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Personality Development in Immigrant Children
Personality development is one of the most commonly researched areas of psychology. At first blush, the relation between personality and the cognitive development of immigrant children may appear somewhat nebulous. However, as contemporary research moves ever closer to an integrative approach, the fields of social and biological science -- once regarded as discrete disciplines -- are merging like the overlapping disks of a Venn diagram.
The cognitive development of children has historically been analyzed through the lens of nature-nurture theorists. The utility of this line of thought weakens under the brilliant new discoveries in the field of neuroscience, and cognitive psychologists have deepened and broadened their inquiries to encompass new findings that point to a greater integration of disciplines.
This discussion will touch on the influence that classic theories of personality development have on contemporary personality theory, referencing seminal work by pioneers in psychology and cultural anthropology, specifically Bandura, Erickson, Freud, Kohlberg, Piaget, and Mead. That said, a significant thrust of this writing is to articulate the networked relationships that have, in essence, blurred the lines that have separated psychology from other science. It is not accidental that these networks have formed in tandem with technological advancements in several facets of neuroscience.
Cognitive psychology. The major foundational theories of personality development took shape long before the innovations in genetic and molecular science that currently dominate the field of neuroscience. Cognitive psychologists have developed new concepts about personality development that have been made possible through methodological advances in neuroscience. Indeed, the nature-nurture lines of thought -- manifested particularly in the work of Bandura, Erickson, Kohlberg, and Piaget -- have expanded to consider how "genetic and environmental influences actually come together to shape personality" (Krueger & Johnson, 2008, p. 287). With his social cognitive theory, Bandura added an agentic view of personality development to the literature, positing that learned behaviors are pivotal to the development of personality. Canli (2008) supported Bandura's theories about the importance of learning from models, which is essentially a form of empowerment that enables individuals to change their behavior and thereby change their environment. Social cognitive theorists refer to this dynamic between the actions of an individual and the changes that result from these actions as a reciprocal triadic relationship.
The relevance of social cognitive theory to the situations immigrant children face is robust. Consider the magnitude of the sea change that social cognitive theory brought to the psychology of personality. As Canli observed, the agentic view of personality directed theorists away from a thinking of "the individual as a passive recipient of environmental and genetic input" (2008, p. 323), and fostered the development of constructs that capture the dynamic relation of culture, context, choice and learning, and genetic heritability. Similarly, Hamachek (1988) interpreted Erickson's psychosocial framework to mean that linkages exist between the biological, social, and psychosocial development in children, and that these dimensions should be given equal weight due to "their shared participation in the development of the individual" (p. 354).
Family, Culture, Society. Since few people live in homogeneous society, as Mead asserted (1947), most people are exposed to social dynamics similar to those experienced by immigrant populations, suggesting that the differences are in degree and not in kind.
Mead (1947) wrote: The carefully fitted together internally coherent sequences of behavior and the implications for learning of their presences in the behavior of others, the prefiguration of the future and the consolidation of the past, or finally, the increase in automatic behavior and sureness with age -- all are missing. (p. 636)
Vast differences in the way an adopted culture is experienced do exist for members of an immigrant family, however, and these difference seem to primarily result from the disparate experiences of age. An adult who enters a society that is considerably different from the one in which he or she was raised, has "already developed a coherent personality" (Mead, 1947, p. 637). This is not true for young immigrant children, who must learn the rules of their new culture and observe people outside of their immediate family in order to learn strategies for dealing with difficult situations. Cognitive social theory suggest that the mechanisms utilized for learning from the cultural models encountered in a new society would be the same for both older and younger immigrants, however, the motivation for learning from the social models is likely to differ.
Berry, et al. (2006) found great variability in the acculturation and adaptation of immigrant youth, but also determined that "there is indeed a substantial relationship between them" (p. 322-323). The demands placed on an immigrant child with respect to cultural change "have core psychological features, including a person's well-being and social skills that are needed to function in their culturally complex daily world" (Barry, et al., 2006 p. 305). Roebers and Schenider (1999) found that immigrant children of kindergarten age didn't experience a substantive amount of culture conflict when their families moved to Germany and, understandably, they didn't exhibit much cultural shedding since they have not yet become fully acculturated into their parent's society. Roebers and Schenider (1999) also found that immigrant children of elementary school age did not: "necessarily experience a severe culture shock nor necessarily show symptoms of acculturation stress, such as a strong negative self-concept or extremely negative heightened anxiety over a longer period of time. (p. 142)
Apparently well ahead of the research in the field, Mead (1947) concurred: In the development of human personality, there is a tendency to discuss the effects of culture change, whether that change is between generations or between the former and present environment, as though it were an interruption, however frequent, in normal development. (p. 633)
Given that Mead's description was written nearly six decades ago, it is all the more emphatic. Mead's (1947) point is that in contemporary societies, homogeneity is the rule and that the development of children continues regardless -- and if the research is any indication -- without much substantive disruption to personality development. In a similar vein, Harris (2000) posits that the socialization that occurs as a result of parenting behavior results in learned behaviors specific to the context of parent-child interactions, and argues that she has "no data other than anecdotes to support…[her]…prediction that how one is typecast or labeled by one's peers also has lasting effects on personality" (p. 720).
In this regard, criticism of the construct of culture change as an interruption and parenting behavior as a delimited influence function as "heuristic enterprises offering endless opportunities for conceiving of new possibilities for the human experience" (Garcia, 1995, p. 501). As research failed to produce empirical support for the conventional wisdom about substantive lasting effects of culture and parenting on personality, neuroscience advanced.
Personality and Social Perception. Keller (2011), in referring to culture as "the everyday living arrangement in particular environments," asserts that culture "fundamentally shapes cognition" to a degree that suggests the role of culture could well be broadened "beyond its treatment as an independent variable among others, but as an enabling and restraining condition of psychology in general" (p. 7). As if the baton had been handed off to them, Phelps, et al. (2011) take up Keller's challenge to explore the capacity of personality to shape culture at large, and to ameliorate non-inclusive social responses.
Phelps, et al. (2011) describe a scale that measures the attitudes of majority members of a society about their own proactive efforts to support the integration of immigrant minorities. This reframing of immigration as a joint and active effort can be taken as a moral argument or as a pragmatic one (Baxter & Rarick, 1987). In as much as the pursuit of a stable and productive society is a common goal for a nation's people, this line of research links to personality development at a higher level.
Phelps, et al. (2011) addressed the construct validity of their scale by relating it to relevant personality and social psychological constructs. The lines of research in which the research conducted by Phelps, et al. (2011) in the area of majority integration attitudes can be located include the Big Five personality traits, global identity, and social dominance orientation, among others. As Phelps, et al. (2011) point out, the role of personality factors in attitudes toward immigrants has not been the topic of much research, but what research is available does suggest that it is "reasonable to assume that individual differences in personality may be related to attitudes toward proactive efforts" (p.406). Indeed, the authors found that the traits most positively relate to the majority integration efforts (MIE) scale was Agreeableness, followed by Intellect and Extraversion -- all of which suggest "a general disposition to be open to change or new experiences and thus be in favor of actively adapting to immigrant minorities and cultural diversity" (p. 408-409).
When the research findings of Phelps, et al. (2011) are considered in light of recent work in the area of noninvasive brain mapping, molecular biology, and genetics, the potential of a synergistic…[continue]
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