Human Development: Biology and Society
What does it mean to be "human"? To be human includes being conscious of ourselves as individuals with unique identities. personalities, and relationships with others. As humans, we have ideas, emotions. and values. We have the capacity to think and to make rational decisions. But what is the source of "humanness"! Are we born with these human characteristics. or do we develop them through our interactions with others? When we are born. we are' totally dependent on others for our survival.
We cannot turn ourselves over. speak. reason. plan. or do many of the things that are associated with being human. Although we can nurse, wet, and cry. most small mammals can also do those hings. As discussed in Chapter 3. we humans differ from nonhuman animals because we lack instincts and must rely on learning for our survival. Human infants have the potential for developing human characteristics if they are exposed to an adequate socialization process. Every human being is a product of biology. society. and personal experiences-that is. of heredity and environment or, in even more basic terms, "nature" and "nurture." How much of our development can be explained by socialization? How much by our genetic heritage? Sociologists focus on how humans design their own culture and transmit it from generation to generation through socialization. By contrast. sociologists assert that nature. in the form of our genetic makeup, is a major factor in shaping human behavior.
Sociology is the systematic study of how biology affects social behavior (Wilson, 1975). According to the zoologist Edward O. Wilson. who pioneered sociology. genetic. inheritance underlies many forms of social behavior such as war and peace. envy and concern for others. and competition and cooperation. Most sociologists disagree with the notion that biological principles can be used to explain all human behavior. Obviously. however. some aspects of our physical makeup-such as eye color, hair color. height. and weight-are largely determined by our heredity.
How important is social influence ("nurture~) in human development? There is hardly a single behavior that is not influenced socially. Except for simple reflexes, most human actions are social. either in their causes or in their consequences. Even solitary actions such as crying and brushing our teeth are ultimately social. We cry because someone has hurt us. Web rush our teeth because our parents (or dentist) told us it was important. Social environment probably has a greater effect than heredity on the we)'we develop and the way we act. However. heredity does provide the basic material from which other people help to mold an individual's human characteristics. Our biological needs and emotional needs are related in a complex equation. Children whose needs are met in settings characterized by affection. warmth. and closeness see the world as a safe and comfortable place and see other people as trustworthy and helpful By contrast. infants and children who receive less than- adequate care or who are emotionally rejected or abused often view the world as hostile and have feelings of suspicion and fear.