Social and Environmental Influence

On a daily basis, we as humans interact with dozens of other people whether, it be family, friends, classmates, or even the cashier at the grocery store. The more time we spend with certain individuals, the more influence they seem to have on us. After spending consecutive long amounts of time with someone, I often catch myself making similar remarks, using similar language, and even using the same humor as that person. Not only do others influence outward actions, but they can also affect one’s choices, beliefs and values as well. I find this extremely interesting because as a child, my parents stressed the importance of keeping good company and having good friends. The basis for this theory is the idea of tabula rasa, otherwise known as the “blank slate theory.” However though, some people believe in innatism and nativism: the theories that all humans are born with certain subconscious beliefs, habits, and values. Scientists have proven many theories on both sides of the aisle to be plausible and even true in some cases, despite the arguments for and against both. Ultimately, after conducting hours of research, I believe that each and every human is born with certain aspects of innatism, nativism, and tabula rasa.

When discussing cultural and environmental influence the tabula rasa theory, or the “blank slate” theory, proposed by John Locke, must be taken into consideration. This theory, dating back to the 1600’s, suggests that all humans are born with a “blank slate” and no preexisting beliefs or knowledge. This theory became accepted by many and rejected by few. It explains why babies and children are so vulnerable and helpless. It also explains the reason why the majority of people become a product of their environment. This environment not only includes everyday encounters and peers, but it also more importantly includes friends and family.

Unsurprisingly, research shows that family tends to influence us quite frequently. This may come as no surprise because, quite frequently, we tend to grow up to be very similar to our parents in many ways. Robert Kiyosaki, in his book entitled “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” dives deeper into the idea that those people who you spend the most time with, especially your family, influence you the greatly. In this book, Kiyosaki talks about his father and his stepfather. They both held beliefs about money and life that were on opposite ends of the spectrum. The book talks about how he took beliefs and ideas from each father and used them to his benefit, which has molded him into a successful real estate investor. The previously mentioned article on personalexcellence.co talks about Kiyosaki’s theory and says:

“If you hang out with a group of successful, positive-minded individuals who believe in taking responsibility for their lives, you will move to become a proactive individual who shapes his/her future. If you hang out with a bunch of pessimists who believe the world is out to get them and there is nothing worthwhile, you will start descending into the negative whirlpool at some point, even if you are initially a positive individual.”

This quote speaks to the fact that who you spend time with greatly affects your psyche whether it be for the better or for worse. In Kiyosaki’s case, his success is a first-hand demonstration of how the beliefs you learn from others can greatly affect you and your successes. Kiyosaki uses this platform to promote not only financial responsibility and awareness, but also positivity and an optimistic outlook on life. He attributes his success to the fact that he was able to see two different, but valuable viewpoints, which influenced him subconsciously from a young age.

Not only does family heavily influence a person, but friends and coworkers also create a major impact because of the large amount of time spent with them in work, school, social activities, and other extracurricular activities. In the scientific realm, many studies have been conducted to prove various aspects of this theory. For example, a study conducted in 2013 and published in Psychological Science, reveals evidence that people struggling with self-control often increase their discipline when surrounded by strong-willed and driven people. Another 2014 study reported in the Journal of Consumer Research proves that friends can positively impact a person’s decisions and that many times, mutual resistance of temptations can create a stronger bond and friendship. These studies both demonstrate the positive influence good friends can make on a person and how keeping good company can contribute to success and positivity.

On the contrary, spending time around negative and morally low people can create for a damaging influence. According to a 2007 study published in the University of Chicago Press Journals, individuals’ opinions, whether positive or negative, were heavily influenced once they found out the opinions of their peers on the same topic. The journal says:

Consumers were presented with information about a new product and allowed to independently form their evaluations. As would be normally expected with many products, some of these evaluations were positive and others negative. The researchers then revealed to participants whether their peers evaluated the product negatively or positively. They found that the opinions of others exert especially strong influence on individual attitudes when these opinions are negative. Additionally, consumers that privately held positive attitudes toward the product were more susceptible to influence from group opinion than those who initially held negative opinions.

This study demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that peers can influence even the most insignificant opinions a person holds.

Another fitting and interesting article on personalexcellence.co entitled “You are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With” explains how one’s successes and failures are closely connected to the successes and failures of the people that person spends the most time with. The author speaks of it as an average of those five people along with the individual person included. The author cites multiple examples of how spending time with certain groups of people influenced her thoughts and outlooks on life during those periods of time. She talks about how hanging around negative people and having negative professors allowed negative thoughts to creep into her head. She also talks about how spending time around positive people lifted her outlook and drive, “sleepwalkers” gave her more of a sense of apathy, and millionaires expanded and broadened her horizons. The most interesting part about this article is that all of the realizations of the author came in retrospect years and years later.

