We help you speak English clearly.
Free Speech Lesson

Social Bonding Theoy

Yay for Adult Learning: Bonds that Bind

shutterstock_125613056 - Copy

Yay for Adult Learning

Bonds that Bind

Article 16

How are Child Learning and Adult Learning Different –That is the question.

Child learning, especially visual learning and speaking a language, is more efficient in children than adults. Neuroimaging study found rapid neurotransmitter GABA boosting as a major potential explanation-component for that.  1, 2, 3. 4

A second reason for the faster learning is that children’s brains contain more “silent synapses”  which are inactive until required. This neuroplasticity allows for the flexibility in which the brain can acquire new learning  and memory as it is needed. 4.  Notably, plasticity or the ability to learn a motor skill by activating synapses is intensified during intense motor learning. 4

What about neuroplasticity in adults? Recent study of adult mice at MIT in 2022 uncovered that “silent synapses” are abundant in adult mice.  Silent synapses are groundwork for brain capacity and are recruited for new learning.  5, 6, 7

Critically, the human condition of adulthood is different than childhood or adolescence.   By the time a human is an adult, say 18 years old, an individual has considerable experience of being a part of social groups. Bonding is a characteristic shared by humans and other social animals.  (For the other eight characteristics shared by humans and other social animals, such as dolphins, whales, and especially big apes,  see blog article 15 http://www.cleartalkmastery.com/blog/2023/08/23/the-human-factor/)

Bonding theory maintains that most humans most of the time have behavioral patterns because they are bonded to the conventional wisdom of society through their being a member of various groups. 8, 9 and Footnote 1

( Stay with me. These behavioral patterns for most people most of the time positively affect adult learning – making for efficient and durable learning.  Yay for adult learning!)

Familial, education, workplace, religious/church act as drivers through which the bonding to the society’s group rules – behavior patterns encouraged by the groups –are maintained.   As long as ties to home or school or workplace or church remain strong, an individual is likely to maintain or keep doing the behavior patterns encouraged by the groups.

Hirschi (1979) and Johnson et al (1981) in expansion and refinement of  earlier work of Nye describe four processes through which behavior patterns are encouraged and maintained.  The first is commitment — the degree to which a person has interests (school, work, familial aspirations, belief system) that a path with particular behavioral patterns are encouraged and where nonconformity to those patterns would jeopardize that path.   With respect to this conforming or continuing of behavioral patterns, to paraphrase Hirschi, 1969, p 29, the human invests time, energy, the “self” in an activity path – say getting an education, building a business or a career, acquiring a reputation for virtue.  When ndividuals consider rebelling against the behaviors encouraged by the group or activity path, they must consider the costs or the risks they take in losing the investment or commitment they have made.  8, 9, 10. 11

No matter how strongly the groups an individual belongs to encourage specific behaviors and agreement with conventional wisdom, the message will be wasted unless persons have some inducement or reason to listen. The investment, or stake, is such an inducement.   It may include not only an immediate desirable position but a realistic promise of status in the near future.   For example, a student in college has the status of college student; in the workplace, the employee may have the position and status of assistant manager.  An example of the realistic promise of status in the near future could be for the student in college to become a college graduate with a degree (status by itself and enables entry into careers). An example of realistic promise of status in the future within a workplace could be for the assistant manager to see the career path of promotion to manager and above, which carries more status and salary.  Higher aspirations (for education/school such as BA, MA or PhD degrees, or workplace upward trajectory to management) promote the behavior patterns provided that the realistic promises are perceived as attainable over a relatively short time.

A second process of bonding is attachment to other people.  Here, to adhere to the behavior patterns is to act according to the wishes and expectations of others. A high level of attachment makes violation of those behavior patterns of going along with the wishes and expectations of others much less likely.

A third process of bonding is involvement, or engagement in conventional activities; it refers to an individual’s ongoing allocation of time and energy as opposed to one’s past investment of personal resources.  Only certain time and energy allocations that are bound up directly with conventional ties to one’s social group act to preserve or enlarge those behavioral patterns.  For instance, the amount of time watching television or streaming or gaming or reading magazines at home or work does not contribute to strengthening the ties to the family or workplace.  However, the amount of time sharing or preparing meals at home, engaging in family activities including celebrations or at school the amount of time attending class and doing homework, or at the workplace, cooperating with others on projects or engaging in training to increase workplace skill do contribute to involvement and thus strengthen the bonds to those social groups.

The fourth bonding process is belief in the validity or moral validity of social rules of groups or society (Hirschi, 1969, pp 16-26; Johnson et al, 1981).  Examples of belief for humans within the entities they have ties to include these:

1. Familial –Belief that wellbeing of the family is paramount – well-being such as health (all aspects), pursuit of happiness, productivity, safety and security.

2.  Education – Belief that persistence and dedication will yield learning and skill acquisition needed for academic coursework and attainment of graduation (diploma, certification, degree).  Belief that acquisition of skills in the education setting will generate life skills and employment with probable increased levels of status/pay.

3. Workplace – Belief that personal characteristics and behaviors regarding quality and quantity of work or productivity, increasing skills, accountability, focused effort, cooperation, and shared purpose will contribute to attainable desired outcomes for individuals.  These can include well-being on the job and foreseeable possible increase in responsibility, skill attainment, status, and enumeration or pay.

4. Religious entities, churches, or secular groups with codes of ethics:  Belief that the conventional wisdom of the entity for encouraged behaviors will bring enhanced well-being of the individual, of the group, of the society.  Code of ethics or encouraged behaviors could include character traits of honesty, accountability, altruism, sincerity, work ethic, etc.

