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Socialization is the process in which we learn the norms of society.  Through our interactions with agents of socialization and receiving rewards and sanctions for our behaviors we learn societal norms, culture/cultural norms, and gender norms.  Through our socialization our personality develops and we adopt attitudes, values, and behaviors.

Ex: Political Affiliation

Have you ever asked a child if he/she is a democrat or a republican?  They often have an answer for you.  But then if you asked him/her what a democrat or a republican is he/she will not often be able to explain it.  Why is this?  We can explain this through the idea of socialization.  We are often what our parents are (when we are young at least) as we are socialized to adopt specific values and beliefs.

Perspectives: our outlook, viewpoint, and perceptions are developed through our socialization.  How we see the world and how we see our lives is developed through our socialization and in turn how we think determines how we act.


Genie, 1970

Socialization refers to nurture.  Sociologist indicate that we become who we are through a combination of biology (nature) and our environment (nurture); however, we note that the research shows the nurture plays a greater role in who we become.

Feral Children and Isolated Children

Feral children are children that have been found living in the wild, those who have not been socialized by other human beings.  Occasionally a feral child has been discovered and they have been found to have animalistic characteristics. 

Isolated children, children who have been isolated from the outer society, have been well documented.  Isolated children are children who have been isolated from society (kept in a closet, small room, or attic by a family member).  These children are essentially not socialized and as a result of their abuse are often permanently disabled.  There are three key cases of isolated children:

Classic studies such “Genie”, who in 1970 was found at the age of 13 years old, was isolated in one room of her home for the first 13 years of her life.  She was kept in a crib during the night and was mostly tied to a potty seat during the day.  She weighed 59 pounds and was unable to straighten her arms and legs.  She was unable to chew food (she was fed baby food by her parents), only spoke a few words, was incontinent, and was severely lacking in mental abilities.  After years of extensive rehabilitation by experts she was deemed permanently disabled and ended up living in a home for adults who cannot live alone.  We can see the long term effects of Genie’s (lack of) socialization and the effects of being isolated.

Anna (1938) was isolated by her grandparents.  When she was found (at seven years old) professionals tried to rehabilitate her but without success.  She died two years after she was discovered and it was noted that she died as a result of her abuse.

Isabelle was found in 1938 when she was 6 ½ years old.  She was living in a dark room with her mother who was a deaf-mute.  Although unable to speak she used gestures as this was how she and her mother communicated.  When her mother became pregnant and gave birth to Isabelle her parents (Isabelle’s grandparents) were embarrassed and hid both of them in the dark room of their home.  Isabelle was “mentally impaired” but after intensive language training and rehabilitation she began rapidly progressing.  Within a couple of years she was able to attend school and was deemed age appropriate.  The view is that due to having some socialization and a means of interacting (with her mother) Isabelle was able to be rehabilitated.

The key idea is that attachments and bonds are key aspects of our socialization and important in order for us to be properly socialized and have a healthy self-concept.

Institutionalized Children (Skeels and Dye Research)

The study by Skeels and Dye on institutionalized children indicates some key aspects of socialization.  They researched children living in “low touch” orphanages (the thinking was that if the children were held and bonded with others that then when the adults who worked in the orphanages left it would be traumatic for them) and those living in “high touch” orphanages (were held and bonded with others).  The children in low-touch orphanages were kept in “standard hospital cribs, did not have toys, and were not often held or touched.  The children in the high-touch environment were actually placed in an institution for the “mentally retarded”.  Each infant was assigned to a woman living in the institution (a “mentally retarded” woman; this is the terminology they used at the time).  The women took care of the infants’ needs (feeding, playing, diapering).  The infants experienced “intensive one-to-one adult-child relationships”.  The researchers compared the outcomes and long term effects of being socialized in each type of orphanage.  The findings were:

  • Those that experienced high-touch and formed bonds with others had higher IQ’s than those in the low-touch orphanages
  • There were higher death rates in the low-touch orphanages.
  • Those from the high-touch orphanages had higher education levels, were more likely to be self-supporting, and were more likely to follow social norms.

