I would tell any young person to be your own self. Have a real good idea of your own strengths--they usually take care of the weaknesses. Find out where you fit in and what makes you happy. If you drift from one thing to another you will never be satisfied. If you don't find the part of yourself that will give you fulfillment you'll never be satisfied or content. You have to learn about and live with your true self.Observed Helen Merrell Lynd, "the search for identity has become as strategic in our time as the study of sexuality was in Freud's time" (On Shame and the Search for Identity. New York: Science Editions, 1961:14). But what does this all mean? In part, it's our peculiar cultural obsession to search for a self that we supposedly don't know. It also involves the extreme individualism of American culture.
The sense of identity is important to both human psychology and to sociology. Not only does having a sense of self provide the sense of having free will ("This is who I am and this is what I want to do, therefore I am going to do it despite what others say") but it is also a basis of social control ("We Smiths are an industrious people and I am not about to let my people down by goofing off.").
A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes another's.
Ironically, although the concept of self is one of the oldest and most enduring of psychological depictions of human nature, social scientists have yet to reach a consensus on precisely what the self is. Following those of the psychoanalytic perspective, do we understand personality as a cause of behavior or, as behaviorists, do we see personality as the effect of behavior (or, at least, the effect of others' reinforcements)? Is the self something you are (or, in the case of the very old or terminally ill, something you were), something you have, or is it something you aspire to be? Is it no more than a set of unique, identifying characteristics and, if so, from whose perspective: the actor or those who view him or her? Can, indeed, others know one's self better than the individual knows himself or herself? Or might it be that identity is determined not on the basis of who one thinks one is, but rather on the basis of who one is not--in other words, selfhood is a matter of exclusion rather than inclusion?
Studies of those with multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder, indicate interesting connections between body, mind and self. Here one individual may have numerous sub-personalities, each with its own name, age, memories, knowledge of foreign languages, temperament, handedness, talents, and medical conditions. Such persons may carry multiple glasses because their vision changes with each personality. Some sub-selves may be color blind or epileptic and while others are not. Rashes, blisters and scars may appear and disappear as different selves emerge.
Consider the expression "I know the type," when referring to a particular person. Implicit in the line is the assumption that there are types of selves and that each can be expected to act in distinctive ways in different types of situations. Such taxonomies of others make up a sizable portion of our everyday theories of social life. In schools, we create typologies of students (e.g.," nerd," "jock," "brown-noser," etc.) and faculty members, and routinely compare the predictiveness of our classifications with others. If, indeed, such connections between selves and behaviors really exist, why do they occur? Do these types of selves unthinkingly act in typical fashion, or is it the case that their behavior is determined by their self-concepts?
At least since when the Greek philosopher Empedocles began classifying personalities into the categories of air, earth, fire and water, people have attempted to explain variations in human behavior in terms of self-type drives. (Have you noticed how often Greek mythological figures are used as labels for various personality types? Why? Is there a universality to personality types--e.g., those with excessive hubris [Prometheus] or self-love [Narcissus]--that reveals the limits of enculturation?) Humans, for instance, have been sorted by psychoanalysts in terms of their dominant needs-based motivations. Compulsives, for instance, might be those with excessive needs for order; Machiavellians are those with high needs for power; authoritarians are those high in their need for discipline and cognitive simplicity; and the narcissists are those with high needs for esteem (see Sam Vaknin's Primer on Narcissism and his "Malignant Self Love--Narcissism Revisited"). Cognitive theorists have classified individuals on the bases of their ability to control thought impulses (e.g., compulsive gamblers), maintain their beliefs of self-efficacy, and the levels of their intellectual and moral reasoning (as in the works of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg). In studying the lives of older social scientists and educators, Robert Havighurst and his associates employed an omnibus personality inventory that included measures of such traits as social extroversion, complexity, practical outlook, anxiety level, theoretical orientation, warmth and sociability, self-sufficiency, emotional stability, aggressiveness, and personal integration.
Instead of thinking of thinking solely in terms of
types of selves (who can be expected to act in predictable types of ways
in certain situations), one can also conceptualize the self as various
types of dynamic systems.
There are two facets of selfhood that cannot be doubted: its uniqueness and its innate tendency to preserve its integrity. The body self, for instance, is like no other; each individual's DNA and fingerprints are unique. To protect its integrity, it has a built-in defense system that destroys viral invaders and rejects transplanted organs. Analogously, there is the self that is experienced psychologically as one's own and like no other. And there is a social self, the self that can be identified by others owing to its distinctive attributes.
