SOCIALIZING THE INDIVIDUAL Chapter 5 What is personality? What comes to mind when you hear this term? Most people probably think of someone’s social skills, or social appeal. The term is often used to describe someone’s specific characteristics or as an explanation for achievements or failures. What is personality? When sociologists use the term, they are referring to more than an individual’s most striking characteristics. To social scientists, personality is the sum total of behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and values that are characteristic of an individual. Our personality traits determine how we adjust to our environment and how we react in specific situations. No two individuals have exactly the same personality. Each individual has his or her own way of interacting with other people and with his or her social environment. What is personality? People’s personalities continue to develop throughout their lifetimes. Traits change at different rates and to different degrees. Some traits seem to remain basically constant throughout a person’s life, while other traits undergo dramatic changes. Personality development is more obvious during childhood, when people are experiencing rapid physical, emotional, and intellectual growth. Once people reach adulthood, personality traits change at a slower rate. Most adults appear to maintain stable personalities over time. Nature Versus Nurture Social scientists have heatedly debated what determines personality and social behavior. Some argue that it is heredity – the transmission of genetic characteristics from parents to children. Others suggest that the social environment – contact with other people – determines personality. This debate is usually referred to in terms of nature versus nurture, or inherited genetic characteristics versus environment and social learning. Nature Versus Nurture Most social scientists assume that personality and social behavior result from a blending of hereditary and social environmental influences. They believe that environmental factors have the greatest influence. Factors that affect the development of personality Most social scientists believe that four factors have the greatest influence. These factors include: heredity, birth order, parents, and the cultural environment. These factors are among the principal factors that social scientists see influencing personality and behavior. Heredity Physical traits Aptitudes Inherited characteristics Biological drives Birth Order Personalities are also influenced by whether we have brothers, sisters, both, or neither. Children with siblings have a different view of the world than children who have no brothers or sisters. The order in which we born into our families also influences our personalities. People born first or last in a family have a different perspective than people born in the middle. Parental Characteristics Personality development in children is also influenced by the characteristics of their parents. Some parental characteristics that can influence a child’s personality are level of education, religious orientation, economic status, cultural heritage, and occupational background. Cultural Environment Culture has a strong influence on personality development. The cultural environment determines the basic types of personalities that will be found in a society. Each culture gives rise to a series of personality traits that are typical of members of that society. How we experience our culture also influences our personalities. Subcultural differences also affect personality development. The region of the country or the type of neighborhood in which an individual is raised also affects personality.