Social Question

DaphneT's avatar

What does it mean to be socialized, not in a fiscal manner, but in a cultural manner?

Asked by DaphneT (5648 points ) January 15th, 2013

I was listening to a portion of a public radio program the other day and this thought crossed my mind.

What does it mean to be able to function in society? Does it mean that we’ve been socialized to act a certain way? Does being socialized mean that other members of society can expect us to act a certain way, without their saying so? What has to happen for a person to be socialized in a cultural manner? Are some people born with the ability to optimize their participation and success in society without any outside guidance? Does every person need to be programmed to function in society and how does this happen? What are your thoughts?

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11 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

Socialization mostly comes down to “theory of mind” skills: starting with the basic understanding that others have different perspectives than one’s own, and from there being able to intuit what those perspectives are.

People with even basic social intelligence know that people around them know things that they don’t know, and vice versa, that each has his own interior world, and can probably make some pretty good guesses about what others’ interior worlds are like.

The human brain is pretty good at this stuff. With experience, this basic ability develops further into the ability to intuit what others think the interior worlds of others are like, kind of a 2nd degree theory of mind. In other words, I have a sense not only of what your interior world is like, but of what your sense of my interior world is like. Psychologists have demonstrated that humans can do this out to 6 degrees. And all of this happens rather automatically.

marinelife's avatar

Socialization is something that we absorb from the beginning of our lives. Certain behaviors are countenanced and certain others are discouraged from our earliest days.

Akua's avatar

In my opinion I believe that we are socialized through our upbringing and experiences in most cases but I won’t say all. I can answer this only using my own experiences and no one else’s, but I don’t consider myself “socialized” well. From birth to the age of 16 I was taught to act and be a certain way and I was given cues to look for to reinforce this behavior. It really is about grooming. For instance, I wasn’t allowed to have friends, phone calls or go over to other people’s houses. I am an only child and was restricted to my room when I was not in school so I never learned how to have a conversation, the art of small talk, and I was embarrassed at the thoughts I had because with my limited contact with people I didn’t think anyone had the same thoughts and feelings I did. I spent all my time alone and even at school I never spoke to anyone and people rarely spoke to me, children and adults alike. To this day I struggle with feelings of normalcy with society and I never feel comfortable around people or in public. I’m an introvert, have social anxiety and I hate talking to people face-to-face and I believe this came about because I was not properly socialized. I don’t know if this is the kind of socialization you meant but I hope it helped.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What does it mean in a fiscal sense? I never knew there was such a thing. Every person growing up in a community is socialized to the norms and taboos and rituals of said community. People can rebel or conform but, save for instances of feral children and others raised by animals (and even these are socialized to the beings and environment around them, everyone’s going to go through socialization. There are several socializing agents: parents, teachers/religious leaders, peers, media, etc. Every society differs in their practices, hence people are socialized with some variation. Much of what you get socialized into as a child feels for many adult people as if it’s natural, inherent, biologically so and not because of socialization. I think they’re mistaken.

DaphneT's avatar

@Akua, you provide an interesting perspective. In contrast, I grew up in a large family, and my contact with others was limited to family, school, and church activities. Yet I also never learned how to have a conversation, I dislike small talk, and I’m an introvert. I accepted this as normal for most of my life, and have only felt it is not normal in the past decade or so. I believe my feelings of not normal come from outside-my-self-pressures that are pushing me to perform as an extrovert.

@thorninmud how does one learn “theory of mind” skills? And what does it mean to have social intelligence?

@marinelife, but how is this done? Is it always a passive transfer method of the child watching, listening and absorbing or is there an active element?

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I was simply trying to be most accurate and precise so that anyone reading my question would dismiss political and economic socialism from their answers. As your answer suggests, you have not been socialized to, or are actively working to not, think of the words ‘social’, ‘socialize’, ‘socialism’ and ‘society’ as derivatives of the same construct. Again the question that persists is ‘how’ does one socialize? Is it active or passive?

thorninmud's avatar

@DaphneT “How does one learn ‘theory of mind’ skills?”

Babies and young toddlers have no theory of mind. It hasn’t yet dawned on them that although experiences are broadly shared, each person has their own particular perspective on that experience. Eventually they begin to understand that while baby may want one thing, Mom wants something else; or that even though baby’s eyes are closed, Mom can still see. For the first time, it occurs to the child that there are others in the world, and that their “otherness” derives from a different perspective.

Based on that fundamental realization, the child’s obsession then becomes investigating the gulf between his/her perspective and that of others. This is serious business, because the child now sees that life is a negotiation between sometimes conflicting aims and desires, and that getting what one wants often requires understanding what others know and want.

Because developing theory of mind skills is a high-stakes game, we typically get pretty good pretty fast. The learning process is helped along by frequent exposure to situations where one has to balance one’s own interests with those of others. It’s also expedited by attentiveness; someone who’s constantly absorbed in their own inner world will be less adept at intuiting what’s going on with others.

“Social intelligence” is just skill in harmonizing one’s aims and desires with those of others, using theory of mind as a starting point.

burntbonez's avatar

People are socialize primarily by their parents (who should be the ones to teach them to say “please” and “thank you”), and secondarily by everyone else they come in contact with. Teachers play a major role. Other children play a major role, especially when they are teens. Later on, employers play a big role.

