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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

My friend Jasmine, a college psychology major, was telling me about an article she’d read in the March 2011 issue of  Psychology Today. The article was on the psychological aspects of giving and receiving negative criticism. Neurological researchers claim the possibility that adolescents who did not receive positive reinforcement before the ages of eight or nine may not undergo the same cognitive changes — changes to be able to process negative reinforcement — as children who did. Jasmine and I began the conversation innocently enough, discussing the merits of the arguments lightly and then delved gradually into a more scholarly pursuit.

Just kidding. I jumped into cultural theory mode full-force, Jasmine completely agape at the nonsense into which she’d unwittingly entered.

My first thought had to do with puberty as a liminal period during which children are indoctrinated into the constructs of ideological societies. Responding to and changing oneself according to any kind of feedback is really just recognition that changes must be made in order to make some kind of position, whether dominant or deviant, from those societies. To me, it’s an acceptance of society. Whether or not one chooses to join that dominant society is irrelevant – the fact that the ideology is reacted against reaffirms its existence, and making strides to “fit in” behaviorally clearly does as well.

Why do we do that? Why do we throw ourselves so willingly into whichever communities are closest to us? I had a feeling that the psychologists would say something survivalist. Sure enough, professor Neal Ashkanasy explained (on page 2):

Identity is very closely tied up to the groups we belong to. Strong criticism threatens your membership in that group, and that’s a powerful force.

During these crises of identity that Ashkanasy describes, the self doesn’t feel safe or physically secure. A saber-toothed tiger could get you at any moment, because you’re not part of a group that will protect you. I’m curious as to what happens (culturally, psychologically, and neurologically) when the criticism is self-inflicted. That happens. Ross Peterson-Veatch, in a course on self-development, encouraged a method in which participants peel away their layers of what I’ll call scary concerns to reveal a Big Assumption, an untrue fact that causes a crisis of identity. In my opinion, that untrue fact also usually comes from some kind of societal ideology that we all carry around with us like a rain cloud. Or a heavy suitcase, as that might be a more appropriate noun for that simile.

  • In which ways do newcomers immerse themselves into their adoptive cultures? How are their liminal periods similar to adolescence? In which spheres do they allow themselves to change? Which don’t they change?
  • Are there instances in which dominant cultures are not recognized or accepted during adolescence?
  • What neurological changes occur during cultural crises of identity?
  • What is identity besides the groups to which we belong?
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