Social conditioning in critical thinking: How society influences our thinking and behavior

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Kevin Mangelschots

Unbeknownst to quite some people, a large part of our personality and thinking is the result of social conditioning. Whether we like it or not.

I would argue that most of our decisions aren’t really ours, but rather a result of being disciplined by others.

Social media conditioning and social conditioning in critical thinking are running rampant. And thus, the case can be made that we don’t really own most of the ideas and choices we make, but rather that we make them based on how society tells us how to act.

Let me answer how it impacts our behavior.

Social conditioning in critical thinking

Image of two kids watching a television with the words “don't think” being shown.

A lot of our decisions and thoughts aren’t truly ours

Like I said before, a lot of our decisions aren’t based on our personal values and ethics, but rather on what society deems appropriate. This means that social conditioning influences our critical thinking.

And even if we make our choices based upon our so-called own values and ethics, then who’s to say we didn’t simply copy them from the values and ethics that society provides? It’s important to realize that we are all the result of being socially conditioned to a varying degree.

Have we actually thought about what we truly find essential? What we deem to be the best way to live our lives and conduct ourselves in society?

Most citizens go about their lives without much critical thinking. They think and behave like society tells them to act instead of thinking for themselves because it is easier.

Benefits of social conditioning in critical thinking

The benefits of societal conditioning are that there’s strength in numbers, and that what’s decent or good for most people, will most likely be beneficial for us as well.

Furthermore, the group provides safety. If you’re a team player, chances are large that the group will protect you from danger should it arise.

Finally, it is easier to act the way society tells you to without thinking critically. The majority avoids undertaking difficult endeavors, so it comes as no surprise that critical thinking is something that’s often avoided.

Downsides of social conditioning in critical thinking

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The downsides of social conditioning in critical thinking are that what the group or society says isn’t always right.

What is more, if we don’t learn, or refuse to think for ourselves, then that means we’re easy prey for being manipulated by people looking to take advantage of our lack of critical thinking and naivety.

Ultimately, we’re all responsible for our own well-being and our own lives. That means it’s up to us to acquire the ability to think critically and to make good decisions. And societal conditioning can at times be detrimental to this goal.

Social conditioning as a barrier to critical thinking

Everything considered, social conditioning is a barrier to critical thinking.

That’s because being socially conditioned typically means having unwanted assumptions and stereotypes about things that were unconsciously transferred over to you by other people, your culture, and/or the media.

This means we need a lot of social and cultural awareness to combat this group think behavior.

Social conditioning in the workplace

Image of a man focusing on one thing while the rest of his colleagues are talking in a meeting.

Social conditioning happens in the workplace as well since it basically occurs anytime we interact with other people.

Equality

These days, everything needs to be equal. Sadly, it’s mostly equality of outcome instead of opportunity. Think of having a matching amount of men and women in the workplace. It’s gotten to the point that most individuals find this normal and obvious.

Yet, I would say that this isn’t desirable at all. Because the best people should get the job instead of making it even for the sake of equality of results. Wouldn’t you want the best surgeon available, rather than a male or female surgeon who has been chosen for the sake of equality of results?

Clothing

A woman holding up two sweaters because she's unable to choose between these sweaters.

We’re also being socially conditioned by our colleagues regarding what clothes to wear.

Let’s assume there’s no dress code at your work. Yet, when your coworkers dress professionally and neatly, you’re much more likely to do as well.

On the flip side, when our peers dress casually, we’re incentivized to wear similar clothing too.

Habits

Most workplaces have certain habits that are ingrained into their culture. For example, at some workplaces, each coworker alternately sets coffee for the rest of the group.

Or think about how normal it is at some jobs to bring along treats to celebrate when it’s your birthday. At some places this is basically unheard of, while at other spots, it’s the norm and considered rude when you don’t.

Why does social media conditioning happen?

3D icons of multiple different social media.

The media does certainly influence culture and society as a whole.

Social media conditioning is a real thing, and can have many harmful effects if no precautions are taken.

This is why it’s so hard to quit using social platforms, which is something a lot of us can relate to.

Searching for external validation

Numerous social media users are addicted to the “fishing for likes” behavior. Posting only the best, most beautiful pictures in an attempt to get as many likes and positive comments as possible from other folks in an attempt to satisfy their need for external validation.

This desire to engage in attention seeking behavior is typically due to a self-esteem issues, although not always. It’s also possible that some people truly think they’re better and superior to their peers. Although, those arrogant individuals will probably not see others as equals, but rather as people who are below them on the socioeconomic ladder.

If these people happen to find that external validation, then chances are large that they will repeat this same kind of behavior in the future in another desperate attempt to satisfy their eternal desire and longing for external validation. Needless to say, this is a toxic vicious cycle that’s extremely hard to be broken because it is so addictive.

