Social Behavior

Culture and social behavior are closely connected. Varying cultures of different human societies impose patterns of social behavior on the basic animal nature of humans. The result varies from person to person, with aggressive, dominant and even violent in the behavior of some and acquired human traits more evident in the behavior of others. You would have met persons who behaved in ways that made you feel ten feet tall, and also persons who had left you feeling small and insignificant. 

Modern sociology says that there is no instinctive basis for human social behavior. Humans do not automatically learn how to behave properly in a social setting. Sociology recognizes that some drives exist, such as hunger, thirst, need to defecate, and so on. Such drives produce only simple behavior, and cannot explain the complexity of human social behavior. Sociology considers human social behavior as something that involves much learning, and little of instincts.

How Culture Affects Human Social Behavior

A closer look at instinct driven behavior might help us understand this viewpoint better. For this, we can look at animal behavior, which is mostly controlled by instinct. In the case of humans, they can choose to ignore even such basic instincts, and put more thought and analysis in their behavior. They can also choose to do things in radically different ways.

Socialization seeks to encourage desirable behavior and discourage objectionable behavior in humans. What is desirable and what is not is w here the social culture comes into the picture. Social culture is exercised in many ways to ensure that people conform to accepted patterns of behavior. This behavior forms the social norm. Breaking a society's norms usually invite negative responses such as disapproving looks, ridicule, abuse, isolation, disciplinary actions, punishments or even violence. If you don't know how to play the role expected of you, you could be labeled mad. Adhering to social norms and playing your roles correctly could be rewarded with popularity or even a high status in your society.

Socialization and Culture

Different societies have different cultures. What is acceptable behavior in one may not be so in another. Drinking alcohol is socially accepted in western culture but not in Saudi Arabia. Polygamy is acceptable in Saudi Arabia but not in western cultures. Even in day-to-day etiquette, one can notice much difference between cultures. What socialization does is to teach what is acceptable, and not acceptable, in the culture in which one is brought up. It seeks to make the infant a functioning member of his or her particular society.

However, we also find many similarities among cultures. All cultures have some kind of family structure, have organizations for producing and distributing the things they need, have governments to maintain order in society and also have institutions to inculcate their traditions and cultures among their members. All societies of varied culture seek to solve four basic kinds of problems - Economic, Political, Family/Kinship and Cultural. Every social group must develop an economic system for producing the things that its members need to survive. All groups must establish political systems to maintain order and prevent anarchy and chaos. They must develop a system of family and kinship to ensure that children are cared for and brought up to be functioning members of the society. Finally, they have to tackle the cultural problem of making their members feel that they have things in common with others in the society. Different societies have developed different (or sometimes similar) solutions to these common problems, often to suit the particular environments they find themselves in. The solutions they have chosen constitute their culture.

Family and Social Learning

The human infant is a completely helpless creature that needs support of older humans for a long while. Children learn to walk, talk, and behave appropriately by observing their parents or guardians and other relatives with whom they come into close contact. In addition to observation, they are also actively trained to be humans through a system of rewards and punishments. For example, the mother encourages desirable behavior by smiling at or hugging the infant. Undesirable behavior may be punished with a frown, or loud scolding, or otherwise. This process is called socialization, a process that transforms the infant into a social person. Not only do we learn physical things like walking and talking, but also such abstract concepts as right and wrong, appropriate ways of dealing with people with different positions in society, and so forth. This initial socialization by those intimate with the infant is the primary socialization which exerts a lifelong influence on the person.

School, Workplace, Society and Secondary Socialization

During a typical person's life, he or she is likely to interact much more with strangers than with family members. This would require skills different from those needed for dealing with intimate family members. A process of secondary socialization occurs when one begins to deal with teachers, classmates, priests, workmates and other members of one's society. The social conditioning of its members by society is likely to be a completely new experience compared to the socialization in a family environment. This secondary socialization is very important because its success determines whether we are socially successful or not, whether we could get along well with other members of our society. In most societies, the majority are not related by family ties and we would be called upon to deal mostly with non-relatives. If we don't know how to deal with non-family members, our lives could become intolerable.

Universal Culture

There is no such thing as a universal culture applicable to all human societies. Actually, even in comparatively homogeneous cultures, there is not just a single culture. There are many cultures such as sub-cultures of college students, football fans, hippies and so on, all with their own sets of beliefs and ways of behaving. Individuals can be members of more than one culture at the same time. Thus one can be a college student and also be a member of American society. When one is with one particular group, one behaves as demanded by the culture of that group. Often, confusion can result when one moves from one culture to another, and behaves inappropriately.

Socialization might not occur successfully in environments where things are in a state of flux. Technological progress on an unprecedented scale is now changing our environment every few years. Intercontinental migrations of people brought up in different cultures bring together people with widely differing sets of beliefs and ways of behaving. It is inevitable that we would find many maladjusted and unsocial persons in such a situation. Only in small tribal societies located in remote villages could we still expect to find uniform cultures and an insignificant percentage of 'maladjusted' persons.

Socialization Inculcates Values, Norms and Roles

Values are guidelines for behavior accepted by members of a culture. Many values are culture specific, differing from society to society as in the case of alcohol consumption and polygamy mentioned earlier. Others are more universal, like the prohibition of killing other members of one's society. There are also sub-cultural values accepted by members of sub-cultures and personal values formulated by individual persons.

Norms are the specific ways the values are expressed in behavior. These may be simple 'folkways' such as sending birthday greetings to those we care for, or stronger 'mores' such as showing respect to parents and teachers. They could even be 'laws' backed by governments and courts.

Roles are the ways we are expected to behave in particular social situations. For example, a person in a student role is expected to attend classes, listen attentively, take notes, and so forth. In addition to expected norms, each role also has related roles. The student has a class teacher, other teachers, fellow students, college staff, and others, all playing different roles related to his or her student role. Each role also has an associated status. Status is the level of respect we are expected to pay to a person playing a particular role. Students are expected to pay a certain level of respect to their teacher, and the teacher usually has such powers as asking the student to do homework, keep quiet in the class, etc. Status and power are closely related.

Values, norms and roles make social life easier. When one knows what is expected in different social situations, one can behave in a confident manner. Shyness and awkwardness usually result when one is not sure how one is expected to behave in a particular situation.


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