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How Does Socialization Affect Learning in Children

How Does Socialization Affect Learning in Children
Children sitting in circle with teacher. Photo Credit shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Human minds are malleable and adaptive, capable of taking in and incorporating everything around them. It is this capacity which has lifted humanity beyond the mere impulses of nature. The act of learning itself, however, is also something that can be molded, affecting the way in which a child sees the world.


Socialization is the act by which people acquire and develop cultural norms, personality traits and behaviors from those whom they are surrounded by, such as family, peers, religion and the state. This can be accomplished either consciously or unconsciously. Genetics also play a large role in guiding behavior, but socialization helps mold those inveterate traits. For example, the Semai tribesmen in Malaysia are taught to be gentle and avoid trouble, but the Yanomamö Indians in northern South America are trained to be aggressive. Psychologist Silvan Tomkins was famous for his ability to read an individual’s behavior just from the facial expressions he had learned from his tribal culture. However, these archetypes are more of a generality than a rule.

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Socialization is usually self-fulfilling. Learning affects socialization, which affects learning, so it's useful to divide learning further: the way in which the mind is cognitively structured to facilitate learning, and the actual act of learning. Both can be imbibed from the society and environment around the individual, beginning early in her life. These can affect creativity, enthusiasm for learning and the context of the self within a group. An article in the July 10, 2010 edition of "Newsweek" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, for instance, reported that activities that encourage idea generation and role playing also foster creativity. This in turn affects how we learn.


A study conducted by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lipper in Japantown, San Francisco found that cultures often affect how children choose while they learn. Both Anglo-Americans and Asian-Americans were allowed to do anagrams, but the type of anagrams completed had to be chosen by their teachers, their mothers or themselves. Anglo-Americans predominantly preferred to make their own choice and were not very receptive when that choice was placed in the hands of an authority figure. Asian-Americans were much more likely to acquiesce, but to their mothers and not so much to their teachers. According to Sheena Iyengar, choice for Asian-Americans was “a way to create community and harmony by differing to the choices of people whom they trusted and respected.”


Socialization affects whether our learning is highly individualistic or collective in nature. Some learning is conservative and oriented around conformity and hierarchical structure. Other kinds of learning empower children to control their own experiences. One cognitive model developed by Hennan A. Witkin in 1962 divided students into two types: field independent, who attempt to structure the world around them, and field dependent, who take a more holistic approach.


Ruth Ellen Bean found that the field independent students come from “countries or societies with strict child rearing practices, highly socialized agricultural and/or authoritarian environments in which the child is controlled and pressured to conform,” while field dependent students come from more autonomous societies. This affects how they learn—for example whether students can manipulate the parts or the whole of the thing which they are learning—but not necessarily their natural gifts or inclinations.

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