Psychology - Internalisation, what is it and how does it work

August 31, 2017

Psychology: Internalisation, what is it and how does it work?

Internalisation Psychology

In contemporary psychology, internalisation refers to the typical process through which children learn and absorb (internalise) knowledge and rules about the world from social context, rather than through being specific instruction. It is how children learn to alter their behaviour in response to the situation that they are in (the home, school, church, playground, etc.)

Experts consider internalisation as the deepest level of conformity because it means that a person changes their public behaviour and their private beliefs in what is usually a long-term change and often the result of informational social influence.

For example, if an individual is influenced by a group of Buddhists and converts to this faith, then their new religious way of life will continue without the presence of the group because they have internalised this belief.

John Finley Scott described internalisation as a metaphor in which something (i.e. an idea, concept, action) moves from outside the mind or personality to a place inside of it; the structure and the happenings of society shapes one's inner self but it can also be reversed.

The process of internalisation starts with the individual learning what the norms are, then going through a process of understanding why they are of value or why they makesense, until finally they accept the norm as their own viewpoint. Internalised norms are said to be part of an individual's personality and may be exhibited by one's moral actions.

However, there can also be a distinction between internal commitment to a norm and what one exhibits externally. George Mead illustrates, through the constructs of mind and self, the manner in which an individual's internalisations are affected by external norms.

One thing that may affect what an individual internalises are role models. Role models often catalyse the process of socialisation and encourage the speed of internalisation because if someone an individual respects is seen to endorse a particular set of norms, the individual is more likely to be prepared to accept, and so internalise, those norms. This is called the process of identification.

Lev Vygotsky, a pioneer of psychological studies, introduced the idea of internalisation in his extensive studies of child development research. Vygotsky provides an alternate definition for internalisation, the internal reconstruction of an external operation. He explains three stages of internalisation:

  1. An operation that initially represents an external activity is reconstructed and begins to occur internally.
  2. An interpersonal (between people) process is transformed into an intrapersonal (inside the self) one.
  3. The transformation of an interpersonal process into an intrapersonal one is the result of a long series of developmental events.

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