is some variation in the speed at which each child progresses

o   Sensorimotor stage (birth to age 2): young children learn about their world through their five senses. They also form attachments to parents and/or other close caretakers

o   Preoperational stage (age 2 to about age 7): children begin to use their imagination while playing and continue to develop language skills. Children in this stage are also influenced by fantasy, and by the way they would like things to be as opposed to the way they are. Children have difficulty conceptualizing time and assume that everyone else sees the world as they do

o   Concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 11): children begin to see causal connections in their environment and to make logical conclusions about the world around them.

o   Formal operational stage (around age 12): child becomes more comfortable with abstract reasoning. Adolescents at this stage can offer several alternative solutions to a series of problems. Thinking about different ways to handle a situation by envisioning possible scenarios demonstrates abstract reasoning

Agents of Socialization

  • The individuals, groups, and social institutions, groups, and social institutions that together help people to become functioning members of society
  • According to sociologists we are defined most significantly by the society around us
  • Today, the four principal agents of socialization are families, peers, education, and mass media

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