Can we unlearn social awareness?

Are we really as 'woke' as we think we are?

In an age where being ‘politically correct’ is at the forefront of all issues ranging from climate change to racial tension in America, constantly feeling the need to be ‘woke’ (a term used to refer to the perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice) has become an intrinsic part of our lifestyles. This can particularly be seen in generation Y and Z, whose heightened access and usage of social media have led to an increased need to update our opinions, to make sure that we are on the right side of the debate, to make sure that we are not labelled a bigot.

This movement, particularly in youths, towards being ‘politically correct’ stems mainly from shifts in society, as well as longstanding societal conditioning and basic human psychological behaviour. Though the idea of a right vs wrong opinion to possess is a fairly novel one, the way in which we mirror the actions and opinions of our peers around us is an all but obvious behavioural complex that humans, as well as other animals, tend to display in many different scenarios. These actions and opinions, however, are often shaped by societal standards that dictate, or at least influence, our decisions and attitudes towards different things. Would it be possible to unlearn our social awareness? Or reverse the effects of it?

In order to answer the two questions above, we must look at the age that humans supposedly become socially aware (i.e. aware of the thoughts of others around them, which would then potentially influence their own thoughts and actions). A social experiment was conducted and aired on the BBC programme ‘Babies: Their Wonderful World’ during which babies of 15 months were presented with a plate of broccoli, and a plate of crisps. Both babies involved in the experiment had a greater partiality to crisps compared to broccoli. The professor conducting this experiment then displays an unquestionably adverse reaction to the crisps (portraying her negative opinion) and an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the broccoli (portraying her positive opinion). She then asks the babies to give her either a crisp, or a piece of broccoli (bearing in mind that the two parties have strongly opposing opinions).

Click the link below to see what happens.

The results of this clip evidently seem to depict the idea that even from the age of 15 months, humans are aware of other people’s opinions, and how they may differ to their own; furthermore, they may change their actions as a result of this. These babies therefore, even at the very young age of 15 months, can be argued to be socially aware. This idea then leads us to the conclusion that being ‘socially aware’ is an inherent, intrinsic part of the human condition, and so attempting to ‘unlearn’ or ‘reverse’ the effects of social awareness would most likely prove to be very unsuccessful indeed.

Carol VII