Table of Contents
- Sociocultural Perspective
- Sociocultural Perspective in Psychology
- Criticisms of the Sociocultural Perspective
- Lesson Summary
Psychologists use many perspectives, or points of view, to understand and explain human behavior. The sociocultural perspective aims to understand human behavior by analyzing the culture of individuals and the groups they belong to and participate in. One's culture refers to shared values, beliefs, norms, language, and even geography. More importantly, these shared ways of life also dictated what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate.
Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, was the founder of the sociocultural perspective and his work influenced Jean Piaget, who focused on applying the perspective after observing children. Their work has greatly influenced the area of education and parenting.
Sociocultural is the combination of social and cultural factors to explain behavior or even societal issues. Individuals are social beings, and they do not behave without the influence of their environment. This perspective was developed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1930s when he applied it to the discipline of psychology by explaining that an individual's behavior is shaped by their culture and previous experiences. The sociocultural perspective proposes that individuals will behave and even learn differently based on their culture or way of life. Cultural influences include values and norms, age, socioeconomic conditions, language, and geography.
Cultural groups dictate by their values (standards of behavior) and norms (good or bad behavior) how one should act, learn, and participate with others. Individuals from different cultures will view behavior differently based on their environment. For example, if someone is from a culture that is very religious they may not participate in premarital sex because the culture they belong to has values they learned as an individual living in that culture.
Cultural groups differ in different countries and place importance on individual traits versus collective traits based on cultural values.
We are all social beings and really enjoy and need to be part of the larger group in society. Family, friends, and other social groups are important for our sense of well-being and overall physical health. Our participation in groups serves a social and emotional purpose, but they also help us learn how to be accepted in the larger society by informing our behavior choices.
When we view behavior choices and events from a sociocultural perspective we use a lens that combines social and cultural factors. For example, social and cultural factors influence the clothing choices we wear around the world. The expectations of how to dress will be different if attending a senior prom in the United States than if celebrating a special event in India. Clothing expectations are usually shared from one generation to another based on sociocultural beliefs and customs. Young children learn from their families and culture what to wear and how. If an American teenager showed up to their prom wearing traditional Indian attire they may not be received the same way as if they wore traditional sociocultural acceptable clothing to the prom. Traditions are stable expectations in many parts of our lives.
Everyone experiences death, and when someone dies family and friends usually gather together for a celebration or ceremony. However, these ceremonies and practices will differ based on sociocultural values and communities. For example, someone who is Jewish may attend a Shivah, which is a seven-day period after the burial for mourning. Other cultures may cremate the body, spreading ashes upon the earth. The way a person's body is prepared and laid to rest also depends on the sociocultural perspective, not necessarily individual choices.
Groups we belong to including family, friends, religious groups and they all shape our behavior. They influence what types of food we share at gatherings, what rituals we may participate in, the type of music we listen to at events, and even who we may marry.
Psychologists use the sociocultural perspective to help understand human behavior. It is often referred to as sociocultural psychology or the sociocultural approach psychology. Psychology puts the individual (the self) at the center and tries to explain an individual's behavior choices and responses - good or bad. The sociocultural approach used by psychologists acknowledges and is interested in how family, friends, environments, and religious views of the individual influence their behaviors and thoughts. An individual may view their behavior and thoughts differently depending on the socio-cultural environment. For example, if an individual is attracted to someone of the same sex and their family, friends, and culture are not accepting of their personal choice they may feel bad, fall into a depression, or even think about ending their life.
Social and cultural groups influence individuals' sense of self and their thoughts about themselves. Individuals that do not belong to the majority in a culture, such as ethnic minorities, may see themselves differently based on the behavior of the majority culture and it can lead to depression and other mental health issues.
One of the early pioneers of sociocultural perspective in psychology was Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), a Russian psychologist. He believed that children learn from their parents, caregivers, peers, and surrounding culture plays an important role in the development of cognitive abilities. He believed each culture has a different influence on development.
One important element to Vygotsky's sociocultural theory is the Zone of Proximal Development. He proposed that there is a difference between what a child (learner) can do alone with current cognitive skills and what they can do with a parent or peer's guidance and encouragement. The "proximal" aspect is how close the child is to learning what they did not know. This learning requires social interaction and modeling and is based on the language of the culture. This theory is applied to the area of education and learning today. Educators often write about student's socioeconomic and social backgrounds and how they impact their learning and academic success.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist who was interested in children and their abilities to learn. According to Piaget, children use the process of assimilation and accommodation to create a schema or mental framework for how they perceive and/or interpret what they are experiencing. He theorized that students learn through interacting with the world and the teacher is a facilitator. This theory was applied to classrooms where he asserted children developed best in a classroom with interaction.