After reading the studies, it may seem obvious that friends and family can highly influence us, but did you know that even strangers have an impact on our tendencies? According to a study published on spring.org.utk, humans subconsciously begin to mimic the behaviors of those people with whom they come in contact. This idea is commonly referred to as the “Chameleon Effect.” This study showed that when 78 participants sat down with a random person to have a conversation, as the conversation lengthened; the participants began to mimic certain behaviors of the person more and more. Specifically, the article states that, “Face touching only went up 20%, but rate of foot waggling went up by an impressive 50% when participants were inspired by another foot waggler.” This presents the idea that if humans take on mannerisms of those whom we hardly know, how much more so does the Chameleon Effect take place after spending extended time with one person?

After researching this theory for quite some time, the strength in some of the arguments for innatism became more clear. Contrary to the tabula rasa, chameleon, and the average of your friends theories, many scientists argue the idea of innatism. Innatism is defined by Wikipedia as “a philosophical and epistemological doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas/knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a blank slate at birth.” This theory mainly relates to the idea that we as humans have a natural knowledge and or ability to learn language and that it only has to be activated. Another argument is that humans learn to walk on two legs naturally and develop and master that ability much more quickly than apes. Even though the skill is “learned,” it is argued to be an instinctive and “innate” ability.

One of the strongest arguments for innatism is the fact that many twins separated at birth and reunited later in life take on eerily similar mannerisms and characteristics apart from their physical similarities. Lornareiko.wordpress.com talks about a study conducted by psychologist Thomas Bouchard to compare the similarities of twins in cases such as these. According to his research and findings, one pair of twins found that they had both married and divorced a woman by the same name. Also, “They shared interests in mechanical drawing and carpentry; their favorite school subject had been math, their least favorite, spelling. They smoked and drank the same amount and got headaches at the same time of day.” In a similar case Two twins named Daphne and Barbara found that they had been cooking the same meal from the same cook book on the same day. I find this extremely interesting because these two sets of twins obviously grew up in different environments. This completely contradicts the argument of tabula rasa.

Just like innatism, the theory of nativism provides an explanation for the natural instincts of humans from birth. Nativism is similar to innatism but more specifically proposes the idea that humans are prewired with certain “native” skill sets at and abilities at birth. Nativism helps explain why some people are more genetically inclined and gifted in certain areas. For example, many East Africans are born with a God-given talent of running marathons. According to runnersworld.com, “In 2013, there were 149 male marathon performances faster than 2hr 10min. Eighty of those were by Kenyans, 47 by Ethiopians, plus eight by Eritreans and Ugandans, from the same region and similar ethnicity.” This means that out of 149 runners, 134 of them were from East Africa. These statistics have stayed fairly consistent in the preceding and the following years. Due to genetics and environmental adaptations, the men from these areas generally make for better natural runners than other men across the world.

Ultimately, after analyzing all the previously stated research, I believe that humans are born with a blank slate regarding informational knowledge, but I also believe that all humans are born with a certain set of instincts and genetic abilities. When speaking of tabula rasa, I believe it is clear that humans are not completely independent of their environment. As earlier proven, all humans are subject to certain influence based on the family who raises them, the people they spend their time around, the cultures they are immersed in, and the physical and emotional environment to which they are subject. As I have grown older and begun to find myself on a deeper level, I have personally realized the extremely strong impact my parents have had on me, the strong impact of my friends, and even the lasting impact of my teachers and professors. I also recognize the strong influence of southern hospitality and culture on my views and beliefs and even the way I strive to graciously treat others.

On the other hand, I believe that humans are also born with certain instincts and genetic abilities that come naturally. As a general rule, babies learn to crawl and then gradually learn to walk. I know plenty of parents would like to take credit for this absolutely amazing feat but in reality, children learn to put one foot in front of the other by practice. Usually it only takes a child around one year to learn how to get up off the floor and walk around on his own. This comes from a naturally instinct and ability. In the same way, babies learn to speak after exposure to language. Sometimes, it only takes a baby six months to speak his first words. Comparatively, some house dogs are around human language for up to fifteen years, and I have yet to hear a single dog utter any words. This alone shows that humans are born with higher intelligence and instincts. Certain regions and races also produce genetically inclined humans with natural abilities to excel in specific areas. This proves that because many humans are born with specific gifts and talents, that humans in general are not born without genetic influence. The human brain may never be fully understood simply because of its indescribable complexity, but we can know for sure that humans are born with natural abilities beyond compare. Conclusively, humans not only possess simple innate instincts, but also vulnerable minds which allow for inspiration and influence.

Works Cited

Celes. “You Are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With.” You Are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.

“Innatism.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Peregrine. “Identical Twins Who Were Separated at Birth: Amazing Similarities.” NEVER SAY ALWAYS. N.p., 10 Oct. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

“Psychological Nativism.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

“Tabula Rasa.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Apr. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

“The Chameleon Effect.” PsyBlog. N.p., 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Murano, Grace. “10 Most Fascinating Twin Stories (amazing Twins, Different Twins).” Oddee. N.p., 01 Apr. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

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