The way we are socialized depends on the local community; on the tribe. There is a lot of variation between groups, and there are probably some things that are fairly universal. No one does it without outside guidance. Occasionally, we’ll see the “wild” children who have lived in the woods for ten years or in a closet for an equal time, and they don’t know how to speak a language and they don’t know the expectations others have of them. They simply can’t get along, and I believe they have a great deal of difficulty learning much socialization. There seems to be a window of opportunity where the brain is fertile for this kind of learning. After a certain age, the brain hardens, so to speak, and it is very difficult to pick this up.

We all need to be programmed to fit into our culture and society. Without that training, we are misfits, and no one will cooperate with us. A few can get along without the cooperation of others, but most of us do poorly. We can not command so many resources. We cannot build good will (savings) for retirement. We may be unable to find mates. We cannot build social capital. We cannot gain any status, and probably won’t have high self esteem.

We are tribal creatures. Our ability to get along (social capital) is worth more than anything else. In fact, socialization largely equates to status and wealth. It is the most important thing we have.

Akua's avatar

@DaphneT said: “I believe my feelings of not normal come from outside-my-self-pressures that are pushing me to perform as an extrovert”. I agree with you on that. I get the feeling that extroverts feel sorry for people like us and in an effort to ‘fit in’ or to just get by in life I have learned to fake socialization. Meaning that when necessary, I can make others believe I am a well-socialized person and in some cases can look like an extrovert but it doesn’t come easy for me, it’s stressful and takes a lot out of me. If I’m forced to socialize for very long stretches (like for more than 10 hrs), I become angry, nervous and irritable. @burntbonez also describes a similar situation that I like to compare to solitary confinement ” Occasionally, we’ll see the “wild” children who have lived in the woods for ten years or in a closet for an equal time, and they don’t know how to speak a language and they don’t know the expectations others have of them. They simply can’t get along, and I believe they have a great deal of difficulty learning much socialization. There seems to be a window of opportunity where the brain is fertile for this kind of learning. After a certain age, the brain hardens, so to speak, and it is very difficult to pick this up.” This is also very true. Something happens to a mind that is not stimulated by socialization. Granted I was able to “get along” with my limitations but it’s only because of therapy and the fact that I knew how to mimic what I knew others expected from me and I learned this by watching other people and reading but it is never natural for me and because it’s forced I sometimes say something inappropriate or ignore an obvious statement from people. I know I come off weird to people because of it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@DaphneT How does one socialize? When a parent repeatedly informs their boy child that boys don’t cry, that he shouldn’t play with his sister’s dolls, that mommy’s make-up is not for him, that pink is a girl’s color, etc – they are actively socializing that child into a prescribed boy gender role in this society. Socialization is repetitive and is reinforced from one socialization agent to another. Sometimes, there’s dissonance where, for example, if that boy meets another adult that doesn’t buy into gender norms, then he will be confused. People mistake that confusion for a problem.

DaphneT's avatar

@thorninmud “It’s also expedited by attentiveness; someone who’s constantly absorbed in their own inner world will be less adept at intuiting what’s going on with others.” I found this to be an interesting statement. In our family several of my siblings are now discussing Autism and Asperger’s and trying to understand if any of us would have been diagnosed as either, when we were children. Personally, I spend as much time as I can in my own inner world, I find it much more relaxing than trying to deal with outsiders. That said, that amount of time is now limited to reading, and I very much miss the days of yore when I could daydream my life away. At the same time, I regret that I’ve missed out on much of what society expects of most in terms of having my own children and being married _(read that word as meaning committed to someone who is not blood family for the longest duration with the intention of growing old together). However, looking back over my youth, I don’t know what would have pulled me out of my own inner world. Listening to today’s discussions of the children diagnosed as Aspergers or autistic, strikes a chord of recognition of behavior traits.

@Akua, I applaud you for getting through even one hour of socializing, if you’re surviving ten without screaming in their faces, you have much to be proud of. Lately I’ve been finding that I’ll go into work with the right attitude, and lose it within minutes of starting the work day. I know this is a result of my diet, the weather and the lack of meaningful interactions in my home life, and yet I still cannot get a handle on it. Being able to spend this long drafting a response to a Fluther question has been hard to come by these past few months. As for the extroverts, I don’t believe extroverts feel sorry, I think they just feel puzzled, then put it out of their mind and go on to their next victim. I believe that if people feel sorry they should do something about how they interact such that they don’t have to feel sorry.

@burntbonez, “Without that training, we are misfits, and no one will cooperate with us. A few can get along without the cooperation of others, but most of us do poorly. We can not command so many resources. We cannot build good will (savings) for retirement. We may be unable to find mates. We cannot build social capital. We cannot gain any status, and probably won’t have high self esteem.” This pretty much describes the results of my childhood. But what training did I fail to grasp? Can I self-assess this lack? Or can it only be adjudicated by outside sources?

… and damn, there’s the interruption.

burntbonez's avatar

@DaphneT It really depends on the details of your story. But if you have enough socialization and are intelligent, you can figure out, over time, how to get along better and how to organize people to work with you.You can even choose to put yourself in training programs to learn these things. I would suggest dancing or improv comedy as a place to start. You can’t do these things without cooperating.

And remember, if you do them, your goal is not to be good at them, but just to learn some skills.

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