Who do you think you are? 1/4 – Early conditioning

I’m starting a little series on the infinite topic of what makes us who we are (or who we believe we are). So, the 1st chapter is about the beliefs we hold that have shaped us from childhood and environmental conditioning.

From the day we were born we have been programmed to believe the beliefs of the people in our environment. Although the human brain, not fully formed at birth, continues to shape itself throughout life, its most intense growth occurs during childhood. This is when any programming really starts to take ground. In hos book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman explains that “through a process known as “pruning”, the brain […] loses the neural connections [during childhood] that are less used, and forms strong connections in those synaptic circuits that have been utilised the most. […] Experience, particularly in childhood, sculpts the brain.”

The most telling illustration is religion. Let’s think of a Caucasian baby, for example, born in France in a Catholic environment. Take this same baby and have it raised in Iraq, in a Muslim family. It is very likely that the baby will grow to be a person of the Muslim faith as taught by raising parents, family, school and society. The point here is that the belief was not the baby’s but someone else’s before them and someone else’s before them and someone else’s before them etc. This fact would be as accurate had the baby stayed with its original family and thus become Catholic if the roles had been reversed.

The same is true for any other idea that we adopt from our environment (from ‘politics’ to ‘gender roles’, to ‘statuses’, to ‘success’); for the fact is, beliefs are EVERYWHERE. These ideas can be heard, seen and felt from every corner. The more often we are exposed to them, the more these ideas become engrained beliefs in our subconscious.  The primary thrust of the advertising industry (and all forms of media, for that matter) is that repetition forms beliefs, as do associations of beliefs with inducing images of strong emotions. Although much of our conscious thinking may include verbalisations, our beliefs are actually prone to being converted to and stored in a non-verbal form. This makes engrained beliefs particularly difficult to pinpoint and disprove if necessary.

Now , time to ask yourself:

1) What are my beliefs?

2) Where do they come from?

3) How do I know what I “know”?

4) What did I learn from my family/childhood and from my education?

Next, we will look at our beliefs borne out our personal experiences! :)



[1] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Childhood: A Window of Opportunity, p224, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1996