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Theories of Socialization

Updated on December 23, 2012

Socialization is one of the most important social processes in every human society. With out socialization the human beings would not be able to participate on group life and develop the human characteristics. The process through which an infant internalizes the values and norms into his self or the made of learning to live in society, is called the process of socialization. The important outcome of the socialization is the individual personality, personality refers to the fairly stable patterns of thought, feeling and action and action characteristic of human beings. The core of personality is the 'seilf' which is a person's personal identity which he experiences consciously as distinct from other people and things. How does the 'self is formed in the childhood and how it gets moulded throughout life is, has intrigued the sociologists, psychologists and social psychologists.The prominent theories of socialization are formulated by Charles Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead and Sigmund Freud. Mead and Cooley emphasized the social side of socialization, whereas Frued stressed the relationship between biological side of humans and their social environment.

Charles Horton Cooley: Watching his children at play, Cooley derived some observations about the development of the self. According to Cooley, children learn to get attention by interpreting the reactions of others towards them. They learn easily that, disturbing adult' company in the house would focus attention on themselves, rather than on visitors. From such insights children learn to judge themselves in terms of how they imagine others react to them. Here others are like mirror for the development of self.

Cooley terms this way of learning as the looking glass self. The concept is based on how we think others judge us the way we look and act. Here others are like mirrors that reflect their reactions to us. The looking glass self is the product of a three stage process constantly going on:

  1. We imagine how we appear to others;
  2. We imagine the reaction of others to our imagined appearance;
  3. We evaluate ourselves according to how we imagine others have judged us.

The consequence of this process is positive or negative feelings about ourselves. Though not a conscious process, these three stages occur in quick succession.

The process of looking self takes piace in the mind and being the product of our imagination it might not give the true reflection of what others really think of us. Despite the possibility of this, self and others is well established.

George Herbert Mead has presented a social psychological theory of relation among the mind, the self and the society in his theory of socialization. Mead, pointed out that our self concept is not equally influenced by all persons, some are important to us than others. These whose judgements are important are called 'significant others' For an infant, significant others are, it's Mother, Father, Grand parents , Teachers, and playmates. Teenagers rely heavily on their peers, while for the adults significant others may be from their parents, and friends to ministers and employers.

Human beings have thinking capacity and language, so they can carry on mental conversation. It means, mentally indicate something to ourselves and respond internally to it. It is through this facility we can anticipate others' behavior. Through internal conversation we can imagine the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of others in a given situations This ability enables human beings to engage in role taking which is the process of mentally guessing the viewpoint of another individual and then responding to oneself from that imaginary view point.

According to Mead, the ability for role taking is the result of the two stage process viz play and game stages. A child in it's third or fourth year of age, beings to assume the status of individuals and acts out the behaviour associated with them. A young child can be seen playing the role of mother, father, police officer, cow boy etc. This imitation or play involves, acting and thinking, as a child imagines another person would. This is play stage according to Mead, the stage in which children take on the role of individuals one at a time.

The second stage is the game stage which enables children to engage in much more refined role taking. In a game a child begins to consider the roles of several others at the same time . All the players need to know several roles, rules so as to ensure that the behavior of the participants fits together. All the' participants are expected to know what is expected of all others in the game. It is during the game stage that the children learn to adjust their behavior to the group. It is in this stage a child's self concept, attitudes, beliefs, and values and beliefs of one's community and society are formed.

The self, according to Mead, is composed of two parts viz. 'me' and 'T'. The 'me' is part of the self, formed during socialization and it accounts for predictability and conformity. Yet most of the social behavior is spontaneous and unpredictable.

The T constantly encounters me as we conduct ourselves in social situations. The first reaction of self comes from the T but before we act the initial impulse is directed in socially acceptable channels by the 'me' Thus T normally takes on 'me' into account before acting. But 'me' does not always control the innovative dimension, of the self.