Both Vygotsky and Piaget contributed to sociocultural psychology in the area of education and child development. Today it is commonly accepted in some cultures that learning and cognitive abilities are influenced by sociocultural factors and are not set at birth. Gender differences between boys and girls are learned and maybe reinforced in a school setting or classroom. Cultural differences may reinforce different behaviors for males and females and these are usually reinforced by schools and other individuals in the culture.
Main propositions of the sociocultural perspective include:
Psychologists embraced this perspective and recently the area of social psychology. For example, in certain countries, ethnic minorities suffer discrimination and that discrimination will influence the individuals that are discriminated against self-esteem, and their behavior towards others in society.
Learning how to behave and the use of language are cornerstones of sociocultural psychology. All humans are influenced by groups, subgroups, and individuals. Individualist societies like the United States place importance on individual identity, traits, and accomplishments. For example, in the United States if you are successful people attribute to that person's abilities rather than the social structures that may have influenced their success or the individuals who helped. In a collective society, which is seen in Asian and African countries, there is more emphasis on doing what is good for the group and society rather than what is best for one individual. People in those societies may think differently about their roles and behaviors with other individuals and society. For example, in collective societies extended family and community are responsible for raising children and taking care of the elderly, because that is what is good for society.
Cultural groups influence young people as they go through the public school system in the United States. Graduation rates of students who live in lower socioeconomic or poor neighborhoods are lower than students who come from wealthy neighborhoods. Sociocultural psychologists propose that the students who are in the lower socioeconomic neighborhoods have more barriers to overcome and may lack role models that show them how to succeed at schooling. If students do not have the support they may internalize that they are not going to succeed which will impact their behavior and motivation. The culture they belong to and subgroups will influence their self-esteem and direct their behavior towards what is acceptable in the culture. For example, a student who lives in the inner city may be drawn to join a gang rather than dedicate time to schooling because that is what is acceptable in their subgroups. When they feel accepted and confident they will continue the behavior and it becomes a reflection of their sense of self.
Our environment and subgroups we belong to have a greater influence on our sense of self and motivation for certain behaviors than a biological drive according to the sociocultural psychology perspective. Social psychologists today study group behaviors, leadership, nonverbal behavior, conformity, aggression, and prejudice, as all these have social and cultural aspects that impact individual behavior and perceptions.
As with any perspective or theoretical framework, there are arguments against applying broadly to human behavior. For example, one of Vygotsky's theoretical systems is the role of social collectivity in individual learning and development. His theory may emphasize the role of the social and the collective, but ignores the role of the individual and their free will. Vygotsky lived in a time in history where the collective goals of society were more important than individual goals. However, some countries like the United States put more emphasis on the individual and not assimilation with the collective culture.
The sociocultural perspective may not account for the individual or individual behaviors within the collective cultures with all given social situations. More research is examining if the authority in certain social groups impacts the individual's behaviors and what we can learn from the hierarchy within cultures and social groups. As this perspective is rooted in culture and the components such as language it is difficult to apply research conducted with one culture to all cultures.
Sociocultural perspectives and theories are one framework psychologists use to understand human behavior within society. The perspective focuses on human behavior examined within a social context of culture and socialization. An individual's culture and subgroups such as family and friends influence their behavior, thoughts, and even emotions. One component of culture is language which plays a significant role in how we learn and our cognitive development. All groups shape individual behavior according to socio-cultural theorists. Early socio-cultural psychologists Vygotsky and Piaget influenced the area of education and child development. Contemporary psychologists in the area of social psychology study phenomena such as conformity, prejudice, aggression, crime, and group behavior with an emphasis on the power of culture and group influence on individual behavior.
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All individual behavior is seen in a social context. Individuals learn behaviors that are acceptable or unacceptable from social groups. Behavior, thoughts, and individuals are judged, valued, or devalued based on the norms of the social group or culture. Individuals may internalize the acceptance or non-acceptance, influencing their individual behavior choices. Social psychology studies human behavior within social groups and focuses on the influence of those groups on the individual.
Young people who are in social groups that view criminal behavior as normal and necessary to be successful may not dedicate themselves to schooling or even attend. Role models, family, and peer groups influence the individual behavior choices of a young person. Social psychologists study peer and family influence on young people who may be prone to a life of crime and how they differ from young people who make different choices.
The main focus of sociocultural psychology is the influence of culture and groups on individual behavior. Family, friends, school, and religious groups influence an individual's behavior, as well as their thoughts about their behavior. Learning social norms and values helps the individual to make behavior choices that will be acceptable to the culture and subculture.
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