Bruce alexander created an experiment in the 70s that explained the effect of environment on delinquent social behaviors; primarily addiction. What he found is that rats are social beings, in much the same way humans are social beings. When a rat is taken out of a constructive and positive social environment, it will resort to unhealthy addiction behaviors. When a rat is in a fulfilling social environment, however, the rat interacts positively with others and its general well being increases.
What does this mean for socialization theory?
Bruce Alexander equates this rat behavior with human behavior and explains that in a similar experiment using humans, the absence of a fulfilling social environment would cause an addiction to take its place. In sociological terms, this means that when humans have a social fulfillment deficit it creates a void in their life. Humans need social fulfillment to feel content with their place in society and need a community presence. If a human is without social fulfillment, he/she is in a deficit and needs to fill the void. What Dr. Alexander found is that this void is filled by the first and most efficient form of pleasure and satisfaction. The void can be filled with anything from smoking to exercise, and its repeated use leads to addiction. If illicit drugs are available, this is what fills the void; drug use is efficient in satisfaction, so addiction is common among drug users.
If humans have a social deficit in unfulfilling environments, that means humans have a social budget. This social budget is determined by the amount of social fulfillment a human is or is not receiving in daily life. When a human is well connected with his/her community and/or family they gain fulfillment and achieve social satisfaction. This is maintained by daily social connection. When a human isn’t connected, and has little to no social fulfillment, he/she will sink into a deficit and satisfaction becomes more and more out of reach. This lack of connection can be caused by several things surrounding an unfulfilling environment, including: a dysfunctional family, limited social ties, difficulties in communication, etc. The most significant cause of a social deficit, though, is the inability to learn and use social skills.
This is where socialization comes in. Socialization is the process of an individual understanding the culture/society around them, and developing social skills to thrive in it. Most humans enter this process during brain and body development during childhood, and this is when they learn language, social cues, morals, and social norms. It is crucial to develop social skills in this stage, and learn how to use them to engage with their society later in life. If a person fails to build social skills during the socialization process, achieving social satisfaction as an adult becomes increasingly difficult.
The findings of Dr. Alexander’s experiment show us that a healthy social environment is crucial to social fulfillment, and social deficit can lead to substance addiction or worse. If humans never learn to gain fulfillment through social skills during socialization, they are doomed to a social deficit. We must understand the importance of social well-being and understand that creating a fulfilling social environment requires not only a community, but also social skills to connect with that community.