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Environmental Influences

Environmental Influences

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify environmental factors that influence personality, temperament, and behavior.

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Source: Baby; Public Domain Dog Park; Public Domain

Video Transcription

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Hello, class. So in today's lesson, we're going to be switching gears a bit and talking about the environmental influences and their effect on development over time. Now first, let's define what an environment is. An environment is any kind of external conditions that can affect development. And this can be a wide variety of different things. So I've broken them down into three categories for you to remember.

The first is our physical environment, which can say the physical things that are around us. And these can be dangerous objects or substances that can affect us in adverse ways. That can hurt us or possibly kill us.

They can also be certain conditions within the environment, things like adequate food or water. And this is one of the reasons why a lot of schools have lunch programs. Because they realize the importance that nutrition can have on learning and development. So providing those adequate substances that people need, like food, help people to learn and grow better.

Another different factor in the environment is our social environment. And it's important to realize the effect that others can have on the development of especially children when they are growing up. A lot of people model certain behaviors that children mimic and they learn over time.

For example, if a child sees their parent dancing, they might start to mimic those kinds of things. And that goes for other kinds of behaviors that are more important to learn. Although of course dancing is important as well. This also applies to language. Because a lot of children acquire their language from listening to and internalizing the language of their parents. As well as social and emotional support, which can make them feel more comfortable and to develop into a more balanced person.

And finally, the cognitive environment is to say the stimulating intellectual environment that's surrounding the person. Which is to say, all the different sorts of factors that can help a person to grow cognitively that influence the way that they think or feel. And these are things like the amount of color or the prevalence of words that are in their environment. So they learn to read faster. And this is why a lot of learning toys try to incorporate a lot of different cognitive concepts. Because they want children to have the most stimulation, the most input.

This is also why a lot of people say if you play Mozart for your child it'll help them become more intelligent. Of course those results are a bit more dubious. And we're not clear about the effects that that actually has.

So in the environment it's important to realize that people, when they develop, have certain sensitive periods when they're growing. Which is to say a period of time when there's an increased sensitivity to the environmental influences around them. So it's during these times that people can be most affected by the environment. And these are times like prenatal period, when children are especially susceptible to drugs or chemicals in their environment.

Besides the specific environmental factors themselves, the amounts of environmental factors can also have an influence. Deprivation refers to when an environment doesn't have something normal or essential for growth, which can in turn affect the development of an individual.

An example of this is if you've ever heard about feral children. And these are historical accounts of children that were raised outside of human interactions or even raised by wolves. There's a story about the founders of Rome being raised by wolves. Or they made popular in the media through stories like The Jungle Book.

But more recent cases talk about extreme abuse or neglect, where children are left in basements or in attics. They're chained up. And in these cases, the same sorts of deprivation occur. People are left without any kind of cognitive or linguistic stimulation. And as a result they're deprived of all those important factors.

The effects that this could have is that a lot of these sorts of feral children, or these children that are in extreme abuse situations, end up developing with little to no language. And they also have corresponding cognitive defects and mental retardation. So it's important to realize that environment does have an effect, especially if we don't have enough of it.

On the other hand, enrichment is when we're deliberately making an environment more stimulating or nutritional or comforting or any of those sorts of factors. Which is to say we're encouraging people to or children to develop. And this has an actual biological effect as well. It can encourage our brains to develop and to create more neural connections, which can help us to be more intelligent, more social, more cognitively developed later on in life.

Now you've probably seen this with a lot of those toys that you buy for young children as well. And there are certain factors that go into making an enriching environment. One, you have to engage all of the senses. That's why a lot of these toys are either tactile or they have to have some kind of hearing component to them as well.

They can also mean the inclusion of color or music, which are more cognitively stimulating. Also bring the child outside more exposes them to more external stimuli in the environment literally around them when they go outside. And also parents and social interactions help a child to develop and enrich their environment further.

Lastly it's important to know that a person's environment can also interact with their inherited or biological predispositions. Temperament refers to the natural part of a person's personality that's inherited and generally unchanged throughout their life. This can include things like energy level or how moody or temperamental a person might be.

So a lot of babies exhibit different types of temperaments. For example, 50%, the majority of kids, are easy-going. 10% are difficult children. And 15% are what we call slow to warm up. They take time to warm up to you. But the effect of this is reciprocal.

So a child displays a certain kind of temperament and then a parent responds to that in kind. So the parent, the environment, adapts to the child. But on the other hand, the child's temperament can also change it as a result of parental influence. So the more caring that a child is-- or that a parent is to a child, the more likely the child is to be more easy-going and to develop that easy temperament. So you see it works in conjunction with each other.

Terms to Know

Under-stimulating and unhealthy environment.


Stimulating environment with emotional support.


External environment and experiences (cultural influences, maternal/paternal influences, parenting styles, school, etc.).

Sensitive Period/Critical Period

Period of neuronal/physical growth that facilitates learning skills and abilities.


Refers to infant differences in attention, activity levels, emotional sensitivity, arousal, and reactivity to new novel situations.