To paraphrase Johnson et al (1981), to be effective the four processes of bonding – commitment, attachment, involvement and belief—must operate through affiliations with group and organizational representations of conventional wisdom and advice of society.  The stronger the ties, the greater the control or bonding.  The closeness of a tie or an affiliation in any one sector is likely to fluctuate or move up and down, but most adults have a multiplicity of important  conventional ties.  During periods when there is no stake worth protecting in the workplace, then family and other community memberships remain as sources of bonds and control.  For most adults it is an extremely rare occurrence when all important affiliations or ties to groups are in a disintegrated or failed state at once.

This is not true for children or youth/adolescents, who typically have their eggs in far fewer baskets than adults.  The only important conventional affiliations for most young persons are school and family.  When these ties deteriorate, there is nothing left because there are not affiliations with other groups. 

According to bonding theory, employment that creates an affiliation that the young or older adult worker does not want to jeopardize through misconduct is more likely to be effective in promoting the behavior patterns espoused or encouraged by the employment entity than employment that merely offers involvement in a conventional pursuit. For example,  an individual who feels motivated by the goals and mission of the workplace is more likely to devote more effort and focus than the individual whose work life is limited to just showing up at work, doing assigned tasks and taking home a paycheck. If the employment or school entity provides a commitment stake accompanied by valued attachments to other people, so much the stronger is the tie.

So, where is the advantage of adults compared to children learning a new skill?  Bonding theory maintains that the ties to various social groups give the adult the advantage of behavior patterns in the form of habits and desires which makes learning a new skill more efficient and enduring.   For example, acquiring a new skill, such as clear American English compared to an already present accented-English or hard-to-understand-English, requires heightened attention or focus/concentration,  deliberate (not mindless) practice, which is spaced in time or schedule (or distributed practice/perseverence in practice) to make for long lasting learning.  Adults have had extended school experience – 12 or more years of school learning is vastly different than 2 or 9 years.  The extended years of school learning for adults in the 21st century also means experience with video and auditory lessons, doing homework, and likely virtual meetings or learning.

Children may not have developed consolidated interests, ethics, interest in purpose and meaningful activities, knowledge about real world requirements and demands and priorities.   Contrarily, these mind frames are present for most adults, most of the time. Yay for adults!

Next, bonding and bootstrapping new skills onto old—the how for fast, durable adult learning.

FOOTNOTE 1This description of Bonding Theory is an expression of the Hirschi Social Bond Theory from 1969 which was based on his work in the 1960s and described and refined by Johnson et al, 1981. Bonding Theory as elucidated by Hirschi Johnson is a social control theory which describes the essential processes of why most people most of the time adhere to conventional behaviors rather than behaviors defined as criminal.  Notably, Bonding Theory here in this Article 16 is an expansion to include those same four processes  which form the basis for “why most people most of the time adhere to conventional patterns of behavior”.   While Hirschi limited his description to conventional behavior in contrast to behaviors defined by the society to be against the law, our description and examples extend more broadly.  Relatedly and notably, the four processes of Bonding Theory was and has been the well-spring from which qualitative assessment and program decisions were anchored from the start of this author’s work beginning 2000 for instruction to maximize efficiency and durability of nonnative-born adult acquisition of clear American English speech.


  1. Sebastian M.; Becker, Markus; Qi, Andrea; Geiger, Patrician’ Frank, Utrika Il; Rosendahl, Luke A.; Malloni, Wilhelm M.; Sasaki, Yuka; Greenlee, Mark W.; Watanabe, Takeo (5 December 2022)  “Efficient learning in children with rapid GABA boosting during and after training”. Current Biology. 32(23) 5022-5030)
  2. “Brain scans shed light on how kids learn faster than adults”. UPI
  3. Buxton, Alex (10 February 2016).  “What Happens in the Brain When Children Learn?” Neuroscience News
  4. Ismail, Fatima Yousif; Tatemi, Ali; Johnston, Michael V. (1 January 2017).  “Cerebral plasticity: Windows of Opportunity in the developing  brain”. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology. 21 (2); 23-48.
  5.  University press release: Trafton, Anne.  “Silent synapses are abundant in the adult brain”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology via medicalexpress.com.  Retrieved Dec. 2022.
  6. Vardalaki, Dimitra; Chung, Kwanghun; Harnett, Mark T. (December 2022). Filopodia are a structural substrate for silent synapses in adult neocortex”. Nature 612 (7939): 323-327.
  7.  Lioreda, Claudia Lopez (16 December 2022)  “Adult mouse brains are teeming with silent synapses”.  Science News..
  8. Johnson, Grant; Bird, Tom; Warren-Little, Judith; Beville, Sylvia L. (1981). Delinquency Prevention: Theories and Strategies, Second Edition, Center for Action Research publ. U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: 2.1-2.71.
  9. Hirschi, Travis, “Causes of Delinquency”. Berkeley: University of California Press, cited in Johnson, G. et al (1981). Delinquency Prevention: Theories and Strategies, Center for Action Research. U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  10. Nye, F.   Ivan (1958).  “Family Relationships and Delinquent Behavior”. New York:  John Wiley and Sons, Inc cited in Johnson, G. et al (1981). Delinquency Prevention: Theories and Strategies, Center for Action Research. U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  11. Costello, Barbara J., (2012). Theories of Crime, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Oxford Handbooks, p 131-142

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery Inc and Antonia L. Johnson