The term socialization refers to the learning processes of social organisms that are based on interactions with conspecifics and enable the integration of an individual into a social group. Social learning plays a major role in higher vertebrates and especially in primates. Massive disruptions of socialization, especially at critical stages, lead to lasting impairments in affected individuals. Well known are the studies on rhesus monkeys, which grew up in complete social isolation with a cloth dummy as a mother substitute. Animals and humans that have been exposed to social experience deprivation (deprivation or hospitalism) show severe behavioral disturbances such as inability to bond, apathy, or movement stereotypies. Socialization shows strong parallels with imprinting, e.g. with its dependence on sensitive phases, however, undesirable developments – in contrast to imprinting – are partly reversible.
Socialization is a form of social learning and a process of adaptation to the respective social environment. It enables young animals to integrate successfully into the social group. Young animals learn the rules of group life through social interactions with their mother and group members. Social competence and cooperation are developed through this. This form of learning is usually present only in higher vertebrates living in groups. If such social interactions are missing in the juvenile phase (deprivation), behavioral disorders can develop.