Effect of Biological and Social Influences on Development

Gemma L Sobah

Evaluate the contribution of biological and social influences to human psychological functioning

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Introduction:

As humans, our psychological functioning is vital to our survival and succession. So what do we mean by psychological functioning? Psychological functioning is the way in which our minds work. It includes our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Human beings are thinkers and feelers. Our worlds evolve around, our thoughts, our feelings, and our hopes and dreams. How we view the world, and how we feel the world views us. We are driven by our emotions, our morals and our understanding of the people and world around us. Every experience in our life has the ability to impact our psychological functions. In this essay we will be looking at development and sex and gender.

Charles Darwin was an evolutionary psychologist. He argued and believed that we have certain behaviours that have evolved and adapted because of how they benefit our survival and there for increased the chances of passing them on genetically. Darwin (1859) demonstrated the idea that genetics and evolution play an important part in influencing psychological functioning through natural selection. Evolutionary psychology claims that our brains (which includes the mind) evolved to be able to problem solve, which many of our hunter-gatherer ancestors encountered.

A perspective known as the functionalism perspective was an idea that developed explanations for why people’s behaviour changed. It was believed that it was for an adaptive cause, and therefore has a ‘function’ to serve. Darwin argued that these changed came about because they proved to increase chances of survival and were therefore selectively chosen through evolution. So according to Darwin, we do certain things and act certain ways as we grow, not because we have had certain experiences in our life’s that have impacted us and shaped the way we see things, and have a direct effect on the way we act, but because genetically we have evolved and have certain traits and behaviours that will aid our survival. Therefore, those people displaying behaviours that will have a negative effect on their survival have no developed the necessary traits and skills through natural selection.

Although this approach does give insight into how genetically we have been designed to act a certain way, and be certain people, the downfall to it is to the extent to which it can be applied. It does not explain how evolution has genetically changed us to act certain ways emotionally. It doesn’t goes as far to show how a woman who was born a man, can grow to live her life as both genders and it have no negative affect on her mental health. Furthermore it does not give insight as to how she became this way and not something else. But social influences could prove to have contributed to her current state of mind and mental health.

From an early age we take in and absorb the things that happen around us, and studies have demonstrated how the social influences in our life at a young age, can affect our adult lives.

In 1996, Schaffer, (as cited in Wood et al, pg. 9), explained that social influences, such as our peer or sibling relationships, are very influential in our development. He notes that they spend a lot of time in each other’s company, and in this time they will observe each other’s behaviour, and they will share many experiences, and it has been noted that their relationships are very emotionally based. These kinds of sibling relationships could have all sorts of influences on our development, both positive and negative. Siblings of a similar age may be more likely to have a friendship, because they will be increased in similar things from their age group, giving them more in common with each other. But this could also mean more chance of rivalry, for who has what toy and they may also fight for the attention of their parents.

The positive side of this kind of relationship are that they could learn things from the other sibling, such as the meaning of sharing, they experience feelings that they may not if they only siblings much older. For example, two boy’s ages 7, and 9 both seek the attention of their parents, but their parents are too busy wondering where their older sister of 16 is. They can them empathise with one another and understand how each other are feelings. They can also be each other’s company when they want attention. And console one another when they are sad. This could bring out a caring side of them, allowing them to fill roles they would not fill if they only had older siblings or was an only child. In later life, as they develop further, they may then carry with them a caring nurturing side that they experiences as a child.

The negative side of this kind of social influence are that there could potentially be a lot of rivalry between them. Which one gets the most parent-child attention, which gets the most/best toys? They could grow up feeling unfulfilled and needy.

In 1986, Abramovitch, Corter, Pepler, and Stanthorpe, conducted an observational study on siblings which revealed to them, ‘that their interactions are diverse and multifaceted’. (Wood et al, pg. 9, 2007). As we can see from the example above, and as the observational study shown, there are many sides to a sibling relationship but they all have the potential to affect our future. Biologically there are many differences between a brother and sister, i.e. a girl and boy. The obvious one being our genitals, but as we go more in depth we will find that hormonally we are different, and our bodies have different strengths and weaknesses. But can the biological gender difference create cognitive and behavioural differences too? Money and Erhardt 1972 (as cited in Hollway et al, pg. 141, 2007,) conducted a study to try and answer this question. They conducted a study where they exposed girls to the drug progestin, to look at the masculinization of the girls after taking the drug, compared to girls who hadn’t taken the drug and girls with hyperplasia which affects the level of testosterone. They revealed that the girls with hyperplasia and the ones exposed to progestin, appeared to become more ‘tomboyish’ which means to play like a boy, prefer boys clothing, and that they played more energetically than the girls with no alteration to their hormone levels.

So it appeared that the biological changes to the girls involved in the study, slightly altered their preference to ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’ things. The girls seemed to become more masculine than the unaffected girls. Nevertheless it does pose the question as to the reliability of the results. In this day and age, it is not frowned upon as much for a girl to play with toys that were intended for a boy, and with the changes within the social world, less and less labels are being put on what is ‘for girls’ and ‘for boys.’

The reliability of the test also comes down to what the parents, who gave the report as to the changes in the girls, see as ‘boyish’ or ‘girlish’. It could have been less of a biological influence on the girls and more of a personal evaluation of boyish or girlish.

Therefore, in conclusion, there are many perspectives within psychology that try and explain behaviours and their origins but not one has overall explanatory power over the rest, rather they depend on each other and all connect somehow.

Only with some types of psychology which contradict each other (nature-nurture debate), connect with each other or expand on one another (biological and social psychologist), can we recognise and generate appropriate solutions when problems arise so we maintain a healthy mind and body.

There are many different perspectives which go to show how complex human behaviour is. The evolutionary theory does don’t include the experiences we have as humans, but it concentrates more on being preordained in its methods and ability to provide evidence. The attachment theory concentrates too much on childhood and parental interaction. In doing so, it loses sight of the role biology and how our genetic makeup could account for certain behaviours.

The biological perspective sees humans as a set of instruments and physical structures that are obviously important and significant (e.g. genes). Furthermore, it does not consider our conscious minds and how the overall influence of the social world on our behaviour. Our adult lives tend to be a mix of what we experiences and learn as a child, how our genetic makeup develops in us as we grow and how our conscious mind, interprets and understands the world we live in and forms its own reaction to it. We are not influences by just one thing, but many, continually and progressively.

Word count: 1,455

References:

Hollway, W., Cooper, T., Johnston, A., and Stevens, J. (2007) The Psychology of Sex and Gender in Cooper, T. and Roth, I. (2007) Challenging Psychological Issues, 2nd ed. Milton Keynes. The Open University

Wood, D., Littleton, K. and Oates, J. (2007) Life span Development in Cooper, T. and Roth, I. (2007) Challenging Psychological Issues: Lifespan development, 2nd ed. Milton Keynes. The Open University

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