Again, attachments and bonds are important to one’s overall well-being and key to healthy socialization.

Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura, professor at Stanford University, gives us social learning theory, also called observational learning.  Social learning theory states that “we learn social behavior by observing and imitating and by being rewarded and punished.”  Our significant others are our agents of socialization and are our role models, hopefully guiding us to appropriate behavior, however appropriate behavior is not always the case.  We are likely to imitate the behaviors of those we are exposed to (parents, siblings, peers, etc.).  We tend to avoid punishment and model those individuals who receive rewards for their behaviors.  Think of children in a classroom when the teach says, “I like the way Juan is sitting”, – we are likely to see the other children look at Juan and model his behavior to gain approval from the teacher.  We may also model behaviors in which we do not perceive a punishment – we do not observe a sanction for the behavior – and we view the rewards as outweighing the costs.

Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment (Stanford University)

Bandura conducted the Bobo Doll Study.  Do an online search to find information on this study.  What were the research methods?  What individuals were studied?  What were the findings of the study?  What are the criticisms of the study?  How has the study been repeated?  What changes were made to the original study when it was repeated?  Can you apply social learning theory to this study?  How has this study been replicated? What were the findings of the studies testing social learning theory? Do you have any criticisms of this study? Can you apply any personal experiences you have had in which you could apply this theory?

Albert Bandura’s classic study in which he tested social learning explains how we learn from our roles models.  He observed children 3-6 years old and their tendencies towards aggression.  Some of the children were exposed to a male or female model behaving aggressively towards a “bobo doll” (experimental group).  The model was observed hitting (at times with a hammer) and kicking the bobo doll.  The control group was not exposed to the aggressive model.  The children who observed the aggressive model were more likely to behave aggressively and imitate the model.  His research has been repeated many times and the research indicates that exposure to aggression and aggressive models is likely to result in increased aggressive behavior (observing and imitating, social learning theory).

Bandura also has done extensive research on adolescent aggression.  He discussed that adolescents have specific “aggressive models.”  These models include their family (cycle of violence), the subculture (males and aggression, machismo for Latinos, and gangs), and the mass media (television violence).  The idea is that there is not just one cause of violence (although many completely blame television), but a multitude of factors working together that cause violence in an individual.  Finally, Bandura discussed that “positive verbal reinforcements” should be used to discourage violence behaviors.

Gender Socialization

Think about how social learning theory applies to gender socialization.  Think about your own gender socialization experiences.  Make sure your read the section in the textbook on gender socialization.


“Children Learn What They Live”

If a child lives with criticism

            He learns to condemn

If a child lives with hostility

            He learns to fight

If a child lives with ridicule

            He learns to be shy

If a child lives with shame

            He learns to feel guilty

If a child lives with tolerance

            He learns to be patient

If a child lives with encouragement

            He learns to confidence

If a child lives with praise

            He learns to appreciate

If a child lives with fairness

            He learns to justice

If a child lives with approval

            He learns to like himself

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship

            He learns to find love in the world

By Dorothy Law Nolte

This poem reflects the social learning theory.


Do any of you know what Pica is?  We are going to define it and explain how it applies to social learning theory.

From the medical dictionary, under mental disorders, pica is defined as: “Perverted appetite of nonorganic origin in which there is persistent eating of non-nutritional substances.  Typically, infants ingest paint, plaster, string, hair, or cloth.  Older children may have access to animal droppings, sand, bugs, leaves, or pebbles.  In the adult, eating of starch or clay-earth has been observed.”  To simplify this we will define pica for our course as “eating non-food.”

