Humans are social creatures. But why?

We all know we are social creatures, but have you ever thought what underlies our motivation to affiliate with others?

Here are some theories to what motivates humans to be social creatures:

  1. Because it makes us feel good! We tend to like people who make us feel positive emotions and want to spend more time with them to feel happy for longer. The reinforcement-affect model says that we are driven by the desire to feel good.  Why do we feel good with others? ah – this brings me to point #2
  2. Because it makes us feel safe: Being with people makes us feel safer from an evolutionary point of view. For humans, like other animals, there has in the past been the concept of "safety in numbers". In addition being with others reminds us of the safety we had when we were with our parents when we were young. This also explains why people feel safer and better with a dog in the house. Subconciously we know the dog can protect us, bark and warn us of potential threats and bite where necessary.
  3. Because people fulfil our need for intimacy; the need for warmth, closeness, and mutual support. These are all qualities agreeableness of others fulfills.
  4. Because we learn a lot from others. Other people are the really useful source of information about the world, and also about ourselves and how we’ve perceived by others. Other people’s heads are full of potentially useful facts, ideas, and alternative opinions. When we put our heads together with our friends, our communal IQ often goes up (Wegner, 1987).
  5. Because we often understand ourselves better, and gauge how well we’re doing in life, by comparing ourselves with others, and friends are good points of reference.
  6. Because they reinforce our thoughts and boost our self-esteem:  (Jennifer Campbell and Abe Tesser, 1985) Friends may be a good source of compliments to help us feel good about ourselves. We often seek out people who are similar to us and have things in common to us, and this is partly because such people are more likely to often agree with us, which makes us feel good (Clore& Byrne, 1974; Orive, 1988). They help confirm the views we have about ourselves and the world (Pittman, 1998).
  7. Because some friendships are good for personal gain eg if you have friends in high places, you get all sorts of favours… We are attracted to powerful people whose alliance can serve us well. "It’s not what you know, but who you know…". Who you know can also increase your status/ reputation in society. This tendency to mix status-seeking and friendship is more likely amongst men than women.
    Friendships also have some material benefits like car lifts, borrowing their clothes/ books/ DVDs, invitations to events and nights out, help fixing your computer/ car/ whatever, recommendations for job opportunities, helping you with your studies or with your golf swing and more. (Foa & Foa, 1980).
  8. Because to some extent it fulfils our need for power, in the sense that comparing ourselves with others helps us attain prestige, reputation, and status. These are all qualities that satisfy our dominance states.

In spite of being inherently social creatures, there are time when people would rather avoid being amongst people. Why would people prefer to avoid social interactions?

  • To give space to reflect: People (often introverts) require alone-time to reflect and digest the activities and events of their life.
  • To avoid potential negative judgement: Sometimes the presence of others might lead you to feel evaluated and judged negatively, which doesn’t make us feel good! So we often try to avoid such situations where possible. 
  • To avoid feeling inadequate: when we feel we have nothing to give back to a person, eg in terms of interesting stories/ gossip/ jokes to share, advice to give etc, we might avoid them rather than feeling the inadequacy experienced when with that person. (Greenberg & Westcott, 1983). When someone does you a favour which you can’t return, it can be a source of embarrassment and this might prevent you from wanting to see them until you can return the favour.  Or it may prevent you from wanting to accept their favour – leading you to push them away.

Source: Introduction to Social Psychology, Byrne & Clore, 1970; Bowlby, 1969; Trivers, 1985; Greenberg & Westcott, 1983


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