Society is a complex mechanism that has a profound impact on its members. The social environment shapes the structure and function of a human brain throughout its development. As a result, it determines the personality development to a high degree. The notion of an environment includes all the external factors that surround an individual. These ones include such as a family, friends, a school, and many activities, in which the individual engages. They all constitute the environment and play an important role in the individual’s character development. However, the external factors of the environment always depend on the culture, to which they belong. Each culture produces its unique social environment that differs from a country to a country. Sometimes cultural peculiarities of one country may shock people from another one. Therefore, it is important not only to know about the role of the environment in personality development but also how to adjust to another culture.
Cultural environment refers to different characteristics of society. These include attitudes, behaviors, customs, and values that are transmitted from one generation to the next. An individual has to pass through enculturation via a family, a community and institutions, which have a direct impact on the character development. Due to these, the person acquires particular values, beliefs, norms, opinions, worldviews, and behaviors. To add even more, the environment together with education and heredity has a determining role in the person’s self-esteem. To start with, the family has the strongest impact on an individual’s life. On the one hand, it influences on personality coming from the shared genetic information. Many types of research confirm that the key personality traits revealed at a young age become a part of one’s character in adulthood. It is known that children inherit some personality traits from their parents.
On the other hand, childhood is a period when humans are most vulnerable to external influence. Some similarities between parents and their offspring are genetic, but some depend on the shared environment of the family. For that reason, parents are the first people to shape the personality of a child. Parents usually become the first teachers of the proper behavior. Little children are not aware of what is acceptable or unacceptable from a social point of view. However, they can learn from their parents about it. Thus, children get to know how bad is to pick one’s nose, teeth or ears, break the toys or stare on the strangers with some unwitty comments. Besides, parents teach their children the values, which include the teaching of what is right and wrong, religious beliefs, the interaction with people, together with rules and expectations of the society. Parents are responsible for the implementation of all the necessary rules into their child’s heart and memory. After all, it will guarantee survival in the adult social life. What children learn in a family shapes their personality, self-esteem, a sense of pride or inferiority, understanding of gender roles, and a life attitude, in general.
Peers also affect personality development a lot. As children grow up, and once they are grown up, they become the subjects of strong peer pressure. Social pressure may be as strong as to consider people who go against it insane or criminal. Therefore, children bump into a necessity to conform to the rules of their group, whatever it may be. Peers may influence the way an individual gets dressed, behaves, and speaks. Each group has its unwritten law. When a child wants to belong to any of them, he or she must conform to these rules. It is true for both constructive and destructive peer groups. While school clubs have the requirements for membership, street gangs have initiation rites. Sometimes the desire to be accepted in a group may lead a child to the acts he or she would never perform otherwise. Therefore, groups can manipulate their members and affect the personality development of the individual positively or negatively.
A school affects the development of the individual because it is responsible for the acculturation of him or her. At the time when children attend school, they start taking up the behavior of society. They can learn proper conduct from their peers. They can develop their personality and beliefs under the teachers’ influence. Besides, the school allows children to learn society’s biases and prejudices about every aspect of life. It can be anything from history, a political system, and science to sex, religion as well as an environment. School and education also influence on the self-esteem of the individual. Education gives people their values and beliefs that become the basis of the key decisions of every person. Besides, through education, people receive their cultural values.
People who surround the individual have a profound impact on their perception of the world. It shapes the individual with an optimistic or pessimistic worldview. If the individual is being constantly exposed to people who complain, criticize something, or are angry quite often, he or she is likely to begin acting the same way. Naturally, the opposite fact is also true. When people are a part of a positive environment, where people talk about uplifting things, they usually feel good. Additionally, a positive company enlarges the individual’s chances to achieve something. It is because these people encourage and believe in him or her as well.
The social status of the individual also has a profound but not determining impact. Growing in poverty or surplus determines the individual’s attitude towards money and possessions. Those people who grow in poverty have a particular feeling of insecurity and feel insecure about their possessions. Their personalities can both benefit and lose from it. Poverty can be beneficial because it can develop such traits of personality as persistence, enthusiasm, and diligence in order to get away from these poor living conditions. On the other hand, poor people often feel helpless. They cannot afford many vital things. They cannot count on a good education, medical help, and a good job. Often they can face prejudices because of their low societal status. On the other hand, money can spoil a person. Rich people are often arrogant, stingy, and being as snobs. They can be careless and overestimate their powers.
Mass media as a part of the environment also has a particular influence on personality development. People who spend much time watching shows about murder, injuries and family problems are likely to feel constantly anxious, afraid, and upset. Listening to depressing or angry music also increases identical emotions. On contrast, watching humorous and positive shows brings feelings of ease and contentment. Apart from that, media plays an important role in shaping the children’s social identification, appearance, a dressing manner, eating habits, and morals, etc. Media teaches children values and creates social norms for them. Viewers are likely to accept these standards as appropriate behavior and try to conform to them. Thus, mass media is a part of the environment that has rather the unnoticeable influence on personality development.
