Human beings, right from the beginning, have been known to be in groups and socialize with others. For the early humans, being in a group was a way to enhance their strength and ensure their safety. For instance, while hunting larger animals for food, it made it easier for them by being in a group. Likewise, being in a group helped them to protect themselves from becoming a prey to other dangerous species.
Assurance of strength and safety, however, were not the only reasons why the early humans stayed in groups. Being together is something that is inherent in human nature. As humans evolved, and time moved on, this aspect of human beings stayed on. In modern days, even though people are involved in a number of activities, and seemingly have little time, yet the aspect of socializing and being together is very much existent.
One of the reasons why human beings prefer to socialize and be in groups is the need for belongingness or the need to belong. The need to belong is an innate need. It is a fundamental human motivation to have meaningful and satisfying relationships. The need to belong enables people to seek out interpersonal relationships to develop social bonds and a certain level of relatedness. People have a pervasive drive to develop strong social bonds. They also resist losing attachments and breaking social bonds. They are strongly motivated to seek out positive social interactions and avoid interactions that are conflictual or involve negative affect.
Abraham Maslow, one of the pioneers of Humanistic Psychology (the approach that proposes that moral and ethical values and intentions directly determine behavior), suggests that the need for belongingness is the need to have friends and family. It is a natural tendency to belong to a larger group and enables people to experience companionship and have affectionate relationships. Empirical evidences suggest that deficits in belongingness and a lack of strong social bonds lead to lowered physical and mental health. Human beings are, thus, naturally and inherently driven towards belongingness.
The inherent tendency of human beings to socialize with each other is further explained by William McDougal’s instinct theory of motivation. The instinct theory of motivation states that organisms are preprogrammed to behave in the way they do so. McDougall, one of the pioneers of the instinct theory of motivation formed Hormic psychology, where hormic means an urge or an impulse. Hormic psychology suggests that psychological activity has a purpose, or goal, that prods the individual to action. The propelling force of such activity is termed as instinct. Instincts are inborn patterns of behavior that are not learned.
McDougall, in his theory, suggests a number of instincts which include, among others, hunger, sex, curiosity, sleep, etc. One of such instincts suggested by McDougall is the gregariousness or gregarious instinct. The gregarious instinct causes people to want to be together in groups. It enables people to seek out others and works as a motivation to have lots of friends.
Related to the need for belongingness and the gregarious instinct is the need for affiliation. The gregarious instinct led Henry Murray, one of the pioneers in emphasizing the necessity of conceptualizing behavior as an interaction of individual and environmental forces, to propose the need for affiliation. The need for affiliation is an underlying psychological motive. It is the desire to be with others and have harmonious relationships. It prompts people to have friends as well as maintain their friendships. The need for affiliation may differ from person to person, some being high and some being low on the need for affiliation. Nevertheless, each and every person has this need to some extent or the other.
These underlying needs show that people are inherently motivated to be with others and have relationships. They urge people to seek out others, spend time with them, and maintain satisfying relationships with them.
Human beings are not only inherently motivated to be with others. They are in fact built to have relationships, which is explicitly depicted by the emerging field of study called social neuroscience. Social neuroscience examines the involvement of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems in socio-cultural process. It examines how the brain drives social behavior and in turn how the social world influences brain and biology. It is a comprehensive attempt to understand mechanisms that underlie social behavior by combining biological and social approaches.
Social neuroscience has led to the discovery that the brain of human beings are built in such a way that it guides people to have social interactions. Many specific chemicals that are synthesized in the brain have been found to be associated with social behavior. The neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that the brain cells use to communicate) such as dopamine and endogenous opioids play a role in social bonding. Additionally hormones such as oxytocin, vasopressin, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), and adrenal hormones, including corticosterone are responsible for social bonding.
Apart from neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for social behavior, the neural circuitry of human beings is designed in such a way that it enables people to socialize with each other. There are a number of areas spread in the brain that act together and are responsible for people to interact with each other. These brain regions are collectively termed as the social brain.
