Human development and perceptions are influenced by both external and internal factors. While some argue that human development is predominantly sourced in an individual’s experiences, both biological and experience aspects certainly define the individual’s brain functionality by determining sensory signals’ processing (Handel et al.,2007). Thus, the environment of society, in combination with different factors such as religious beliefs and moral values, contribute to the social construction of an individual’s subjective experience. Several concepts also influence the individual’s understanding of the world, such as human neural plasticity and socialization, somatic work, emotional labor, feeling rules & closure talk, and gender relations. My subjective perceptions of the experiences of a twenty-year-old African American born and raised in Queens, New York, would be significantly or entirely different from other people’s perspectives.
Nature versus nurture is an ongoing debate in fields that discuss the impact of human biology and experiences on human development. The research about human neural plasticity, the responsiveness and adaptability of the human brain to experiences mentions the detail of language learning (Handel et al., 2007). Language learning is a great example that shows how experiences define the functioning circuity of the human brain as well as the abilities, talents, physical abilities and limitations, perceptions, and emotional reactions. Children learn to comprehend and speak the language relatively quickly when constantly exposed to language use. Once an individual masters a specific language, it becomes more challenging to learn a second language. According to Handel et al. (2007), the human neural plasticity declines with age and a corresponding accumulation of experience, but it never vanishes. The concept of human neural plasticity illustrates how the social environment could determine human development in the brain and physical activities.
In order to understand how the external influence could alter the processing of information received by the sensory system, one should refer to the concepts of smell, odor, and somatic work. According to Waskul and Vannini (2008), human perception of smell is closely related to cultural norms and moral order. Humans focus on interpreting and defining physical signals like smell before automatically reacting to them, emphasizing the value of experiences and social norms that contribute to the interpretation process. The principle of interpretation taking place before the reaction process also applies to the somatic work of the human body that involves emotional work (Hochschild, 1979). This closely relates to the concept of doing gender, in which interaction in the social setting contributes to the creation of gender.
One of the social norms that influenced emotional expressions in my case is that men should never show their vulnerability and sadness. As a young black man, I have been told that a man should control his emotions and never show sadness through crying. In addition to such behavior being perceived as weakness by the man himself, tearing in front of other men could hurt his dignity. The concept of showing emotions being perceived as a weakness is developed through feeling rules of emotional manhood (Vaccaro et al., 2011). The fear of feeling humiliation makes it harder to manage the feelings to fit the appropriate social norms and, in the end, makes it hard for men to show any emotions. The example illustrates how social norms could influence somatic work through emotional labor and how social experiences influence human interactions and emotions.
Even though showing emotions in some cases is labeled as inappropriate in society, the topic of grief and loss presents a separate issue. It is known that different cultures process mourning differently, as funeral rituals in some countries are centered on celebrating and honoring the dead. Depending on an individual’s religious beliefs and overall perception of the world, his emotional approach towards the topic of death could be different. Thus, in countries where culture and religion support the concept of resurrection, funeral rituals have a more celebratory character. In discussing the closure concept, Berns (2011) points to how differently grief is expressed worldwide to question the universal character of emotions. The closure concept explores the feeling that people experience during dealing with grief or trauma. I do not support specific religious beliefs because there is truth to any religion; however, I believe that religion as a social aspect contributes to the subjective experiences in determining the individual’s approach towards the topic of life and death. Thus, people who are not subject to any specific religion can choose their approach to the topic, emphasizing societal factors’ influence on people’s expression of emotions.
In conclusion, society and societal norms tremendously influenced my subjective experiences to the point of constructing my perceptions, beliefs, and values, as well as my mind and my soul. Despite the process in which society influences human development being inconspicuous and not as apparent as the influence from internal factors, such as genetics, they simultaneously determine an individual’s perception of the world, his feelings, and preferences. In my case, my understanding of the world is sourced from my heritage and subjective experiences. The social construction of subjective experiences results in the society being connected through similar social experiences while also being very different in perceptions and preferences.
Berns, N. S. (2011). Closure talk. In S. Cahill et al. (Eds.), Inside social life (8th ed, pp. 65-72). Oxford University Press Academic US.
Handel, G., Cahill, S., & Elkin, F. (2007). Children and society: The sociology of children and childhood socialization. In S. Cahill et al. (Eds.), Inside social life (8th ed, pp. 13-20). Oxford University Press Academic US.
Hochschild, A. R. (1979). Emotion work and felling rules. In S. Cahill et al. (Eds.), Inside social life (8th ed, pp. 58-64). Oxford University Press Academic US.
Vaccaro, C., Schrock, D., & McCabe, J. (2011). Managing emotional manhood. In S. Cahill et al. (Eds.), Inside social life (8th ed, pp. 73-83). Oxford University Press Academic US.
Waskul, D. D., & Vannini, P. (2008). Smell, odor and somatic work. In S. Cahill et al. (Eds.), Inside social life (8th ed, pp. 47-57). Oxford University Press Academic US.