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In social sciences such as psychology and sociology, to internalize something is to incorporate that something (or a representation of that something) into one's 'self', where the 'self' in question may take many forms, such as for example a person, an organisation, or a society. The 'something' internalized may also take many forms, for example including concepts, relationships, values, and norms of behaviour.
Internalization is the opposite of externalization.
In developmental psychology, internalization is the process through which social interactions become part of the child’s mental functions, i.e., after having experienced an interaction with another person the child subsequently experiences the same interaction within him/herself and makes it a part of his/her understanding of interactions with others in general. As the child experiences similar interactions over and over again, s/he slowly learns to understand and think about them on higher, abstract levels. Lev Vygotsky suggested that mental functions, such as concepts, language, voluntary attention and memory are cultural tools acquired through social interactions.
More generally, 'internalization' is the long-term process of consolidating and embedding one’s own beliefs, attitudes, and values, when it comes to moral behavior. The accomplishment of this may involve the deliberate use of psychoanalytical or behavioral methods.
When changing moral behavior, one is said to be "internalized" when a new set of beliefs, attitudes, and values, replace or habituates the desired behavior. For example, such internalization might take place following religious conversion.
Internalization is also often associated with learning (for example learning ideas or skills) and making use of it from then on. The notion of internalization therefore also finds currency in appplications in education, learning and training and in business and management thinking.
- Object permanence
- Object relations
- Personality development
- Psychotherapeutic processes
- Meissner, W. W. (1981), Internalization in Psychoanalysis, International Universities Press, New York.
- Wallis, K. C. and J. L. Poulton (2001), Internalization: The Origins and Construction of Internal Reality, Open University Press, Buckingham and Philadelphia.
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