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Socialization in the study of animal and human behavior is the process by which human beings or animals learn to adopt the behavior patterns of the community in which they live. For both humans and animals, this is typically thought to occur during the early stages of life, during which individuals develop the skills and knowledge necessary to function within their culture and environment. However, this also includes adult individuals moving into an environment significantly different from one(s) in which they have previously lived and must thus learn a new set of behaviors.


Socialization is, in essence, learning (see Charon, 1987:63-69). Socialization refers to all learning regardless of setting or age of the individual. In every group one has to learn the rules, expectations, and knowledge of that group, whether the group is your family, the army, or the state (nation). Socialization is the process whereby people acquire a social identity and learn the way of life within their society. All of this amounts to the learning of culture.

For some psychologists -- especially those working in the psychodynamic tradition -- the most important time when socialization occurs is between the ages of one and ten. Humans learn throughout their lives, but this first ten years is arguably the most important time in determining the personality of persons across their life span.

Forms of socialization

Sociologists may distinguish four kinds of socialization:

  • Reverse socialization
  • Developmental socialization
  • Primary socialization
  • Anticipatory socialization
  • Resocialization

Reverse socialization

deviation from the desired behaviours or enculturation esp. of the younger generations

Developmental socialization

Primary socialization

Primary socialization is the process whereby people learn the attitudes, values, and actions appropriate to individuals as members of a particular culture. For example, some Inuits learn to enjoy eating the raw intestines of birds and fish, while some Chinese people eat Carp's heads and the tripe (stomach tissue) of pigs (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992: 98).

Anticipatory socialization

Anticipatory socialization refers to the processes of socialization in which a person "rehearses" for future positions, occupations, and social relationships (See Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:76). Henslin (2004:71) offers the example of a high school student who, upon hearing he had been accepted to a university, began to wear college student-type clothes:

"In his last semester of high school, Michael has received word that he has been accepted to State University. Soon he begins to dismiss high school activities as being "too high school," and begins to wear clothing styles and affect mannerisms that are characteristic of State University students. Michael is exhibiting signs of anticipatory socialization."


Resocialization refers to the process of discarding former behavior patterns and accepting new ones as part of a transition in one's life. This occurs throughout the human life cycle (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992: 113). Resocialization can be an intense experience, with the individual experiencing a sharp break with their past, and needing to learn and be exposed to radically different norms and values. An example might be the experience of a young man or woman leaving home to join the Marines.

Agents of Socialization

Agents of socialization are people and/or groups that influence self concepts, emotions, attitudes and behavior of a person. (Henslin, 1999:76-81)

  1. The Family. The family is the most important of the agents of socialization. Family is responsible for, among other things, determining one's attitudes toward religion and establishing career goals.
  2. The School. The school is the agency responsible for socializing groups of young people in particular skills and values in our society.
  3. Peer Groups. Peers refer to people who are roughly the same age and/or who share other social characteristics (e.g., students in a college class).
  4. The Mass Media.
  5. Other Agents: Religion, Work Place, The State.

Total Institutions

The term "total institutions" was coined in 1961 by Erving Goffman, designed to describe a society which is socially isolated but still provides for all the needs of its members. Therefore, total institutions have the ability to resocialize people either voluntarily or involuntarily. For example, the following would be considered as total institutions: prisons, the military, mental hospitals and convents (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992: 113).

Goffman lists four characteristics of such institutions:

  • All aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same single authority.
  • Each phase of a members daily activity is carried out in the immediate company of others. All members are treated a like and all members do the same thing together.
  • Daily activities are tightly scheduled. All activity is superimposed upon the individual by a system of explicit formal rules.
  • A single rational plan exists to fulfill the goals of the institution.

Products of socialization

Gender Socialization and Gender Roles

Henslin (1999:76) contends that "an important part of socialization is the learning of culturally defined gender roles." Gender socialization refers to the learning of behavior and attitudes considered appropriate for a given sex. Boys learn to be boys and girls learn to be girls. This "learning" happens by way of many different agents of socialization. The family is certainly important in reinforcing gender roles, but so are one’s friends, school, work and the mass media. Gender roles are reinforced through "countless subtle and not so subtle ways" (1999:76).

Henslin (2004:66) suggests that the fact that parents let their preschool boys roam farther from home than their preschool girls illustrates the how girls are socialized to be more dependent.

Other animals

The process of intentional socialization is central to training animals to be kept by humans in close relationship with the human environment, including pets and working dogs.

Feral animals

Feral animals can be socialized with varying degrees of success. We also have feral children which are those which are brought up in the wild and savage manner.They are not animals in this sense of sociological cultural relativism.


For example, the cat returns readily to a feral state if it has not been socialized properly in its young life. A feral cat usually fears humans. People often unknowingly own one and think it is merely "unfriendly."

These cats, if left to proliferate, often become "pests" in populated neighborhoods by decimating the bird population and digging up people's yards. Feral cats are sometimes helpful when used in agriculture to keep rodent and snake populations down. Such cats are often referred to as "barn" cats.

Socializing cats older than six months can be very difficult. It is often said that they cannot be socialized. This is not true, but the process takes two to four years of diligent food bribes and handling, and mostly on the cat's terms. Eventually the cat may be persuaded to be comfortable with humans and the indoor environment.

Kittens learn to be feral either from their mothers or through bad experiences. They are more easily socialized when under six months of age. Socializing is done by keeping them confined in a small room (ie. bathroom) and handling them for 3 or more hours each day. There are three primary methods for socialization, used individually or in combination. The first method is to simply hold and pet the cat, so it learns that such activities are not uncomfortable. The second is to use food bribes. The final method is to distract the cat with toys while handling them. The cat may then be gradually introduced to larger spaces. It is not recommended to let the cat back outside because that may cause it to revert to its feral state. The process of socialization often takes three weeks to three months for a kitten.

Animal shelters either foster feral kittens to be socialized or kill them outright. The feral adults are usually killed or euthanized, due to the large time commitment, but some shelters and vets will spay or neuter and vaccinate a feral cat and then return it to the wild.

Properly socialized dogs can interact with unfamiliar dogs of any size and shape and understand how to communicate. Properly socialized dogs can interact with unfamiliar dogs of any size and shape and understand how to communicate.


In domesticated dogs, the process of socialization begins even before the puppy's eyes open. Socialization refers to both its ability to interact acceptably with humans and its understanding of how to communicate successfully with other dogs. If the mother is fearful of humans or of her environment, she can pass along this fear to her puppies. For most dogs, however, a mother who interacts well with humans is the best teacher that the puppies can have. In addition, puppies learn how to interact with other dogs by their interaction with their mother and with other adult dogs in the house.

A mother's attitude and tolerance of her puppies will change as they grow older and become more active. For this reason most experts today recommend leaving puppies with their mother until at least 8 to 10 weeks of age. This gives them a chance to experience a variety of interactions with their mother, and to observe her behavior in a range of situations.

It is critical that human interaction takes place frequently and calmly from the time the puppies are born, from simple, gentle handling to the mere presence of humans in the vicinity of the puppies, performing everyday tasks and activities. As the puppies grow older, socialization occurs more readily the more frequently they are exposed to other dogs, other people, and other situations.

Dogs who are well socialized from birth with both dogs and people are much less likely to be aggressive, to suffer from fear-biting, or to interact undesirably with either species. They are more likely to be calm and interested in even the most unusual situations.

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