Essay on Socialisation and Cultural Differences

The Study of Margaret Mead:

Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist, in her “Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies”, has shown how sex has to do with personality. She has tried to prove that some traits which we call ‘masculine’ and some other ‘feminine’ do not necessarily go with the biological fact of sex. These differences are matter of cultural definitions. Three New Guinea Tribes which she has studied, reveal three different kinds of personalities.

(i) Mead has found that the Arapesh, the mountain dwellers of New Guinea are gentle, mild, maternal and affectionate. Both men and women act in a fashion which we would call ‘feminine’.

(ii) The Mundugumor. Tribals of New Guinea are cannibalistic. Both men and women act in ways which we would call predominantly “masculine”. Both are expected to be violent, competitive, aggressively sexed, jealous and rough. Here every man is pitted against every other, including his brothers and father. Their world is charged with hostility and conflict.

(iii) But in the Tchambuli tribe male and female roles are defined in a way that is quite con­trary to our modern way. Here women are more dominant than men. Men gossip, wear curls, and go shopping, are emotionally dependent upon, and less responsible than women. The people live chiefly for art. Women manage and do major tasks of the family.

The above examples make it clear that such differences are not inborn. Each of these societies has chosen one type of temperament and built its culture upon it, expecting all its members to con­form to it.

Needless to say, the basic training is given and the proper atmosphere is created for the children in these societies to develop their cultural requirements. Children in these societies have been socialised according to their respective cultural ideals. It becomes unfair, then, to judge or evaluate the life of one community or society from the cultural viewpoint of another. Normality, then, is a matter of cultural definition.

The ideal person of one society is misfit of another. Thus, the gentle Arapesh would be scorned by the Mundugumor. The violent Mundugumor would be a puzzle to the gentle Arapesh.

Can Culture Determine Personality?

Some writers have popularised the idea that personality and culture are two sides of the same coin, and that culture determines personality. The studies of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict are almost illustrative of this idea. But most of the writers believe that this idea is only a half truth.

Anthropologists and sociologists are very careful now in using the term “representative personality” or “basic personality” or “distinctive personality”, or “model personality” for they have observed wide variation in personalities within cultures.

Ralph Linton has pointed out that personality traits differ within any culture. Hence within the same culture some are found to be more aggressive than others, some are more submissive, kind, benevolent, competitive and so forth. It is because culture is only one determinant of personality among others.

It is true that cultures emphasise certain practices, motivations and values. Majority of the people embody in their personalities the dominant action patterns and thought ways. Culture exerts a powerful and consistent pressure on the individual to develop his personality, the common and socially approved traits and values.

Hence a large number of them develop personalities which may most fully express the spirit or ethos of their culture. Still, we cannot say that culture and personality always coincide exactly. When we say that the Dobuans and Kwakiuti Indians are highly competi­tive, aggressive and known for ill-will, treachery, etc., it should not be taken to mean that all the Dobuans and Kwakiuti Indians are like that.

Similarly, when we say that modern Americans give utmost importance for “individual success”, we do not mean that all the Americans cherish that value equally. Some may cherish competition to achieve individual success, while some others may be indifferent towards it.

Still others renounce personal success altogether condemning it as a devil’s work. There are also some monks who dedicate their lives to poverty and mystic contempla­tion. Personality is not totally determined by culture, even though no personality escapes its influ­ence.

Causes for the Differences in Personality within the Culture:

In our common observation we note that in certain respects we are like other people, in certain respects like some other people, and in still others like no one except ourselves. On the basis of this observation we can infer that not all those who are exposed to the same culture are alike.

Wide differences in human personalities are found within the same culture. It is difficult to explain how each human personality could be unique. However, the following factors throw some light on the differences in human personalities within the same culture.

1. Sub-Cultural Influence:

Culture of any society consists of many sub-cultures. Shared behaviours which are common to a regional, racial, religious, rural, urban, ethnic, class, caste, occu­pational and other kinds of sub-culture. Each sub-culture has its own impact on the members.

All the children of the same society do not confront the same culture because of these sub-cultures that it consists of. Thus culture is not a monolithic entity, a hardened mould into which each individual is poured at birth. “Culture is not a uniform that all must wear”-Robert Bierstedt.

2. Cultural Alternatives:

As Ralph Linton has pointed out every culture offers for its people not only ‘universals’ but also “alternatives”. ‘Universals’ are those core features of a culture which are widely accepted and required by the society. They are learnt behaviours widely shared by them.

For example, the language spoken in the society, deep-seated moral and social values such as – humanitarianism, patriotism, monogamous marriage, sacrifice, sexual fidelity, respect for funda­mental rights, religiosity, etc. represent the cultural universals of Indian society.

“Cultural alternatives” represent those activities in which individuals are allowed a choice. For example, a cultural universal demand legalised marriage. But the individuals who want to marry are allowed alternative lines of action which are equally acceptable.

They may be married at home, in a temple or church, or at the community hall or in the registrar’s office. Similarly, the babies may be breast-fed or bottle-fed and both procedures are allowed. Thus, the alternatives are different activities allowed and accepted for achieving the same end. The effect of these on person­ality is found to be different.

3. Biological Factor:

The inherent organic differences in individuals also contribute to the differences in their personalities. No two newly born babies are exactly alike in every talent, at­tribute, and trait. The biological differences that are genetic and hereditary in character make every human infant different from every other. Hence each infant may respond to the same or similar cultural stimuli in its own way.

4. Situational Differences:

Social situation in which the infant finds himself also has an effect upon the development of personality. For example, the social situation in which the parents possess the only child differs from the one in which the parents have two children – or three or five or ten.

A child who has brothers only is in a different social situation from the one who has only sisters. Further the child’s sex is an additional variable in the situation. Birth order is still another factor that can affect the personality. Similarly, the age of parents is another variable in the situation. The child of young parents may have better chance to learn than the child of older parents.

5. Differences in the Transmission of Culture:

Socialisation is understood as the process of cultural transmission in which the rules and practices of the group are learnt. But culture does not transmit itself. It is transmitted only by individuals who have absorbed some aspects of culture to which they were initially exposed. Hence different parents will transmit to their children different cultural items and traits even though they belong to the same race, religion, region and social class.

6. Changes in Culture:

Variety is endless in human life. Changes in culture may also add to it. Culture is neither uniform nor static. It is dynamic. In complex societies culture is changing all the times. In every passing period it presents new facets and elements. Hence its influence on the devel­oping personality cannot be uniform.

7. Culture Encourages Individuality:

Culture places emphasis not only upon conformity but also upon individuality. Culture provides for ‘alternatives’ as well as ‘specifications’. Initiative, inventiveness, originality, adaptability to new situations, etc., are values that are cherished and en­couraged in some cultures. In some respects, culture even encourages idiosyncrasy.


It is clear from the above that personality is not a “cultural mould”. It is not a passive creation of culture. Individuals react in different ways to these cultural pressures and impressions. As Gardner Murphy suggests, “one child is easily moulded with regard to food but fights constantly against socialisation of his aggressive impulses; the reverse may be true of another child”.

All cultures produce variety as well as uniformity of personality. Every socialised individual has a personality of his own. Personality is the organisation of a person’s habits, attitudes and traits. It arises from the inter-play of biological, social and cultural factors. Personality is never determined by culture en­tirely. Still no one can ignore the influence of culture as such.