Socialization is the process whereby we learn to become competent members of a group. Primary socialization is the learning we experience from the people who raise us. In order for children to grow and thrive, caregivers must satisfy their physical needs, including food, clothing, and shelter. Caregivers must also teach children what they need to know in order to function as members of a society, including norms, values, and language. If children do not receive adequate primary socialization, they tend not to fare well as adults.
Researchers have different theories about how children learn about themselves and their roles in society. Some of these theories contradict each other, and each is criticized for different reasons, but each still plays an important role in sociological thought.
Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that basic biological instincts combine with societal factors to shape personalities. Freud posited that the mind consists of three parts that must interact properly for a person to function well in society. If any one of the three parts becomes dominant, personal and social problems may result. The three parts are the id, the superego, and the ego.
Sociologist George Herbert Mead believed that people develop self-images through interactions with other people. He argued that the self, which is the part of a person’s personality consisting of self-awareness and self-image, is a product of social experience. He outlined four ideas about how the self develops:
Mead believed that the key to self-development is understanding the role of the other. He also outlined steps in the process of development from birth to adulthood:
Like Mead, sociologist Charles Horton Cooley believed that we form our self-images through interaction with other people. He was particularly interested in how significant others shape us as individuals. A significant other is someone whose opinions matter to us and who is in a position to influence our thinking, especially about ourselves. A significant other can be anyone, such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or best friend.