The influence of culture is difficult to underestimate. Culture exercises a lot of power over the individual telling people who they should be. Learning to engage in simpler social interactions of childhood contributes to the eventual construction of an adult social person. Apart from that, the person has to interact somehow with those social realities. “What social realities are, and, therefore, what persons are, will vary with culture and history. What persons are, and what persons can be, evolve and change socially and historically” (Bickhard, 1992). Culture shapes one’s individual identity by influencing one’s perspective and by adding some bias about particular viewpoints. The perception of events directly affects the way the person reacts to that event. As a result, this viewpoint leads to a characteristic pattern in response (or behavior), being one of the key elements of human personality. By sharing one’s individual identity, culture can have a strong influence on them as human beings. It can help improve one’s identity providing a background in a world full of different characters and lifestyles. Culture gives people a sense of comfort and belonging that allows defining themselves both as individuals and group members. It unites people with a common background and creates an invisible connection among them. When the person receives that sense of belonging, he or she becomes able to recognize and develop his or her individual self-concept. Different cultures can both coincide and contradict with each other. People with various cultural backgrounds may be shocked to meet each other. They can be impressed by a different set of values and experience a cultural shock. However, learning the diverse values from other cultures may expand one’s outlook as well.
The consequences of the cultural influence on personality development are especially true in my own life. I think my life experiences are directly connected to my Chinese culture. The same way my religious beliefs and my worldviews are. My Chinese culture is something that has an impact on my study abroad. It is something that I cannot just forget while being in the United States. It does not matter what I do or where I go, I will always be Chinese. I am not the one who thinks that way; it is true towards many people. It is impossible to forget about your origin and experience because it becomes an integral part of your identity and personality. It dawned on me when I first came to the United States. At that time, I realized that Chinese and American cultures were very different.
First, I saw that the American culture put an individual in the center, while the Chinese culture put community interests prior to the individual ones. In China, the self-esteem of people depends on the approval of a family and a society, while, in the United States; people find grounds for their self-confidence in their personal achievements.
Second, I have found out that there are many social customs of the Chinese and Americans differ a lot. The most noticeable difference is that Americans are very informal in their communication. For instance, people in America call each other by their given names when they meet for the first time, despite their age. In China, still, the same behavior is considered impolite. Choosing a topic in a conversation is another cultural difference. It is quite normal to ask the Chinese about the cost of his possessions. At the same time, doing so in the United States is rude to a certain extent. The Chinese do not see anything wrong is discussing their age or their political and religious beliefs. However, Americans usually try to avoid these topics in their conversation.
Apart from that, there are many differences in the languages in the United States and China. I do not only mean the alphabet and letters. There are some cultural phenomena that are absent in the Chinese culture being present in America and vice versa. When people being unfamiliar with the country have to figure out a new culture through communication, they have to realize the root of the culture is the language. Before that, they may communicate through body languages like a smile, a sign, or a sound of speaking. It is a universal language. Because of these meanings, they are not different from their own. It was especially helpful to me at the beginning of my life in another country. My friend Alice and I came to the United States from China four months ago. Then, she used to complain, “I do not know how to show my appreciation to someone helped me before, and I found that I usually use wrong words that are not suitable.” Later, we got used to verbal and nonverbal communication in the United States. To have a better command of the English language I had to get a better awareness of the American culture.
Furthermore, I have decided to learn about this culture as much as I could. I started reading about cultural differences in order to be ready to meet them in real life. The study of Qi Wang from the University of Cornell became of great help for me. From that study, I have learned that cultures have a particular influence on self-concept in both China and America. Professor Wang has interviewed American and Chinese students about their childhood. The results of the interviews have revealed a range of differences among the students of each group. Firstly, Americans remembered much more information about their childhood than the Chinese did. Secondly, it emerged that American mothers tried to have a deep emotional connection with their children; and Chinese ones tended to give their children good breeding focusing on moral and behavioral issues. Accordingly, American students mentioned their personal child experience; and Chinese pupils tried to prove that they behaved well in their childhood. After reading this article, I have realized how true it is. I have always thought that it is important to behave properly and do good things for other people. However, I have realized that my friends in the United States do not think the same way as I do. They can be really supportive. However, still, they compete with each other. I have noticed that American students like to boast of their academic and sports achievements. It was very surprising to me at first. I thought that people should not boast of their knowledge. Boasting is a very provocative kind of behavior. At least, it will be considered this way in China. Later, I have realized that Americans do not think like the Chinese. They treated me as a very modest person because I did not boast of anything. Now I have become more boastful if we can say that. I realize that I have changed under the influence of another culture.
However, I do not think it is a bad thing. In the United States, I have met people who are culturally different from me. It does not prevent me from learning about their culture. At least, it gives me a point from which to compare and contrast. One common feature that I have noticed about the people of this country and me is pride in the culture they belong to. I feel pride in mine and treat others with respect because they are also proud of their culture. It occurs even when it looks strange to me. My Chinese culture might be a hindrance to me because of some bias in regard to different issues. However, studying abroad helps me to think in a more global context. While being in the US, I do not consider my Chinese culture positive or negative. On the opposite, it is just a part of me. I have managed to cope with my own cultural shock due to my new friends here. While I have received one set of values from my parents, I get to know about an alternative one from peers and the media here. American students really have helped me to adjust to another culture and be able to share my own culture with them. I believe that my experience abroad has increased my willingness to learn about people and customs being opposite to mine.
To conclude, our surrounding influences us in many various ways. It is important to recognize one’s own culture and be willing to accept different customs. One way to do this is reading about other countries. Another way consists of traveling to other nations. Individuals who live in different societies can benefit from others' experiences and get new insights into psychological processes. People are free to choose their environment, but the most important thing is that they could learn all the best from their environment. It will affect positively their personality development. Therefore, the knowledge of various environments and their impact on people is vital for personality development.