SELF AS SYMBOLIC SYSTEM
What distinguishes sociological from psychological approaches to the self is the former's focus on the ways in which identity is negotiated with others. As Charles Cooley (1864-1929) observed, self-feelings are profoundly shaped by the imagined appraisals of one's self of significant others--the looking-glass self. The foundations of this sociological approach are largely built on the philosophical ideas of George Herbert Mead, who argued that society (e.g., culture, institutions, role systems, language, and acts) precedes symbolic thought which, in turn, precedes the development of selves. Mead observed that by studying role-taking, one can see how the rise of self is dependent upon the ability of an individual to become an object to himself or herself. In other words, one comes to act towards one's self (that entity one talks to when "talking to one's self") as one acts towards others. In this view, the self is a dynamic process within an individual. Mead stressed that participants in social interactions attempt to "take the role of the other" and to see themselves as others see them. This process allows individuals to know how they are coming across to others and allows them to guide their social behavior so that it has desired effect.
SELF AS ROLE SYSTEM
When considering the ways in which individuals generally conform to the demands of various social settings (like playing the student role in a classroom: trying to look attentive and interested, and never telling the instructor "Hey, take a break! Let me handle today's lessons."), behavior may be better predicted by understanding the roles people think they occupy. Personality factors may do no more than simply give style to one's basic role performances. In the extreme, the self can be conceptualized to be no more than the roles it plays. Take away one's roles and nothing is left.
SELF AS COMPONENT OF CULTURAL SYSTEMS
Of interest to sociologically-inclined social psychologists is the social distribution of different self-types: how particular socio-historical climates can give rise to a preponderance of a given self-type in a society and how, in turn, this can affect a society's collective attitude and its religious, political, and economic orders. On the other hand, such collective transformation of attitudes and selves is also a function of structural change. Behavior often precedes its ideological justification and thus it is also the case that new social arrangements lead to new actions (and new roles) which lead to new attitudes and types of people.
In anthropology, cultural determinists, such as Margaret Mead, stress the plasticity of the human organism and how it is shaped by different cultures to create distinctive personality types. Mead studied, for instance, the cultural construction of childhood and gender roles.
In attempting to categorize the types of selves cross-culturally, researchers often focus on the extent to which selves are collectivist or individualistic. For instance, in In Search of Self in India and Japan (1988), Alan Roland writes:
Compared to Americans, there's much less of a sense of an individual self among Asians. They experience themselves as far more embedded in a net of extremely close emotional relationships. They have what might be called a familial self, one that includes their close relationships in their own sense of who they are. This kind of self simply does not exist in the West to nearly the same degree.
The mass media is likewise filled with self gauges. Unbeknownst to many, we're told that even one's favorite rock star reveals who you are. According to less a reputable scientific source as the Star, for instance, if your favorite Beatle is George Harrison, you are the strong, silent type, very spiritually inclined; you have a deep feeling for religious matters and may be psychic. You may tend to be a loner but are connected to others through the spiritual world. Advice columnist Abigail Van Buren informs us "The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back."
Finis Origine Pendet (The end depends on the beginning)
--Manlius, Roman Poet
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity.
So how can a person be produced whose wants and motivations correspond with what's socially needed: one, for instance, who feels personal gratification when acting toward the welfare of others? How is the new female of the twenty first century to be created? How does one produce a child oblivious to the historical biases of racism, sexism and ageism? What skills are to be inculcated for one who may work in low earth orbit or ten thousand feet under the seas performing jobs as of yet uncreated? Such are the socialization issues facing parents in the late twentieth century.
It is in socialization that we begin to see the fusing of social needs into personal needs, the synchronization of subjective reality with objective reality. Again, given the extreme plasticity of the human organism and the extremely long periods required to achieve maturity, social systems can create a vast spectrum of types of selves. Here let us survey what David Riesman (The Lonely Crowd, 1961:37) called the social "ecology of character formation." There are the broad influences of demographic and economic changes as well as those of parents, peers, teachers, the mass media--in other words, the storytellers, the transmitters of the social heritage (37). For instance, tough economic times dampen birthrates, yielding smaller families and thus (for those subscribing to birth order effects) fewer "middle" and more "only" children. Riesman believed that the historical types of selves (e.g., tradition-directed, inner-directed, and our current predominance of other-directeds) are the products of family composition and structure, which has shifted from being open to closed, integrated with the broader community to being isolated and nuclear in form.