Highly addictive

If people do happen to find this external validation in the form of likes and positive comments, then this will release endorphins such as dopamine, which makes us feel good.

Logically, we’re constantly searching for things that make us feel good while simultaneously avoiding things that make us feel bad.

This means that social media conditioning works by being highly addictive. This attention seeking behavior, even if we get it from people we don’t know, keeps the cycle going.

Possible negative impacts of social media conditioning

But, this has several negative impacts as well.

Firstly, we shouldn’t base our self-worth on what other people say about us, certainly not those we don’t like or who we don’t know have good intentions. Only the people who are close to us and who truly mean the best for us should have any impact on our behavior. This typically means our best friends and relatives.

Secondly, demanding, or asking too much external validation isn’t healthy in my opinion.

You should act the way you think you should behave. And your sense of self-worth and self-esteem should come from the very fact that you’re doing what you think you should do, trying to be the best person you can be.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is social conditioning?

Social conditioning is also commonly called conditioning theory. It can be defined as the sociological procedure of grooming people in society to behave and respond to others in a way that’s typically appropriate and approved by the other members of the society or group they reside in.

Society and our peer groups set the norms, and a set of rules which helps form the way we act within that social setting.

It stands for the personal experiences and environment in the nature-nurture discussion.

What causes social conditioning?

Social conditioning can be caused by parents, peers, friends, teachers, but also by the media, and cultural influences.

We are constantly being socially conditioned by people and a variety of things all around us. It starts at a very young age, and continues to do so until we die.

Social conditioning examples

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Example of social conditioning in critical thinking

An example of social conditioning in critical thinking is when children get told all the time that they need to behave. They need to listen to their parents, who chastise them if they’re unruly or act out of line.

They get disciplined at school where they need to listen, or face punishment instead. Thankfully, most children get rewarded in school for acting accordingly.

Example of social conditioning in everyday life

Another common example of the social conditioning theory in action is social drinking.

Some folks don’t even like to drink alcohol, and would never do so on their own. But when they’re out with their buddies who like to drink, and who like to goad their peers into drinking, they succumb to the peer pressure and start consuming alcohol.

This serves as an important indicator that others influence our behavior, and can actually condition us how they and/or society deem appropriate.

Social conditioning example 3

Another example of negative social conditioning is saying that models need to be thin in the fashion industry.

It’s true that most people, men, and women alike, like fit models. But that’s not to say that models need to be extremely skinny, often even anorexic, to be considered attractive. However, nor do most people find extreme curves to the point of being obese attractive either.

Nevertheless, this notion is frequently parroted without any conscious thought. And models from all over the world feel the need and pressure to conform to these preexisting notions instead of maintaining a healthy body weight.

Is social conditioning good or bad?

Illustration of a road sign saying “good”, pointing to the right, and a road sign saying “bad”, pointing to the left.

Social conditioning can be a good thing, but also a bad thing depending on the circumstances. Nevertheless, social conditioning plays an important part to civilize the members of society, and is considered to be mostly a positive influence.

Take children for example. They learn by observation and through experience how to act fittingly in modern society. This means that they have to learn what is considered right and wrong.

For the most part, and hopefully, this behavior gets taught by the folks who have the children, and everyone’s best interests in mind.

How do I let go of social conditioning in critical thinking?

It’s very hard to let go of social conditioning in critical thinking since it’s so ingrained from a young age into our very being.

When we become conscious of the fact that society influences our thoughts and behavior, we’re most likely already a kid or older. This means that a lot of our personality and behaviors are already formed.

Still, there are some things we can do to relinquish the requirement for social acceptance.

One of the best things to do to overcome social conditioning is learning to be at peace with yourself, to think for yourself, and believing in your own competence and thinking processes.

That doesn’t mean that you have to deliberately rebel against or sabotage social conditioning, since it has its place and purpose. Make sure that your habits aren’t harming or disrupting yourself or anyone else. But acknowledge the fact that you are worthy, and have the right to make your own decisions based upon your own judgments.

What is social conditioning vs. cultural conditioning?

Conclusion

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There are multiple examples of social conditioning in critical thinking.

Important to understand is that we are all socially conditioned to some degree, even those of us who are the most free thinkers.

Especially social media conditioning is running rampant in modern days. And while there are a lot of advantages of social media, the downsides are plenty as well.

At best, societal conditioning serves as an indispensable tool to teach others how to behave appropriately and to discipline them. This is indispensable to get and maintain a peaceful and cooperative society.

At worst, it’s used to manipulate others into doing something by predatory individuals. Sometimes even things they in fact don’t want to do. That’s exactly why an ethical, well functioning society is so essential.

Call to action

“Take action” written with white chalk on a blackboard.

We must learn to think for ourselves.

Be introspective, and acquire the ability to think critically about all the information you’re given, and have access to.

Never assume that society or the group you reside in knows all. And realize that groupthink is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be detrimental for good decision-making.