The social brain is a set of distinct but fluid and wide-ranging neural networks that synchronize around relating to others. Although research is still going on to identify the specific social centers, so far, neuroscientists suggest that these social centers are mainly in structures of the prefrontal area of the brain in connection with areas in the sub-cortex, especially the limbic system (set of brain structures responsible for emotions, motivation, memory, and olfaction). However, other brain areas apart from these have also been discovered to constitute the social brain.
During any kind of social interaction, regions in the social brain work together to fine tune the activity and orchestrate the bodily movements and emotions to make the person attuned to that social action. The brain cells known as mirror neurons found in the social brain immediately get active and start function during a social interaction. These neurons sense both the move that the other person is about to make and their feelings, and instantly prepares the individual to respond appropriately.
For instance, while reading the emotional message in the other person’s tone of voice, the mirror neurons in the premotor cortex get activated and run to the limbic system. The mirror neurons in the temporal lobes (brain areas responsible for retention of visual memories, processing sensory input, comprehending language, storing new memories, emotions, and deriving meaning) start functioning while recognizing and reading emotions in the faces of other people. Likewise, the mirror neurons in the prefrontal cortex and limbic system become active while modulating the individual’s emotions that are effective and appropriate. In these ways, mirror neurons function during any social activity in the brain region that is responsible for that action.
These social circuits together keep things operating smoothly during interactions. Damage to any of these social centers impairs the ability to attune. Studies show that neurological patients with damage to various emotional circuits in the social brain are capable when it comes to cognitive tasks, like answering questions of IQ tests, but have poor functioning in their relationships. They make poor interpersonal decisions, misjudge how other people feel, and are incapable in coping with life’s social demands.
The human brain, thus, not only guides people in socializing with others, but it also works in order to help people in having appropriate social interactions, which in turn help in having better relationships. The human brain, is therefore, built to make human beings sociable.
The underlying psychological needs and neural mechanisms enable human beings to have relationships, which show that relationships are a significant aspect of human beings. This significance is further established by a number of psychologists who have proposed that relationships and social interactions constitute an individual; it is the relationships of an individual that make him/her what he/she is.
An individual can be said to be represented by his/her personality. Personality refers to that part of the individual that is most representative of the person, not only in that it differentiates the individual from others, but more importantly because it is what he/she is. Personality consists of the most outstanding or salient features of an individual. It is the attribute that is highly typical of the individual and is an important part of the overall impression created in others.
Gordon Allport, considered to be the father of personality psychology (the area of psychology that studies personality) suggests that personality is what a person really is. He defines personality as the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychological systems that determine his/her characteristic behavior or thought.
Harry Stack Sullivan, the pioneer of the interpersonal approach in psychology (an approach that emphasizes the significance of interpersonal relationships), in his theory of personality called the Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, states that enduring patterns of human relationships form the essence of personality. He asserts that personality is the relatively enduring pattern of recurrent interpersonal situations which characterizes a person’s life. For Sullivan, personality cannot be isolated from interpersonal situations, and interpersonal behavior is all that can be observed as personality. He insisted that personality is shaped almost entirely by the individual’s relationships.
Sullivan insisted repeatedly that personality cannot be seen apart from interpersonal situations. According to him, the organization of personality consists of interpersonal events and personality only manifests itself when the person is behaving in relation to one or more other individuals. For Sullivan, perceiving, remembering, thinking, imagining, and all other psychological processes are interpersonal in character.
The significance of relationships in the formation of an individual is further demonstrated by Sullivan’s belief that significant psychosocial threats to an individual’s wellbeing are inherently social in nature. These threats, mainly, are loneliness, isolation, and rejection. Sullivan states that success in meeting the intimacy goals depend on competence in relationships and that interpersonal loss or failure to form close, supportive relationships contributes to clinical symptomatology. Sullivan, thus, locates healthy or unhealthy psychological development in reactions of one’s relationships.
