Social Influence on Reality Perceptions

As I have begun exploring various ideas for the sake of this course, certain foundational principals that shape my understanding of human nature have continued to arise. As a result, I would like to take a few posts to explore these details in more depth.

For my first post, I would like to discuss…

Social Influences on Reality Perceptions

Before we begin this discussion, we need to accept a few key points (these seem self-evident to me, and so if you disagree, please let me know!):

  • Human understanding of the world has changed over time
  • Past understandings have been debunked
  • “Valid” understandings are socially defined – either in support or opposition to dominant cultural understandings

It is this last point that we want to focus on. It is perhaps easiest to view this from a contemporary perspective, and then whittle it down to a generalized hypothesis of how reality-perceptions are safe.

Let’s take the time for one last definition:

  • Reality perceptions as differentiated from “the real” – reality perceptions are the psychological/intellectual construct that shapes/defines our understandings of the world around us – “the real” being reality unaffected by understanding… and unknowable construct that we perceive through our paradigms of understanding

Let us consider a contemporary issue, “climate change.”

I choose this because “In the US, the science of climate change is among the topics where public opinion is generally controlled by which political wing a person identifies with.” (Johnson, S. K. (2017, January 30). “Science curious” more likely to explore data contradicting their world view. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

How we address the issue of climate change is often affected by our political, economic and social environment. While I personally consider climate change to be a serious problem, I have not actively engaged in research seeking to support this idea and establish the affects regarding it. My social and political allegiances have defined my relationship to this topic.

How we perceive ideas, and where we align ourselves on subjects, is socially defined. Let us consider this more generally. If I were to show a paper to you that was objectively blue, and claim it to be green, you would disagree with me. I would now have a choice to either,

  1. Believe you
  2. Not believe you

Chances are, I would ask someone else, after enough people have responded saying the paper is blue, I will likely assume I am color-blind (for the sake of this example, let’s assume neither myself nor you are deliberately trying to trick others).

From this simple example, we can see how social influences can alter our beliefs – even those that arise from our senses.

Moving to a more foundational level, we can think of interactions between young children and their guardians/authority figures. Establishing concepts of boundaries, proper behavior, social etiquette, etc. are developed through social interactions and the framing of right and wrong.

Our definition of reality-perception and in turn function, consequence, justice and ethics is constantly in flux.

Dramatic effects cause us to reevaluate our social perceptions and allegiances. When something happens that is completely unexpected, we are forced to re-evaluate our understandings of the world.

Day to day activities and interactions reinforce our perceptions of the world. We would have a hard time disagreeing with a multitude of established social etiquettes and understandings.

To connect this to our previous discussions, through our interactions we are either reinforcing perceptions about the world with those we interact with, or we are challenging their ideas. They can either accept our reality-perception or confront it. This is the teaching-learning spectrum flux.

Generally, allegiances are framed by our social communities, which are in turn defined by class, race, age, gender, political allegiance, etc. While it is sad that divisions run along these lines, we cannot ignore this fact. Rather through our acknowledgment, we can hope to confront this issue.

If we consider the Ars Technica article referenced above, we can see how people with “scientific” inclinations are more likely to read and engage with divergent views.

While I do not feel I am ready to engage in such a discussion just yet, it is worth considering that a good educational environment will develop people who hold strong but flexible ideas, engaging in conversation and interaction to critically shape and hone those understandings based on established core principals.

This has been a bit of a whirlwind discussion, and for that I apologize. I hope the ideas are expressed clearly enough to convey the basic nature of understanding. I don’t feel compelled to rationalize and justify my comments at length, but if you have any disagreements, please post below.

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