Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Role of Environment in Personality Development

No trait is so dependent on heredity that it would not
require certain minimal environmental conditions for
its development. This is true even of physical traits
and certainly much more so of intellectual, social and
emotional ones. At any given moment an individual is
the product of countless interactions between his
genetic endowment and physical and sociocultural
environment. By physical environment we refer to the
natural world surrounding the individual: Climate,
terrain, food supplies, disease germs and so on. By
sociocultural environment we mean the world of
people, customs, values and man-made objects.
Physical Environment
People of the earth live under diverse conditions of
climate, terrain and natural resources. Some live in
dense jungles and others on barren deserts, some
live on high mountains and others on flat prairie
lands. Some live where it is extremely cold and others
where it is oppressively hot, some live where it rains
most of the time and others where there is chronic
drought. In some places food and other resources are
plentiful, in others they are so scarce that most of the
individual’s life must be spent in eking out a bare
subsistence. Some areas are infested with disease
and other hazards to physical safety, others are
relatively free to disease and danger.
Climate and Terrain
People inhabiting areas where conditions of climate or
terrain are unfavourable tend to undergo adaptive
physiological changes. For example, the circulatory
system of the Eskimo tends to lie deep within a
protective fatty layer which conserves his body heat.
Scarcity, Disease and Other Unfavourable Conditions
Even today millions of people live in areas where
disease is rife and food supplies are inadequate. Such
conditions take a tremendous toll in reduced physical
vigor, bodily damage and loss of life. Because adverse
physical conditions influence the way a group lives,
we may assume that they also exert some effect, at
least indirectly, on the personality development of
individual members. However, the precise effect is
difficult to assess, for again we typically find cultural
factors complicating the total situation.
It becomes very difficult to evaluate the effect of
physical environment on individual and group
differences in development. Except in cases where
unfavourable conditions lead to actual bodily damage,
as in malnutrition and disease, the role of the physical
environment seems a less important than that of the
sociocultural environment.
Socio-cultural Environment
In much the same sense that man receives a genetic
heritage which is the end product of countless million
years of evolutionary history, so he receives a
sociocultural heritage which is the end product of
many thousands of years of social evolution. This
heritage varies dramatically from one social group to
another, but the various cultures of the world have
enough in common to enable us to speak meaningfully
of “human culture”. Every group, for example, has its
language, family and social structure, customs, values,
music and art. These “institutions” are
characteristically human and tend to be transmitted
by similar means in every society. Sometimes the
instruction is deliberate, but just as often it is not.
Following are the chief means by which the
sociocultural environment exerts its influence on
individual development.
i) Group Membership and Instruction
Both deliberately and unconsciously, each society
teaches its concepts, values and accepted behaviours
to its children. This instruction is largely accomplished
by the social institutions such as home, school and
temple or their equivalents. Thus systematic
instruction, together with the examples set by adults
or other “models” tend to make for some degree of
uniformity and to establish what may be called the
basic personality type of the particular society.
The individual’s basic personality structure is affected
not only by the larger social group but also by the
various subgroups to which one belongs–groups based
upon his family membership, religion, occupation,
social class, age and sex. Each subgroup tends to
foster certain values, beliefs and approved behaviour
patterns which may in turn be subject to the
restrictions imposed by society as a whole. The fact
that each individual belongs to somewhat different
type of subgroup tends to produce individual
differences, just as common membership in the larger
cultural group makes everyone somewhat alike.
The groups with which an individual identifies, or
with which he would like to be identified, are called
‘reference groups’–for it is in reference to the norms
and values of that group that he sets his goals, models
his behaviour and evaluates his worth. Sometimes
reference groups from which the individual is excluded
have greater influence on the person.
ii) Status and Role
In every social structure there are a variety of
distinguishable positions - doctor, teacher, carpenter,
parent, student, child and so forth - each of which
contributes in some way to the total group functioning
and is accorded a certain ‘social status’. Status brings
with it both privileges and responsibilities. For example,
the medical doctor has the privilege of practicing
medicine and also is held in high regard by other
members of society. In return, he is expected to follow
the ethical code of profession. If he fails to do so, he
may have his medical license revoked and be relegated
to an inferior social standing.
To clarify what is expected of a person with a given
position and status, society establishes various roles
for its members to play, each associated with a certain
pattern of expected behaviour. Thus the role of an
army officer calls for loyalty, decisiveness, courage
and resourcefulness. Each person of the society, young
or old, tends to develop the skills, behaviour and
values that his role seems to demand. If he deviates
too far from what is expected him, he is likely to run
into difficulties in his social relationships.
The extent to which role expectations can influence
personality development is well illustrated by Margaret
Mead’s study (1949) of the Tchambuli, a New Guinea
tribe in which the sex roles are practically the reverse
of ours. Women are supposed to earn the living, handle
business transactions, take the initiative in courtship,
and in general, act as head of the family. Men on the
other hand, are expected to be coquettish, graceful,
prone to gossip, good homemakers and interested in
dancing and theatricals. The established roles for
men and women among the Tchambuli, obviously tend
to channel personality development along lines very
different from those in our culture.
iii) Interpersonal Relationships
Man is a social animal and much of his personality
development reflects his experiences with other people.
In many societies a certain pattern of interpersonal
relationships may predominate over others – for
example, the norm may be for competition or
cooperation, hostility or friendliness. In general,
however, interpersonal relationships contribute to
individuality rather than similarity of development,
for no two of us have exactly the same acquaintances
nor do we have an identical relationship with the
people we do know in common. Even parents relate to
each of their children in somewhat different ways.
The experiences of love and hate, of friendship and
distrust, of shared experience and misunderstanding
that characterize our associations with other people
are in each case unique.
Although we have many kinds of interpersonal
relationships in the course of our lives, those that
have the greatest influence in shaping our development
are those with our parents and with members of our
peer groups. Apart from that many other types of
interpersonal relationships – with brothers and sisters,
grandparents, teachers, neighbours – may play a
significant part in shaping personality. Even a chance
meeting with someone may change the direction of

our lives.