Socialization and Social Isolation: Definition & Case Studies

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  • 0:07 Nature vs. Nurture
  • 0:43 Socialization
  • 2:09 Social Isolation
  • 3:30 Studies
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell

Erin has an M.Ed in adult education and a BS in psychology and a BS in management systems.

Interestingly, socialization seems to be the process that makes us act human. Here, we define socialization and discuss its importance to human development. We also contrast it to social isolation and discuss several case studies regarding what happens when humans don't or can't socialize.

Nature vs. Nurture

You have probably heard about a famous debate in psychology and sociology that is known as 'nature vs. nurture'. The question is, if human behavior is a product of our genes and evolution, or of experience and social contact. The majority of sociologists believe that the answer to this question is likely a combination of both but that nurture plays the most important role in at least our social behavior. So, let's talk more about nurture - specifically, about the importance of socialization.


Socialization is a lifelong process during which we learn about social expectations and how to interact with other people. During socialization, we learn about our own culture, including behavioral norms and values that teach us how to fit in to our society. As children, we learn to walk, talk and feed ourselves and also the difference between right and wrong from the people around us. Through socialization, we acquire a personal identity and learn to value our connections with others. This process continues for an entire lifetime.

Nearly all of the behavior that we consider to be 'human nature' is actually learned through socialization. For example, it is easy to assume that standards of beauty are the same all over the world. Surely, a woman who Americans 'instinctively' find attractive would also be considered attractive by other cultures, right? Yet, there are cultures in which women go to drastic measures to elongate their necks and shrink their feet in order to obtain their cultural standards of beauty, which clearly are not the same as ours. Therefore, beauty may not be instinctive after all, but culturally defined and learned from others.

Social Isolation

Socialization is such a basic part of our lives that it is easy to overlook its importance. But, it is the reason we laugh, cry, talk and do many of the other things we think of as just a part of being human. Socialization doesn't always happen, though, and certainly can't happen in social isolation. This is a state that occurs when someone experiences a complete lack of contact with the social world. We are talking about no communication with humans, no visual sighting of them - no access to society whatsoever.

Social isolation would be horribly lonely for someone used to being around people. Imagine what a man would be like if he lived in a city for 30 years and was then stranded completely alone on a deserted island for the rest of his life. But, social isolation from the beginning of one's life seems to be just as bad, if not worse. From what sociologists have been able to tell from case studies, individuals who grow up in social isolation have no chance to learn all of the feelings and behaviors we mistakenly believe that we are born with, so although they look human, they don't act human.

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