Explain how communication builds identity.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Communication builds identity through the cognitive process of social learning, which, as Albert Bandura (1960) would argue, consists on the mimicry of emotions, behaviors, and attitudes that we see in others. Although we are genetically equipped with personality traits that we inherit from our ancestors, these traits do not represent "identity" until we decide to make them a part of our life. When we find those traits that makes us feel most comfortable, we tend to identify ourselves with them through our behavior, making them, either, stronger, or extinguish them eventually if they no longer fit us.

What does communication have to do with all of this? It is only through interaction with the environment, according to Allport, that we actually learn to identify our personality traits. Communication is precisely that; the interaction with our immediate environment: parents, friends, teachers, animals, nature. If there is no communication, there is no interaction (and vice versa). Without interaction there is no possible way for our personality to manifest. Without personality there cannot be identity unless it is imposed. Hence, the key element of communication building identity is through the liberation of personality traits as we exchange them with our environment. 

As a rule, personalities that are similar tend to bond together thus reinforcing the salient and strongest traits that mostly identify them. In other words, the more you communicate, the more you learn socially through mimicry and imitation. The behaviors, word usage, information, etc that are more resonant to your inner character and your personality traits will be the ones that you will continue to repeat and adopt thus identifying yourself through them. When you find a like-character that shares the same affinity, you are more likely to continue to link yourself to people that are most like you, and together you will create an individual and a group identity based on the things that you learn when you communicate. Those traits of behavior learned through communication that are of no importance to the individual eventually become extinguished and do not identify the individual at all. 

When communication is geared toward conveying a message that elicits argument, or seeks for personal support, gain, or any kind of specific emotion, the bonds that are formed include, but are not limited to

  • empathy
  • sympathy
  • Antipathy

The communication that elicits these emotions include forms of literature, the arts, family conversations, break ups, romantic relationships and other types of dynamics that are personal and subjective. 

When communication is open, affect-free, and factual the bonds that are formed include

  • acceptance
  • rejection
  • neutrality
  • trust
  • loyalty

These bonds are evident, for example, in our choice of doctor, teacher, news reporter, banker, or any other support system which conveys information that is necessary for life and always relevant for us. Here, communication is strengthened by the consistency of its quality. I.E, if your doctor is always late, expensive, but still good, you may not develop the bond of trust, but you may still retain a high degree of acceptance and even loyalty. 

These two examples show the power of communication in the way that it elicit a myriad of personality traits. During communication personality traits such as our level of sensitivity, emotional capacity, resilience, and overall intellectuality come to the surface. 

Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Michael Hecht who developed the communication theory of identity, identities are constructed in society, in social situations, through social communication. He asserts that, in opposition the individualist view, identities are built through the basis of humans as social beings for whom communication, relationships and communities are the foundation of identity and that humans have multiple identities and shifting identities that respond to varying social situations.

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