Some examples:

  1. Historically, pregnant women were found to crave starch (what they used to wash their clothes with).  Also note that cravings in pregnant women can indicate a vitamin deficiency of some sort.
  2. A woman pulled out strands of her hair, would wad it up in a ball, and eat it.  She was taken to the hospital for stomach pain and they found a hairball in her stomach.  Apparently, we cannot digest large amounts of hair!
  3. The worst case was a severely mentally ill man who literally ate his own hand.  Horrible, I know, but true.  We will not be applying social learning theory to those who are mentally ill and have pica.
  4. I knew a man, who will remain nameless, who would, at the end of his meal, tear up his paper napkin, roll the pieces in a ball, and eat them.  Needless to say, going to nice restaurants with cloth napkins was ideal!

How does Pica apply to social learning theory?  It is said that Pica is socially contagious.  There are those who are severely mentally ill and have Pica, but those are few, and they do not apply to social learning theory.  Most people learn what is acceptable (norms) from their significant others.  Pica is not when a child eats dirt or mud and we, as good parents, do/say what?  My son did this when he was young…just took a handful of mud and put it in his mouth…I grabbed him, said, “yucky”, cleaned out his mouth, and told him “we don’t eat dirt or mud.”  He never did this again.  Data has shown that 70% of the children who have Pica their mothers also have Pica.  What has been found is that they are learning what is acceptable, in this case, to eat, from their significant other, their mother.  If a child’s mother eats non-food the he or she is also likely to eat non-food.  Why do you think the study yielded the results that it is between mother and child?  Well, poverty also played a major role (variable).  Those in poverty were more likely to have Pica.  Think about it, if I am poor I have less to eat and there is a wider range of acceptable things to eat.  Also, poverty causes stress and these parents may not focus on the “little stuff.”  Also, if my mother has Pica then if I eat chalk she is not shocked by it.  Children who have Pica also have a variety of other problems, such as: bed wetting, behavioral and academic problems, and are easily distracted.  These are also variables that are related to poverty.  Note that education is the intervention…peers, teachers, and principals intervene and tell the child it is unhealthy.

Think about how you can apply social learning theory to Pica.

Cultural Differences

Note that what I consider food could be different than what someone from another culture considers food…this is not Pica.  What kinds of food items have you heard of that other cultures eat that your cultural group does not eat?  A cute story involves actor, academy award winner, Nicholas Cage (he told this one of the times he was interviewed).  Note: he is a Coppola (changed his name to make it on his own…but everyone knew he was a Coppola) and Coppola’s are known to be eccentric.  When Nicholas was in elementary school they had a “cultural day” in which every student brought food from their culture to share with the group.  These “cultural days” usually result in one child telling another child his or her food is gross (ethnocentrism) and the child having his or her feelings hurt…you can see where I stand on this ideaJ  Well, Nicholas’ favorite food was his family’s special egg salad sandwiches (homemade bread crusts cut off, like tea sandwiches, homemade mayo, and eggs of course)…sounds good, right?  Well, when a little girls was about to take a bite she screamed.  The teacher came running over and saw that there were two little eyes staring at them…Nicholas’ family puts grasshoppers in their egg salad sandwiches…a delicacy!  So Nick was suspended from school and had to hang out with his uncle, Frances Ford Coppola, on the set of his movie for a few days.  Does Nick have Pica?  No.  Was Nick’s school ethnocentric?  Yes.  Just because a specific cultural group eats something I would not eat does not mean the group has pica.

Now, can you apply the issue of Cursing to social learning theory?  How do we learn appropriate and inappropriate language?  And when and where it is acceptable?  I am amazed by people who can turn on “the words” at a drop of a hat and then turn them off when grandma is around!

In the past some have stated that people that curse are “linguistically challenged” people or have limited social skills, essentially social class issue.  Those in the upper class or elite class would view cursing as a lower social class phenomenon.  Some have even said that those who curse lack describing and explaining abilities.  Others view cursing as part of our common language.  We adopt our view of cursing through our socialization.  Through our socialization (observing, imitating, negative sanctions or positive sanctions) we adopt our views of cursing.  We can even see certain curse words more common in certain areas or among certain cultures.  We also have seen changes in views of cursing over time (time in history).  Obviously social forces play a role in this issue (views, behaviors).

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