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Each culture has a unique character which shapes the values and behavior of its members. Socialization is the process whereby people learn the attitudes, values and actions appropriate to individuals as members of a particular culture. Socialization occurs through human interactions. We will, of course, learn a great deal from those people most important in our lives — immediate family members, best friends, teachers and so forth. But we also learn from people we see on the street, on television and in films and magazines. Through interacting with people as well as through our own observations, we discover how to behave «properly» and what to expect from others if we follow or challenge society's norms and values.
Socialization affects the overall cultural practices of a society and it also shapes the image that we hold of ourselves. In this sense, socialization experiences can have an impact on the shaping of people's personalities. In everyday speech, the term personality is used to refer to a person's typical patterns of attitudes, needs, characteristics and behavior.
All researchers would agree that both biological inheritance and the process of socialization play a role in human development. There is no consensus, however, regarding the relative importance of these factors, which can lead to what is called the «nature versus nurture» (or «heredity versus environment») debate. We can more easily contrast the impact of heredity and environment if we examine situations in which one factor operates almost entirely without the other.
Specialists have studied cases where children have been locked away, or severely neglected, or raised in isolation and in these cases the consequences of social isolation have proved to be greatly damaging because the children reacted and behaved like wild animals. Despite their physical and cognitive potential to learn, it was very difficult to adapt them to human relationships and socialization.
Nowadays researchers are increasingly emphasizing the importance of early socialization experiences for humans that grow up in normal environments. It is now recognized that it is not enough to care for an infant's physical needs, parents must also concern themselves with children's social environment. If children are discouraged from having friends, they will be deprived of social interactions with peers that may be critical in their emotional growth.
The isolation studies discussed above may seem to suggest that inheritance can be dismissed as a factor in the social development of humans. However, the interplay between heredity and environment factors is evident in the fascinating studies involving pairs of twins reared apart and brought up separately. Two genetically identical persons developed quite different personalities and political and cultural values because of their differing socialization experiences. Certain characteristics, such as the twins temperaments, voice patterns and nervous habits appear to be strikingly similar. But there are far greater differences between the twins' attitudes, values, types of mates chosen and even drinking habits. These studies have found marked similarities in their tendency toward leadership or dominance, but significant differences in their need for intimacy, comfort and assistance.
Researchers have also been impressed by the following fact: usually twin pairs brought up together have similar scores on intelligence tests. At the same time identical twins brought up in dramatically different social environments score quite differently on intelligence tests.
This finding indicates that, on the one hand, both genetic factors and socialization are influential in human development but, on the other hand, it supports the great impact of socialization on development.
We all have various perceptions, feelings and beliefs about who we are and what we are like. Many sociologists and psychologists have expressed interest in how the individual develops and modifies the sense of self because of social interaction.
There are different sociological approaches to the self. In the early 1900s the sociologists advanced the belief that we learn who we are by interacting with others, that our view of ourselves comes not only from our personal qualities but also from our impressions how others perceive us.
Other scientists introduced the theory of the self which proposes that, as people mature, their selves change and begin to reflect great concern about the reactions of others. They used the phrase «significant others» to refer to those individuals who are most important in the development of the self. Parents, friends, co-workers, coaches and teachers are often among those who play a major role in shaping a person's self.
Contemporary sociologists have used the interaction approach to show that many of our daily activities involve attempts to convey impressions of who we are. We learn to create distinctive appearances and to satisfy particular audiences. People very often blunder in their daily activities but we tend to ignore their mistakes. Therefore, the sound of a stomach rumbling in a quiet room is almost always ignored. This polite behavior is intended to save face. And to maintain the proper image we often initiate face-saving behavior.
This sociological approach of the contemporary social scientists represents a logical progression of the sociological efforts begun by the sociologists of the past. The former stressed the process by which we come to view ourselves and how we learned to interact with others, the latter emphasize the ways in which we consciously create images of ourselves for others.