What Is the Need To Belong?

The need to belong to a group
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The need to belong, also often referred to as belongingness, refers to a human emotional need to affiliate with and be accepted by members of a group. This may include the need to belong to a peer group at school, to be accepted by co-workers, to be part of an athletic team and to be part of a church group. It involves more than simply being acquainted with other people. It is instead centered on gaining acceptance, attention and support from members of the group as well as providing the same attention to other members.

How the Need to Belong Can Influence Behavior

In social psychology, the need to belong is an intrinsic motivation to affiliate with others and be socially accepted. This need plays a role in a number of social phenomena such as self-presentation and social comparison. This need to belong to a group can also lead to changes in behaviors, beliefs and attitudes as people strive to conform to the standards and norms of the group.

For example, people often present themselves in a particular way in order to belong to a specific social group. For example, new member of the high school football team might adopt the dress and mannerisms of the other members of the team in order to fit in with the rest of the group. People will also spend a great deal of time comparing themselves to other members of the group in order to determine how well they fit in. This social comparison might lead an individual to adopt some of the same behaviors and attitudes of the most prominent members of the group in order to conform and gain greater acceptance.

So what inspires people to seek out specific groups? In many cases, the need to belong to certain social groups results from sharing some point of commonality. For example, teens who share the same taste in clothing, music and other interests might seek each other out to form friendships. In other instances, factors such as shared goals, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, political beliefs and pop culture interests can lead individuals to seek out groups that share these interests.

Why the Need to Belong Is an Important Motivator

Our need to belong is what drives us to seek out stable, long lasting relationships with other people. It also motivates us to participate in social activities such as clubs, sports teams, religious groups, and community organizations.

By belonging to a group, we feel as if we are a part of something bigger and more important than ourselves.

In Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, belongingness is part of one of his major needs that motivate human behavior. The hierarchy is usually portrayed as a pyramid, with more basic needs at the base and more complex needs near the peak. The need for love and belonging lie at the center of the pyramid as part of the social needs. While Maslow suggested that these needs were less important than the physiological and safety needs, he believed that the need for belonging helped people to experience companionship and acceptance through family, friends, and other relationships.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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