Sigmund Frued: Through diagnosis of disturbed female patients, Frued concluded that much human behaviour is due to unconscious motivation. We are often unaware of the real reason for our actions. The influence of early childhood experiences are fundamental for personality development. It is experiences within the family in the first few years of life, Freud contends, which largely shape our future psychological and social functioning.

Frued emphasizes the instinctual and biological side of human development, rather than the social side of human development stressed by Mead and Cooley. According to Frued, society prohibits us from expressing certain instincts and desires, especially impulses related to sex and aggression, social order would be impossible without the regulation of these drives. Hence society imposes it's will on the individual, suppressing and channeling the drives for socially acceptable outlets but often doing so in ways that lead to later neuroses and personality disturbances. Freud lays heavy emphasis on the social control of the sex drive. This drive present even in infants leads to constant conflict between individual and society.

Personality, Frued segments, into three basic interacting parts. 'Id' is made up of biologically inherited urges, impulses and desires. It is selfish irrational, impulsive, antisocial and unconscious. The 'Id' is operative on the pleasure mechanism, on the principle of having whatever feels good. Infants are said to be controlled totally by 'Id'. They want every desire fulfilled without delay, but parents interfere and infants learn to wait until it is time to eat, to control bowel movements and to hold their temper.

To cope up eith the denial of pleasure children begin to develop 'ego' which is the conscious, rational part of the self that rationally attempts to medias between the demands of the social environment and the deep unconscious urges of the 'Id'. But ego itself is not sufficient to control the 'Id'.

At about four or five years of age, the'super ego'or the conscience begins to develop. The child learns about the demands of the society through parents, internalizes these demands into personality in the form of the 'superego' which in a sense an internal version of the moral authority of the society. We punish ourselves through guilt feelings and shame at the same time we feel good about ourselves when we live up to the standards of the 'super ego'. Through this internal monitoring mechanism we learns to mould our behavior in socially acceptable ways and repress socially undesirable thought and actions.

Freud did not see 'Id', 'Ego' and the 'Superego' as separate regions of the brain but he saw them as separate interacting, conflicting processed within mind. Freud's theory is valuable in the sense that it stressed the personality as the product of the interaction between the human organism and the social forces that surround it and he underlined the importance of early childhood socialization on later conscious motives and behaviour.


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    • profile image


      18 months ago

      one more contribut of Social psychology thank you..

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      good evening sir...i am benjamin tiongzon of mandaue city, cebu, philippines. Sir, may i ask permission from you for citing some of the excerpts in this article...thank you very much.

      my email add:

    • profile image

      Student of Unilorin 

      20 months ago

      The article is helpful

    • profile image

      Rana Shahzaib 

      2 years ago

      Good Article

      Buddy itx so simple and so easy

    • profile image


      2 years ago


    • profile image

      mae mae. 

      2 years ago

      Nice article. But I suggest to add more theories for further explanations.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      good article.add more theories.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      thanks for providing this .it has helped me in my assignment .good article

    • profile image

      kapelembi kelly 

      3 years ago

      Excellent piece of work, post some more. It has really helped in my sociology assignment

    • profile image

      amina issa 

      3 years ago

      Its nice coz it simplify me get point...thnxx

    • profile image

      student of genderstudies 

      5 years ago

      Good article, but it would be great if you mention some references to get back to

    • profile image

      sai gollapudi 

      6 years ago

      thanks for the summary. good overview for me to understand the big picture. I liked the Frued portion. It was made simple .


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thank you for the helps me figure out my upcoming exam.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      good article. Just proof-read before you submit.

    • profile image

      Muhammad Riaz 

      6 years ago

      This article is very rich description of theories of socialization.

    • picklesandrufus profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va

      Very interesting read! I minored in psychology and remember a lot of this information once I started reading your Hub. Thanks for the refresher course! Very enjoyable.

    • rambansal profile image

      Ram Bansal 

      7 years ago from India

      thoughtful article..

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting Dilipchandra.


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