We Belong Together: The Science of Belonging

Scientists believe that all human beings have what’s called a Need For Belonging, which encompasses a strong desire to be close to, and care for, other human beings. We believe, as some research suggests, that animals also share this desire, but for today we will focus on how this need affects us two-legged creatures.

Abraham Maslow, the American  psychologist most famous for his Hierarchy Of Needs, described a pyramid of five tiers, which Maslow used to explain human motivation. At the bottom were the most essential needs, like physical safety, and at the top stood Self-Actualization, a term used to describe the fulfillment of one’s potential. But, right smack in the middle of his tiers were the needs for Belongingness and Love.

Many famous psychological researchers, such as Baumeister, Leary, Bowlby, Adler, Jung, and even Freud concerned themselves with the need for belonging. Advertisers capitalize on this desire by pairing a cool person (celebrity), with a product, in the hopes that consumers will want to fit in with said celebrity, and buy the product in order to do so. Even street gangs work on the premise that young people will do almost anything to fit in to a larger group.

But of course, the idea of fitting in isn’t always nefarious. Many times, it can actually be beneficial to our health. From an evolutionary perspective, forming close social bonds was imperative, because infants cannot survive on their own. If an infant was left alone, he or she could wander off, get intercepted by a predator, or fall prey to any kind of natural disaster.

It does seem, however, that the desire for connection goes beyond simple survival. Researchers Baumeister and Leary (1995) found that individuals who were deprived of their sense of belonging suffered in terms of their self-esteem, self-concept, self-regulation, and self-worth, qualities that, when hampered, darken people’s ability to follow rules, regulate behavior, and contribute positively to society.

Lots of other research (Connell &  Wellborn, 1991; Deci & Ryan, 1991; Finn, 1989; Osterman, 2000), has focused on the positive effects that a sense of belonging has on students, namely, that pupils perform better and even retain more information when they feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

So, it’s clear that having a sense of belonging positively impacts a person’s view of herself, as well as her behavior. Beyond that, though, we believe that when a person feels that she belongs, she will also be kinder and more compassionate towards others. Imagine a soldier, rendendered unable to kill after looking into his opponents’ eyes. Belonging, then, may be the key, not only to being a healthier individual, but also, to making strides toward world peace.

Here at Upside Therapy, we want you to feel a sense of belonging by increasing social motivation and social behaviors, and helping you to find “your people.” Contact us for more information on how we can help!