The Process of Cultural Conditioning
In this exercise, you look at how people acquire their culture, how they learn all the behaviors that are regarded as right and wrong in their society. This process, known as cultural conditioning, goes on in all cultures, but the specific behaviors that people acquire, the precise content of their conditioning, varies considerably from group to group. Keep in mind also that while it is behaviors that people learn through this process, they are automatically learning and internalizing the values and beliefs behind those behaviors. When you understand how this process works, you can then understand how two people from different cultures can behave in radically different ways and both be completely convinced they are right.
While the majority of conditioning occurs in early childhood, adults continue to be conditioned as they acquire new behaviors throughout their life. The differences between the two are these:
- In Childhood conditioning, infants and young children learn such basic activities of life as eating, walking, talking, dressing, bathing, etc.
- In Adult conditioning, people learn new behaviors or new ways to perform already conditioned behaviors, as, for example, learning to use a Turkish toilet or eat with your hands rather than with silverware.
The steps in the process of cultural conditioning are the same for both, but adult conditioning may take longer because it requires unlearning or unacquiring behavior that was already acquired through childhood conditioning. These are the five steps:
- Observation/Instruction-At this stage, you are only beginning to become aware of a particular behavior but have not yet tried to do it yourself. Taking the example of eating with your hands, you may have observed how it is done, or someone may have told you how it is done.
- Imitation-Now you actually try to carry out the activity; you sit down at a table and begin eating with your hands. At this stage, it is awkward for you, and you're conscious all the while of what you're doing, trying not to make mistakes. You most likely are unable to eat and carry on a conversation simultaneously, for all your attention is on the act of eating.
- Reinforcement-As you eat, people encourage you when you do it right and correct you when you are wrong. Over the course of several meals, you naturally try to do what they tell you.
- Internalization-Without needing much reinforcement, over time and with practice, you now know how to eat with your hands. You may still have to pay attention to what you're doing, but not as much as during stages 2 and 3.
- Spontaneous Manifestation-Now you're able to eat "the right way" without paying any conscious attention to what you're doing. It comes naturally; as you eat, you're aware of other things, not the act of eating.
|Now try to think of various behaviors you are in the process of learning or relearning as you adjust to your host country and what stage you are in vis-a-vis that behavior. Try to write down a behavior for each of the five stages as you think of the following:
- Something you're just becoming aware of and perhaps observing closely but not yet doing.(Observation)
- Something you've just begun to try doing.(Imitation)
- Something you've done once or twice but haven't mastered yet.(Reinforcement)
- Something you've recently mastered.(Internalization)
- Something you now do without thinking.(Spontaneous Manifestation)