By Roland Watson
Social Conditioning is the second factor behind human nature. It comprises all of the different influences that permeate our environment, and which are designed to get us to behave in a particular way.
The wide range of behavioral form
Social influences can also be termed behavioral form. The reason our conditioning is a type of form is because it is the product of an underlying system or structure. Further, behavioral form definitely has as its purpose the imposition of control - control over you. Form is power!
There are so many influences to which we are exposed that it is difficult to know where to begin. For example, there are influences that want you to act in a certain way, such as - if you are an American - to vote Republican or Democrat. Other influences encourage you to have spiritual belief, such as in Christ, or Buddha, or the Prophet Mohammed. Another influence says that the highest purpose that you can have is to serve others, and if need be die for them, through joining your country's military.
What this illustrates is that some behavioral forms are, or they can be, good. I will explore this distinction in other articles.
Other types of influences, though, are more mundane. An advertisement says that you should buy this new car, or toothpaste. Your boss wants you to work longer hours at your job.
Sources of form
The basic sources of social conditioning are your parents, siblings and other relatives. However, there are manifold sources of form, including all of the influences of your culture, and others to which you are exposed. Cultural influences in turn are expressed through such things as values, belief systems, and goals.
Furthermore, many of the influences of social conditioning are delivered to you, they are regularly imposed on you, by society's institutions. Indeed, all of our different institutions, including educational, governmental, religious, economic, and media, are trying very hard to get you to think and act in certain ways.
Your needs versus their needs
I want to repeat a point from an earlier article. We try to guide our behavior to satisfy our personal needs. Unfortunately, the different institutional sources of form subvert this process. They attempt to get us to change our needs and goals - to the needs and goals that they would like us to have.
Through doing this, they try to get us to change our behavior. And, they succeed. We all do at least some of what the institutions want.
An important factor here is that a basic aspect of our nature is that we are social animals. We usually don't go off on our own. Rather, we want to fit in, to our family, and to larger society. The problem with this is that many people don't discriminate. They go along with a lot of what they are told to do.
One consequence of this is that people often fail to achieve their most important goals, including happiness, and finding a partner with whom to share their love and their life.
Of the many different objectives that I have with the University of Life, this is the most important. I want to help you break free of social conditioning, so you can be the master of your own behavior. I want you to have the best chance that you can of having a satisfying, happy, and love-filled life.
Nature versus Nurture
At this point, our view of human nature is what is known as Nature versus Nurture. This is the idea that behavior is shaped by both the influences of our genes and the influences of our upbringing and environment.
I don't like the phrase.
Nurture, meaning the selfish motivations of social institutions, when they try to get us - even force us - to serve them, isn't very "nurturing." For instance, no one is born destined to become a homicidal maniac. Such individuals are made.
There is, though, great interaction between the two types of factors. In an overall sense, our nature is shaped by our genetic programming, but how we act in specific situations is definitely dominated by form. There are deeper linkages as well, and not necessarily positive.
For instance, it has been shown that in children who are the victims of child abuse, the normal expression of their genes is damaged. This in turn alters their body chemistry, most importantly in the brain. Such children have more difficulty learning, and being happy. Indeed, higher rates of suicide later in life are linked to childhood abuse.
This is an example of how the consequences of our actions can take a very long time to manifest. Also, in an example of a feedback loop, the process can continue from one generation to the next. It is well documented that the victims of child abuse often become abusers themselves, with the result that the genetic expression of their children is altered as well.
As another example, infant genetic expression is also changed in women who drink, smoke, and are exposed to great stress, such as from an abusive husband, while they are pregnant.
On a more positive note, there is anecdotal evidence that playing complex music to children, even in the mother's environment while she is still pregnant, can improve the child's development. The infant's brain hears the music, and does its best to understand the patterns. This accelerates the brain's growth, and the expression of the genes that are dedicated to this process.
What this demonstrates, and which I noted in the last article, is that many of the consequences of our genes are not set in stone. The expression of different genes appears to be favored, or cut off, due to social influences.
Which is more important?
As a final point, in the last century, following the work of such individuals as the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the emphasis on understanding human behavior was on the impact of environmental influences. Today, with our greater knowledge and techniques of genetics, it has shifted to this.
This shift does not mean, though, that genetic factors are more important than environmental, merely that they are now the focus of much behavioral research. Also, for the researchers, understanding them is clearly viewed as the best route to professional recognition and status.
I can add that this last view, the belief of the researchers, is a form. It is an example of how subtle behavioral forms can be, and also how they can lead us astray in our efforts to understand.
Personally, I believe that social conditioning has a greater impact than our genes. An infant's brain grows dramatically in response to the stimuli of life. It develops a huge number of new neural connections - synapses - to reflect the child's experience. These networks are then set. Indeed, some - those that represent recurring experiences, including both abuse and education - are subsequently strengthened. All of this then goes on to play a dominant role in the person's behavior. Nature - genetics - has a large role in shaping overall behavioral tendencies. But this is soon overshadowed by what the individual experiences, and learns from, in life.
In the next article, I will examine the impact of free will.