Political leaders worry about the instillation of loyalty to the state; religious leaders about the instillation of morality and religious identities. The problem is highlighted by affluent baby boomers who seek to produce fewer and more exceptional children than was the case in the past. Some mothers play classical music for the benefit of fetuses within the womb. They worry about such things as how long a child should be nursed, when it should be toilet trained (in 1957, 92% of 18-month-olds were toilet trained as compared to only 2% of two-year-olds and 60% of three-year-olds in the late 1990s), the nature of discipline, the age at which their offspring are enrolled in preschools, the implication of both parents being engaged in the labor force, the ability of their three-year-olds to read and socialize comfortably with others, and the impact of video games.
- To what extent does how we enter the world shape who we are? National Coalition for Birthing Alternatives
- Dept. of Heath and Human Services' "YouthInfo"
- UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2003
- Digest of Educational Statistics 1995-2002 from the National Center for Educational Statistics
Cultural Propaganda and Stereotyping in Children's Comics
- Yahoo - Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day
- THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD
BIRTH ORDER EFFECTSA number of poorly substantiated generalizations have been made about each child in the family structure. Francis Galton (1869) first generated interest in the topic, noting how eminent scientists were more likely to be first borns. Youngest children are supposedly charming, light-hearted, and fun to be around. Middleborns are characterized as ready to cooperate, inclined to new ideas, popular, noncompetitive, mediators, and socially well adapted. Firstborns are described as leaders, power hungry, introspective, having low self esteem, possessing a strong need to achieve, driven, and having a tendency towards jealousy.
Some, like the folks at the Upper Des Moines Counseling Center of Algona, Iowa, argue that birth order produces predictable personality types. But the qualifiers are numerous: the effects of age-spacing (I know of gaps from eleven months to eighteen years between the births of first- and second-borns), gender differences (i.e., oldest is female and is followed by series of boys vs. oldest being male followed by string of sisters), where the parents are in their careers (i.e., father laid off when lastborn arrived), sibling involvements in upbringing, etc. Claims, for instance, of the greater educational accomplishments of first-borns and their high density among Ivy League undergraduates may be due more to the fact that parents become financially drained after footing their bill. In our in-class search for birth-order correlates we have seen some relations tantalizingly close to being statistically significant but nothing close to the touted effects.
Among the more interesting findings are those of Frank Sulloway's study of 2,784 researchers and their role in twenty-eight scientific controversies (1990 Presentation at the Annual Meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, expanded in Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics and Revolutionary Genius). As summarized below, he found later-borns were more likely to challenge the accepted scientific paradigms.
Relativity theory 30% 76% Quantum hypothesis 43% 82% Darwinian revolution 20% 61% Harvey and the
circulation of blood
30% 76% Continental drift 36% 68%
THE IMPACTS OF PARENTAL DIVORCEAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970 some 85 percent of children under 18 lived with two parents. Two decades later only 72 percent did, with divorce causing 37 percent of the one-parent situations. In one-third of the one-parent homes the parent has never been married.
The situation of "losing" a parent is not new. Over the years, the NORC General Social Survey included such questions as "Were you living with both your own mother and father around the time you were 16?" and, if not, "What happened?" (with such categories as one or both parents died, parents were divorced or separated, etc.). Click here to see the conditions of families of origin by birth cohorts. Observe that there has been only a 7 percentage point decline between those born before the turn of the century and those born in the first half of the 1970s in the percentage of Americans having been with both parents when 16 years of age. What has changed is the reason why not: the oldest cohort is three times more likely than the youngest to have lost a parent due to death.
So what are the long-term effects of having experienced a parental divorce? In studying how children of divorce fare as adults, Glenn and Kramer ("The Psychological Well-Being of Adult Children of Divorce," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1985, 47(4):905-912.1985) analyzed eight years of the NORC General Social Science Surveys and found that on eight indicators of psychological well-being (e.g., happiness, health, and satisfactions with life activities) that female children of divorce scored as adults significantly lower on six measures and males lower on three. Click here to see a broader number of NORC survey years and the long-term effects of parental divorce and how it dampens happiness throughout much of the lifespan. Does parental divorce increase the likelihood of divorce among the offspring. Click here to find out.
