Anthropologists, social psychologists, neuroscientists and social scientists debate the impact of things that affect personal beliefs. Although scientists do agree that intelligence, brain development, culture, education and experience affect the development of personal belief systems. Understanding how humans form beliefs helps businesses, agencies and schools deal with people as individuals and groups.
Attitudes, Opinions and Beliefs
People have general attitudes about a variety of general topics and then use this collection of attitudes to create a specific opinion about a narrow topic. The person then uses a group of opinions to shape firm values as part of a belief system. Attitudes include feelings, for example, about the best restaurant for specialty food or the best type of seasoning for poultry. People develop opinions about supporting political parties and selecting brands of cars based on a number of attitudes about voting and driving. Beliefs, however, include closely held values that rarely change such as the belief in a specific religion. People frequently change attitudes and occasionally opinions, but rarely do individuals change beliefs, according to therapist Steve Sisgold reporting in ''Psychology Today.''
Cultural and Home Influences
Parents, parenting practices and family culture help influence beliefs, including adopting a religion and child-rearing practices. The general culture of the family also affects personal beliefs, and the amount of early exposure to the culture shapes important values. Native cultures, including some Native American and Hawaiian people for example, teach children respect for the environment and this frequently influences personal beliefs about the use of natural resources, according to the Northern Arizona University Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau. Some cultures and people belonging to religious groups avoid the use of elements of modern medicine based on belief systems.
Education and Formal Training
Exposure to the beliefs of others and the amount and type of formal education influence belief development. Some societies avoid formal schooling in favor of family training. Families sometimes insist on sending children to special religious schools in place of attendance at public schools. These groups believe formal training and education shapes beliefs, and argue that instruction by people outside the family, culture or religion confuses children in shaping their beliefs. Some people refuse to send children to school and homeschool to ensure training and education meets family beliefs and values, according to Robert Kunzman of the Indiana University School of Education in a 2010 issue of the "International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education."
Experiences help shape personal beliefs, but scientists disagree on the importance of the real-life learning and the development of values or beliefs. Research done by neuroscience Joel Winston of the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and psychologist Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, as reported in a 2005 "The Guardian" article, place learning experiences at the top of the list of influences that develop personal beliefs. Learning experiences, however, need not be personal to influence beliefs for many. People also use things that happen to family and friends and historical events as learning experiences to shape beliefs, according to the New South Wales Department of Education and Training.