The idea of relationships forming an individual is appositely reflected in the concept of the self. In psychology, the self is a construct that is referred to contain an individual’s organized and stable experiences. It is also considered to be the cognitive and affective representation of an individual’s identity. In other words, it is the sum of what the person actually is. It is about phenomena that pertain to the individual.
The concept of the self was introduced by William James, the pioneer of the school of thought of psychology called Functionalism (an approach to study psychology by analyzing the functions of mental activity). James suggests that the self is central to all of an individual’s experience and that people divide the world into me and not me. This distinction that people derive is based on interactions with others. According to James, social interactions are the key to the self.
Taking forward James views was George Herbert Mead, who is considered to be the father of social psychology. Mead argues that the self is a product social processes. He suggests that the self arises in the process of social experiences and is based on an individual’s perception of how he/she looks to others. He further states that the self is a product of social interactions.
Being influenced by Mead, Harry Stack Sullivan placed great emphasis on the social, interpersonal basis of the development of the self. He suggests that the self develops out of the feelings experienced while in contact with others and from reflected appraisals or perceptions.
The founder of Self Psychology (a school of thought of psychoanalytic theory and therapy that explains psychopathology as the result of disrupted or unmet developmental needs), Heinz Kohut, suggests that the key issue in the formation of the self is the presence and absence of loving relationships. He states that the receipt of empathic reactions from important other people is highly important to the health of the self.
In emphasizing the significance of relationships in the formation of the self, Kohut further states that healthy interaction with people who are important to an individual leads him/her to develop into an ideal personality type, where the individual is an independent and self-sufficient person. On the other hand, if this interaction is not healthy then it will lead the individual towards emptiness and insecurity.
It is clear that the self, even though denoting individualism, is constituted by social interactions. The self does not flourish in isolation. People learn about themselves from others and the social groups that they belong to. Relationships are crucial for the development of the self. Psychologists suggest that a human being who spends his/her entire life in social isolation would have a stunted and deficient self.
The emergence of the concept of the relational self, in recent times, further strengthens the idea that it is our relationships that form an individual. Theorists state that the concept of the relational self reflects that relationships are incorporated in the self and that the self is defined in terms of interpersonal relationships. By being tied to the self, these relationships influence behavior, cognition, and affect of the individual, as well as perceptions of the self.
Self-esteem, considered to be one of the most important aspects of the self, has been conceptualized by interpersonal theorists explicitly in interpersonal terms. Self-esteem is defined as a person’s evaluation of self; it is a person’s subjective appraisal of himself/herself as intrinsically positive or negative to some degree. It reflects a person’s beliefs about his/her personal characteristics.
Interpersonal theorists conclude that people’s feelings about themselves are related to how they believe others evaluate them because subjective feelings of self-esteem provide information regarding one’s standing in the eyes of other people or society at large. Therefore, an individual’s self-evaluation largely depends on his/her social interactions and relationships, which further suggests the role of interpersonal relationships in the development of an individual.
The aforementioned psychological perspectives on personality and the self clearly show that an individual cannot be separated for his/her relationships. Interpersonal relationships are in-built within an individual. They shape an individual and play an influential role in a person’s wellbeing and further effects other life activities.
Theories and research show that human beings are naturally developed to have relationships and socialize with each other. There are inherent underlying needs that motivate an individual to seek out others to have relationships, the human brain is designed to guide an individual to be sociable, and finally relationships form an individual itself. It is due to this that social interactions and forming relationships become significant for human development. Obstacles in having healthy social interactions and forming social bonds cause a number of difficulties to an individual.
People who in some way or the other are unable to have meaningful and satisfying relationships experience loneliness, depression, stress, feeling of inadequacy, etc. Their psychological growth is hampered and it becomes very difficult for them to lead a happy, joyous, and stress-free life.
Interpersonal relationships are an essential aspect of human nature. Relationships and human beings are inseparable. Taking out the aspect of social interactions from human beings loses the very essence of being human.