So why does divorce have the detrimental effects that it does? Consider the causal model where we take into account individuals' sex, age, parental divorce status, family income when one was 16, education, and current happiness. In this chart you will notice above and below each variable name the (+) and (-) categories of comparison. The numbers on the lines between these variables are the percentage differences produced by each independent variable on those dependent variables "causally downstream." For instance, the 6.68 between variable SEX and EDUC means that males (+) are 6.68 percentage points more likely than females (-) to have 4 or more years of education (the + category of EDUC). Note how, in addition to the direct causal connection between PAR-DIVORCED and HAPPY (where those whose parents were together are 8.84 percentage points more likely to be "very happy" than those whose parents were separated or divorced), PAR-DIVORCE also affects happiness indirectly through family income (those whose parents were together are 15.27 percentage points more likely to come from families of origin with "above average" incomes than those from families of divorce) and through education (those from below income families of origin are 22.33 percentage points less likely to have a college degree than those from above average, and those with a college degree are 7.67 percentage points more likely be very happy than those who are high school dropouts). Get the picture? Could it be that our PAR-DIVORCED-HAPPY is really a spurious relationship?
Using James A. Davis's CHIPendale software for analyzing such causal models for categorical data we find:
- The original or total PAR-DIVORCED--HAPPY percentage difference is 8.84. Those from intact families are 8.84 percentage points more likely to be very happy than those from divorced families.
- When controlling for all other variables in the model, this difference declines to 6.10. In other words, 31% of the relationship ([8.84-6.10]/8.84) can be explained by by these other variables. This is the direct effect of parental marital status on the happiness of their offspring. Although smaller, we can say that parental divorce has a significant direct effect on the happiness of the adult children.
- When controlling for those variables causally antecedent to the PAR- DIVORED--HAPPY relationship, specifically SEX and AGE, we find that the original percentage difference of 8.84 declines to 7.84. This is the causal effect of parental divorce on happiness.
- Since total difference-causal difference (8.84-7.84) is 1.00, we can say that 11% (1.00/8.84) of our PAR-DIVORCED--HAPPY relationship is spurious.
- If we subtract the direct effect from the causal effect (7.84-6.10) and divide that by the causal effect (1.74/7.84), we have the percent of the relationship that is indirect. We can then say that 22% of the PAR-DIVORCED--HAPPY causal relationship is indirect (e.g., going through family income and education) and that 78% of it is direct.
SCHOOLSEducation is a private matter between the person and the world of knowledge and experience, and has little to do with school or college.
--Lillian Smith (1897-1966), American writer and social critic
America's educational system is under fire. A 1994 report by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, "Prisoners of Time," showed 41% of American high school students' school days were spent on educational subjects. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, in 41% of college students reported spending 10 hours or less a week of academic work outside of class; only 13% reported studying more than 25 hours. Nevertheless, Professor Stuart Rojstaczer's Grade Inflation at American Colleges and Universities reports average grades in the nation’s public colleges increasing from 2.82 to 2.97 between the 1991-92 and 2001-2 school years and from 3.11 to 3.26 in its private institutions.
THE PROLONGATION OF ADOLESCENCEIt is human to have a long childhood; it is civilized to have an even longer childhood. Long childhood makes a technical and mental virtuoso out of man, but it also leaves a life-long residue of emotional immaturity in him.
--Erik Erikson (1902-1994)
Theorists in the tradition of Philippe Ariès, who study the social construction of life-cycle stages, are having a field day following media claims of Americans' delayed entry into adulthood:
Jane Brody, “Success at Toilet Training Technique Still a Matter of Time.” New York Times [August 3, 1999]).
- If one believes toilet training is a major developmental event, the process may well begin here: In 1957, 92 percent of 18-month-olds were toilet trained; by century’s end, just 2 percent are trained by age 2 and only 60 percent by age 3 (
- In 2002, a Newsweek cover story featured "Bringing Up Adoltolescents," wherein was cited the 2000 Census finding that 4 million Americans 25-34 still live with their parents (Peg Tyre, [March 25]).
- According to the 2002 NORC General Social Survey, most Americans believe that one isn’t "grown up" until age 26--a belief reinforced by reports that the Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” draws more men under 35 than Letterman and Leno on the major networks (James Poniewozik, “Hey, Look! Manimation.” Time [Nov. 24, 2003:70]
- Experts talk of “permaparenting,” with Boomer parents refusing to cut the bonds with their twenty-something children—a generation supposedly decreasingly able to live on their own (Pamela Paul, “The PermaParent Trap.” Psychology Today [Sept./Oct., 2003]).
So is it really the case that adolescence is prolonged as lifespans lengthen? In the midst of the debate in 2004, newswires carried the findings of paleontologist Fernando V. Ramirez Rozzi, who surmised from their teeth that Neanderthal children reached adulthood at age 15. If such biological benchmarks are employed by anthropologists in the future, they may well conclude that twenty-first century homo sapiens also were blazing through their adolescence. The average age of menarche has fallen from 17 to 13 since the mid-19th century. Boys, too, are entering puberty earlier, according to a 1988-94 federally funded health survey (Marcia Herman-Giddens, et al.), with, for instance, 21% of black youth developing public hair between their ninth and tenth birthdays.
