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We are social animals.

We care deeply about being loved and feeling connected to others. These needs are so important that some argue that after the physiological needs (eating, breathing), nothing comes near the importance of having caring groups to belong to. Moreover, it hurts being rejected. Indeed, social rejection and physical pain activate similar areas in the brain. No wonder it’s so important to us to remain part of our groups.

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Sometimes, bonds are explicit and nurturing: family, friends, romantic partners. Other times, they are evident but based on shared interests, the most common case being sports-team affiliation. On occasions, we bond with others in an unconscious manner. Like when we think ‘I hear you, bro’ because sharing gender, social position, or occupation make us feel on the same page. Sometimes, those unconscious thoughts may embarrass us, like when they lead to racial prejudice. And finally, groups can arise from such an arbitrary event as a coin toss or the color of a sweatshirt (really, people unconsciously group with others that got the same side of a coin in a random toss).

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But why such a big deal with groups? After all, as we just said, we all belong to one group or another. Well, an important issue is that groups impact heavily in our decision making, behaviours and evaluations. And most of the time we are unaware of that. Also, there are consistencies in the way groups affect our mental functioning: we systematically tend to favour our own group. And worse, we are biased towards degrading those in the ‘outside’.

From a social point of view, it’s important to be aware of these tendencies: they happen and will continue to happen. Becoming conscious of them will help us be more empathetic to others.

From a more practical point of view, motivation is crucial for the adoption of new products or technologies. And few things motivate us more than being part of social groups, or on the other side, not feeling alone. Consider the internet: out of millions of sites, the most visited one is Facebook. Many of the most popular apps are for social networking. Maybe it’s because they offer the best deals on… oh wait, no best deal there. Just connecting with others. 

So keep in mind, we will do many things to remain part of our groups, feeling connected and avoiding rejection.

Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Social cognitive neuroscience: a review of core processes. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 58, 259-289.

Hewstone, M., Rubin, M., & Willis, H. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 575-604.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497.


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