On Bruce Alexander and Social Fulfillment 

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.

Mead and Autism 

Mead is the man behind symbolic interactionism, which states that people connect through interaction guided by symbols. 
Children are in the process of learning how to recognize and react to symbols of situations. This is where children with autism experience difficulty. One of the main symptoms of autism in difficulty in social interactions, which implies that recognizing symbols in interaction would be deterred. 

The difficulty of social interaction with autistic children can be explained with Meadian theory. 

Autistic children and children of social disorders can’t recognize, or misinterpret, social situation symbols. One who spends time with autistic children may notice interesting conversation topics or interactions spring up out of nowhere. These are symbols that are created by the individual rather than agreed on by the group. Autistic children create these based on what they feel comfortable with to feel in control of the symbols and connect with others. They can’t recognize social symbols, so they create their own.

There are many theories as to what causes autism and therefore the failure to recognize symbols, and has been broken into subtypes. Today, scientists seem to agree one at least one thing: there are many different causes of autism. 

Whatever the cause is, it is important to remember that the social ailment is the inability or unwillingness to identify the symbols of a social situation. Treating autism should include this fact, and target it by teaching social skills carefully and patiently

A Prerequisite to Academic Learning 

When a child begins their life as a student he/she is met with many challenges. At this phase in a child’s life, the most pressing challenges include building developmental abilities and social skills; a child must learn social skills in order to be a successful student.

Let us be reminded that classroom education is a social interaction. A child can’t learn if they don’t understand communication, and attempting to teach a child without any social skills is extremely difficult. The role of the student is to participate in the interaction of the classroom: a passage of information where the teacher presents information and the student either absorbs it or asks for further explanation. The teacher and the student can both question and answer each other in this interaction. Classroom learning requires both of these roles to be filled. 

Children who have trouble learning in the classroom may simply lack social skills associated with learning. There are several reasons children may not have these skills, but whatever the case, they must learn social skills before they can learn in the classroom.

Learning the student role is essential and is the first task of a child in school. This is a large part of why students who didn’t go the preschool are so far behind in kindergarten. When children are first exposed to the student role, they begin socializing themselves into the role and understanding it’s expectations.

When a child understands the role of a student, they can embark on the social interaction of education. Social skills of the student role is a prerequisite to academic success.

Social Skills as Survival Techniques

What are social skills? Are they simply tools used for maintaining some sort of social status among our peers, or are they more? What do social skills mean in terms of animal survival?

If you look at the world of animal survival, you see a trend of biology-based success received from generations of evolutionary adaptations. Each species is born into the environment that its ancestors have adapted to, and its survival is contingent on its genetic biological traits; e.g. a chameleon’s ability to blend into avoid predators. 

But what type of environment is a human born into?

From birth, a child is cast into the world of a specific environment: the culture created by other human beings. Unlike a desert horned lizard, whose biological features are predetermined to understand the environment and desert “culture” it’s born into (ability to withstand hot temperatures, knowledge to prey on red harvester ants, etc.), the human child’s biological features are irrelevant to the demands of the culture it’s born into.

Survival techniques must  be learned, and surviving is no longer as simple as attaining (taking) shelter and food; human survival is about navigating the social waters of our world. Food and shelter are necessary, but attaining these and more rely on the social activity of the human.

The immediate survival technique is learning a common language. In order for initial survival to take place, the human being must communicate with others and understand the gains of interacting with other humans. Language is needed to begin education, where further skills are gained for future use. Then social survival skills develop into a more subjective and complex array of social roles, cues, morals, laws and activities that are necessary to compete and cooperate with other humans. This dance of social navigating leads to the eventual rewards of such skills, i.e., charisma and knowledge to get a job which leads to money, which leads to buying food and shelter.

These skills are not biological, and there must be a constant effort to maintain these skills in order to ensure further success/survival in the human social world. Along with maintaining these skills, a human must be ready to adapt social skills/knowledge because society is constantly changing; failure to adapt may lead to loss of survival in the social world.

The human social environment is a learned one, where biological traits become more and more irrelevant as society progresses. It is because of this culturally-created environment that we must treat social skills as survival techniques that are necessary for success among humans.