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Internalization has different definitions depending on the field that the term is used in. Internalization is the opposite of externalization.



Generally, internalization is the long-term process of consolidating and embedding one’s own beliefs, attitudes, and values, when it comes to moral behavior. The accomplishment of this may involve the deliberate use of psychoanalytical or behavioral methods.

When changing moral behavior, one is said to be "internalized" when a new set of beliefs, attitudes, and values replaces or habituates the desired behavior. For example, such internalization might take place following religious conversion.

Internalization is also often associated with learning (for example, learning ideas or skills) and making use of it from then on. The notion of internalization therefore also finds currency in applications in education, learning, and training, and in business and management thinking.

Psychology and sociology

In sciences such as psychology and sociology, internalization is the process of acceptance of a set of norms established by people or groups which are influential to the individual. The process starts with learning what the norms are, and then the individual goes through a process of understanding why they are of value or why they make sense, until finally they accept the norm as their own viewpoint.

Role models can also help. If someone an individual respects is seen to endorse a particular set of norms, the individual is more likely to internalize those norms. This is called identification. In Freudian psychology, internalization is one of the concepts of the psychological process of introjection, a psychological defense mechanism.

In developmental psychology, internalization is the process through which social interactions become part of the child’s mental functions, i.e., after having experienced an interaction with another person the child subsequently experiences the same interaction within him/herself and makes it a part of his/her understanding of interactions with others in general. As the child experiences similar interactions over and over again, s/he slowly learns to understand and think about them on higher, abstract levels. Lev Vygotsky suggested that mental functions, such as concepts, language, voluntary attention and memory, are cultural tools acquired through social interactions[citation needed].


In sciences such as biology internalization is what the body does to cells, neurons, receptors, transporters etc. once they've lived out their life cycle or have otherwise been damaged or compromised. It is a process by which a dead or mutated cell is recycled by the body in a way to consume said cell for its energy in the body as the body creates new ones.

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