Chapter 5: Socialization
Chapter Overview


  1. Social Experience: The Key to Our Humanity
    1. Human Development: Nature and Nurture
      1. Charles Darwin: The Role of Nature
      2. The Social Sciences: The Role of Nurture
    2. Social Isolation
      1. Effects of Social Isolation on Nonhuman Primates
      2. Effects of Social Isolation on Children
  2. Understanding The Socialization Process
    1. Sigmund Freud: The Elements of Personality
      1. Basic Human Needs
      2. Freud's Model of Personality
      3. Personality Development
    2. Jean Piaget: Cognitive Development
      1. The Sesorimotor Stage
      2. The Preoperational Stage
      3. The Concrete Operational Stage
      4. The Format Operational Stage
    3. Lawrence Kohlberg: Moral Development
    4. Carol Gilligan: Bringing in Gender
    5. George Herbert Mead: The Social Self
      1. The Self
      2. The Looking-glass Self
      3. The I and the Me
      4. Development of the Self
    6. Erik H. Erikson: Eight Stages of Development
    7. Agents of Socialization
      1. The Family
      2. Schooling
      3. The Peer Group
      4. The Mass Media
    8. Socialization and the Life Course
      1. Childhood
      2. Adolescence
      3. Adulthood
        1. Early Adulthood
        2. Middle Adulthood
      4. Old Age
      5. Dying
      6. The Life Course: An Overview
    9. Resocialization: Total Institutions
    10. Summary
    11. Key Concepts
    12. Critical-Thinking Questions
    13. Applications and Exercises
    14. Sites to See


    • To understand the "nature-nurture" debate regarding socialization and personality development
    • To become aware of the effects of social isolation on humans and other primates
    • To become aware of the key components of Sigmund Freud's model of personality
    • To be able to identify and describe the four stages of Jean Piaget's cognitive development theory
    • To be able to identify and describe the stages of moral development as identified by Lawrence Kohlberg
    • To analyze Carol Gilligan's critique of Kohlberg's moral development model
    • To be able to identify and describe the stages of personality development as outlined by Erik Erikson
    • To consider the contributions of George Herbert Mead to the understanding of personality development
    • To be able to compare the spheres of socialization (family, school, and so on) in terms of their effects on an individual's socialization experiences
    • To develop a life-course perspective of the socialization experience
    • To begin to understand the cross-cultural and historical patterns of death and dying as part of the life course
    • To be able to discuss the sociological perspective on socialization as a constraint to freedom



    The chapter begins with the story of Anna, a young girl who was raised devoid of meaningful social experience. Kingsley Davis, a sociologist, studied the six-year-old girl, and described her as being more an object than a person. What Anna was deprived of was socialization, or the lifelong social experience by which individuals develop human potential and learn patterns of their culture. Socialization is the foundation of personality, referring to a person's fairly consistent patterns of acting, thinking, and feeling.


    Charles Darwin: The Role of Nature Naturalists during the later nineteenth century, applying Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, claimed that all human behavior was instinctive.

    The Social Sciences: The Role of Nurture In the early part of this century, psychologist John Watson challenged this perspective and developed an approach called behaviorism, claiming that all human behavior was learned within particular social environments and rooted in nurture. The work of anthropologists illustrating the great cultural variation existing around the world supports Watson's view. Contemporary sociologists do not argue that biology plays no role in shaping human behavior. The current position among sociologists is that nature and nurture are not so much in opposition as they are inseparable.


    Effects of Social Isolation on Nonhuman Primates Classic research by Harry and Margaret Harlow using rhesus monkeys has illustrated the importance of social interaction for other primates besides humans. Using various experimental situations with "artificial" mothers for infant monkeys they determined that while physical development occurred within normal limits, emotional development and social growth failed to occur. Monkeys who experienced short-term isolation (three months or less) recovered to normal emotional levels after rejoining other monkeys. Long-term separation appears to have irreversible negative consequences.

    Effects of Social Isolation on Children The cases of Anna, Isabelle, and Genie, all of whom suffered years of isolation and neglect as young children, are reviewed. While humans are resilient creatures, extreme social isolation results in irreversible damage to emotional, cognitive, and behavioral domains of personality development.


    Sigmund Freud: The Elements of Personality Sigmund Freud's most important contribution was the development of psychoanalysis.

    Basic Human Needs Freud (1856-1939) saw biological factors as having a significant influence on personality, although not in the form of simple instincts. He claimed humans had two basic needs. One he labeled eros, or a need for bonding. Another he called the death instinct, or thanatos, which related to an aggressive drive.