It's interesting that two decades earlier, the media was decrying accelerated and disappearing childhoods. What's going on? Is it the case of tight labor markets, an inflation of educational credentials required for the first job, and stratospheric housing costs? Or might it involve Dan Kiley's Peter Pan Syndrome (1983) thesis, with a society filled with quasi-adults infantilized by instant gratification? Or the prophesy of H.G. Wells, that early critic of capitalism, in The Time Machine? Perhaps it is in the interest of a growing service economy to have the benighted masses become Eloi, raised to provide the pecuniary sustenance of the corporate Morlocks.
What lessons are imparted by these traditional vehicles of socialization? What better way to learn about how capitalist produces winners and losers than by playing a game of "Monopoly"? Trends in cultural values do have way of being reflected in toy product lines. When military chic was in following Desert Storm, "Military Barbie" appeared on the scene with sailor and camouflage outfits; environmentalism produced the "Eco Warriors;" and growing religious fundamentalism yielded the Patty Prayer doll. And consider the 1992 "Mommy-To-Be Doll," advertised thusly:
Judy looks like a real Mommy-To-Be. take off her tummy, and there's her baby. Lift out the newborn with moveable arms and legs, and now she has a flat tummy. Judy's sturdy head, arms and legs move too. Her wavy, rooted hair and soft skin make her a loveable friend. Her quality construction will make her a friend for life. In her denim dress, she looks stylish before and after her baby arrives.A lesson from the medical establishment regarding the ease of Caesarian birth? Observers have noted how play has become more computerized, less physical, and more isolated.
At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms:
Then the whining school-boy, wit is satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school: and then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow: then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth: and then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon line,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. ... The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too side
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes,
And whistles in his sound. ...Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
In a number of ways identity is essentially a temporal concept. Our encounters with time are separately and interactively affected by biological, psychological, social, and historical timetables, which mold our biographies in distinctive fashion. For instance, in addition to physical and psychological maturational factors, identity is shaped by one's roles within the social system as well as by the historical context within which one lives one's life. Each of these timetables comes with its temporal quirks. Some individuals, for example, suffer from progeria, an accelerated rate of biological aging. There are eighty-year-olds who are psychologically forty, and thirty year-olds who are psychologically old. And because of the accelerating rates of change associated with modernization, such roles as the traditional mother role of females are becoming obsolete within less than the span of a single lifetime.
Consider the numerous conceptualizations of the life cycle across cultures and times. In Roman mythology there was the sphinx guarding entry to the city, quizzing travelers with the riddle of what first crawls on four legs, then walks on two, and finally on three? The Talmud contains a section called "The Sayings of the Fathers," outlining the "ages of man." Confucius identified 2500 years ago six steps in the life cycle. Solon, a Greek poet and lawmaker in the 7th century B.C., divided the life cycle into ten seven-year phases. Click here to see Americans' perceptions of the best years of the life-cycle.
The tendency in psychological approaches to the life cycle is to look for and identify invariant, innate developmental agendas. Indeed, all societies, recognizing the existence of some regularity, have employed age as a criterion for allocating social roles. But as evident in the models above, the regularities and stages perceived have varied considerably across cultures and history. The fact that distinctive stages (and associated "crises") are even recognized, such as the mid-life crisis, is intriguing given that the maturational processes of aging are continuous. It is with this insight that we next enter into the sociological realm of inquiry, considering the ways individuals are linked with roles and hence come to be affected by socio-historical changes. An overarching assumption of sociological identity theorists holds that, with age, social dynamics play an increasing role in shaping self-structure and identity.
In East Germany prior to reunification, no tradition was more widely observed that the Jugendweihe, marking 14-year-olds' passage from childhood into maturity--and their ritual commitment to Communism. In Japan, the Coming of Age Day is a national holiday, a day when thousands of 20-year-old women put on traditional kimonos.
These coming of age observances-- along with graduations, weddings, retirement ceremonies, and funerals--are rites of passage, rituals which symbolically recast individuals' social identities, rituals where old selves are destroyed and new selves come into being. They occur during times of significant--but predictable--periods of biographical change, during times of considerable discontinuities between one's old and new role expectations.
Check out thegenerational studies conducted by Trinity students (Fall 2001) here.