    Freud's Model of Personality Freud's perspective combined both these basic needs and the influence of society into a unique model of personality. He argued the personality is composed of three parts. One is the id, rooted in biology and representing the human being's basic drives, which are unconscious and demand immediate satisfaction. Another, representing a person's conscious efforts to balance innate pleasure-seeking drives with demands of society, he labeled the ego. Finally, the human personality develops a superego which is the operation of culture within the individual in the form of internalized values and norms. There is basic conflict between the id and the superego which the ego must continually try to manage. If the conflict is not adequately resolved personality disorders result.

    Personality Development Culture controls human drives in a process Freud called repression. Often a compromise between society and the individual is struck, where fundamentally selfish drives are redirected into socially acceptable objectives. This process is called sublimation.

    While controversial, Freud's work highlights the internalization of social norms and the importance of childhood experiences in the socialization process and the development of personality.

    Jean Piaget: Cognitive Development Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a prominent psychologist whose work centered on human cognition, how people think and understand. He was concerned with not just what a person knew, but how a person made sense of the world. He identified four major stages of cognitive development which he believed were tied to biological maturation as well as social experience.

    The Sensorimotor Stage The sensorimotor stage is described as the level of development in which individuals experience the world only through sensory contact. This stage lasts for about the first two years of life.

    The Preoperational Stage The preoperational stage was described by Piaget as the level of development in which individuals first use language and other symbols. This stage extends from the age of two to the age of six. Children continue to be very egocentric during this time, having little ability to generalize concepts.

    The Concrete Operational Stage The third stage in Piaget's model is called the concrete operational stage and is described as the level of development at which individuals first perceive causal connections in their surroundings. This period typically covers the ages of seven to eleven. The ability to take the perspective of other people emerges during this stage.

    The Formal Operational Stage The fourth stage is the formal operational stage and is described as the level of development at which individuals think abstractly and critically. This stage begins about age twelve. The ability to think in hypothetical terms is also developed.

    Piaget viewed the human mind as active and creative. Research now is focusing on the cross-cultural relevance of this model and to what extent males and females develop differently through these stages. Further, some evidence suggests that almost one-third of the adults in the U.S. do not reach stage four.

    Lawrence Kohlberg: Moral Development Lawrence Kohlberg identifies three stages of moral development: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. In the first stage moral reasoning is tied to feelings of pleasure and avoidance of pain. In the second stage, specific cultural norms dominate moral reasoning. In the third stage more abstract ethical principles are involved.

    Many of the same criticisms raised about Piaget's model apply to Kohlberg's work. Also, he used only males in his research, preventing generalization of his results to all people.

    Carol Gilligan: Bringing In Gender Carol Gilligan's research focuses on a systematic comparison of moral development for females and males. Her work indicates that the moral reasoning of girls and boys is different. Girls tend to use a care and responsibility perspective, while boys tend to use a justice perspective. An important question is whether the differences are the result of nature or nurture.

    George Herbert Mead: The Social Self Questions such as What exactly is social experience? and, How does social experience enhance our humanity? were central to his research on the socialization process. George Herbert Mead's analysis is often referred to as social behaviorism.

    The Self Mead understood the basis of humanity to be the self, a dimension of personality composed of an individual's self-awareness and self-image. For Mead, the self was a totally social phenomenon, inseparable from society. The connection between the two was explained in a series of steps--the emergence of the self through social experience, based on the exchange of symbolic interaction, and occurring within a context in which people take the role of the other, or take their point of view into account during social interaction. A fourth argument of Mead's was that people become self-reflective in this process of taking the role of the other.

    The Looking-Glass Self The process of taking the role of the other can be more clearly seen using Charles Horton Cooley's concept of the looking-glass self--or the self-image we have based on how we suppose others perceive us.

    The I and the Me An important dualism is suggested by Mead's idea that the self thinks about itself. The two components include: (1) the self as subject by which we initiate social action--the I, and (2) the self as object, or objective part, concerned with how we perceive ourselves from the perspective of others--the Me.

    Development of the Self Mead minimized the importance of biology in personality development. The key was social experience, not maturation. Mead saw infants as responding to others only in terms of imitation, or mimicking behavior without understanding. As the use of symbols emerges the child enters a play stage in which role-taking occurs. Initially, the roles are modeled after significant others, especially parents. Through further social experience children enter the game stage where the simultaneous playing of many roles is possible. The final stage involves the development of a generalized other, or the general cultural norms and values shared by us and others that we use as a point of reference in evaluating ourselves.

    Erik H. Erikson: Eight Stages Of Development

    Compared to the previous theorists, Erik Erikson (1902-1994) offered a broader view of socialization, believing personality changes throughout the life course. The stages he identified include:

    1. Infancy: the challenge of trust (versus mistrust)
    2. Toddlerhood: the challenge of autonomy (versus shame and doubt)
    3. Pre-school: the challenge of initiative (versus guilt)
    4. Pre-adolescence: the challenge of industriousness (versus inferiority)
    5. Adolescence: the challenge of gaining identity (versus confusion)
    6. Young Adulthood: the challenge of intimacy (versus isolation)
    7. Middle Adulthood: the challenge of making a difference (versus self-absorption)
    8. Old Age: the challenge of integrity (versus despair)
    According to Erikson, gaining success at one stage sets the stage for happily resolving the challenge of the next stage. Critics suggest not everyone confronts these challenges in this exact order. It is also not clear whether failure at one stage negatively affects the next stage.


    The Family The family is identified as the most important agent of socialization. The process of socialization within this institution is discussed as being both intentional and unconscious. The social life of the family has been shown to have a considerable bearing upon the values and orientations children learn.

    Schooling It is within the context of school that children begin to establish contact with people from diverse social backgrounds. The stated purpose of the school experience is imparting knowledge in the areas of, math, reading, and so on. However, there exists a hidden curriculum which also teaches children important cultural values. Schooling is critical for obtaining the knowledge and skills necessary for adult roles.

    The Peer Group A peer group is a social group whose members have interests, social position, and age in common. Some research provides evidence suggesting that the conflict between parents and their adolescent children is more apparent than real. A major feature operative during adolescence is anticipatory socialization, or social learning directed toward gaining a desired position.

    The Mass Media The mass media are impersonal communications directed to a vast audience. This includes television, newspapers, radio, and so on.


    While focus is given to childhood, the significance of socialization is lifelong. Social experience is viewed in this section as being structured during different stages of the life course.

    Childhood In industrial societies, childhood lasts roughly the first twelve years. It is a period characterized by freedom from responsibilities.

    Some historians suggest that in medieval Europe, childhood as we know it did not exist. Such research is used to suggest that childhood is far from just being an issue of biological maturation.

    Adolescence The adolescent period emerged as a distinct life course stage during industrialization. This period corresponds roughly to the teen years. The emotional and social turmoil often associated with this stage appear to be the result of inconsistencies in the socialization process as opposed to being based on physical changes. Examples concerning sexuality, voting, and drinking are discussed to illustrate these inconsistencies.

    Adulthood Adulthood begins somewhere between the late teens and early thirties, depending on social background. The concept of "midlife crisis" is discussed using Eleanor Roosevelt to illustrate.

    Early Adulthood Early adulthood is the period between age twenty and forty. Breaking free from parents, establishing an intimate relationship with a mate, parenthood, and employment are all typical experiences during this period. Many conflicting priorities are often juggled.

    Middle Adulthood Middle adulthood, roughly ages forty to sixty, is a period during which people begin to sense that their life circumstances are pretty well set. The assessment of actual achievement compared to earlier expectations occurs. Differences in the experience of middle adulthood for women and men are discussed, including issues involving family, work, and appearance.

    Old Age This period begins during the mid-60s. The proportion of the U.S. population over the age of sixty-five over the course of this century has increased dramatically.

    Dying Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has written extensively on the process of death as an orderly transition involving five distinct stages--denial, anger, negotiation, resignation, and acceptance.

    The Life Course: An Overview The author makes three general conclusions: (1) although linked to the biological process of aging, the essential characteristics of each stage of socialization are constructions of society; (2) each period provides different problems and transitions; and (3) the process varies by social background, race, ethnicity, and sex. A key concept identified is cohort, referring to a category of people with a common characteristic, usually their age.


    A total institution is a setting in which individuals are isolated from the rest of society and manipulated by an administrative staff. Erving Goffman has identified three distinct qualities of total institutions: (1) they control all aspects of the daily lives of the residents; (2) they subject residents to standardized activities; and (3) they apply formal rules and rigid scheduling to all activities. This structure is designed to achieve the policy of resocialization--or radically altering an inmate's personality through deliberate manipulation of the environment. The process of institutionalization often occurs whereby residents become dependent on the structure of the institution and are unable to function outside the institution.


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