The need to seek and maintain interpersonal relationships is a basic need of all human beings. That is why the need to affiliate with others and to be accepted by them is as being as basic to our psychological well-being as hunger and thirst are to our physical satisfaction. In some cases genetic factors are behind this tendency to associate and interact with people.
This tendency would certainly be of benefit to our early human ancestors in their struggles to obtain food, shelter and the security that company affords. This is the same approach evidenced by the way children and infants face the world. Researchers in child psychology have concluded that human infants are born with the innate motivation and ability to seek contact with others. Throughout life this ability and motivation is maintained and might even be enhanced with age.
People, however, differ in terms of their need for affiliation. These differences are based on either genetics or experience. In general, people seek to associate with others only to the extent where they feel the need. There are times when individuals prefer to be alone. Both individual differences and external events can create momentary fluctuations in the need to associate with others.
Social and natural disasters increase the need to affiliate. These occurrences remind people of their mortality and a common response is the need to be with others. In the shadow or aftermath of major disasters, even perfect strangers are drawn closer together to comfort and share with each other. In stressful times, people want to experience cognitive clarity. They want to know what is happening and how others are feeling in order to better understand their own emotions. Physical contact and conversation can be real sources of comfort in these stressful times.
It is also in these stressful times that good opportunities can be found for social comparisons. There is the perception too that suffering individuals seek out fellow sufferers in order to compare conditions. Apparently, nothing is more therapeutic than seeing others surviving worse circumstances. It makes their situation seem a little lighter. This is the stuff that hope is made of.
In contrast, there are a small minority of individuals who claim to have no need for social interaction with others. People who show what is known as the dismissing avoidance attachment style really exist in theory but research findings indicate that even such people really do have affiliation needs. They may conceal these needs under a camouflage of indifference but the needs are still there in spite of what they may think.
In addition, no one likes to feel left out. Social exclusion hurts and leaves sad and angry thoughts in the minds of people. People in solitary confinement crave affiliation like an addictive drug. Nothing is sweeter to the ear than the sound of another human voice after extended moments of silence. As the popular saying goes, “No man is an island, no man stands alone”. Prolonged social exclusion actually results in lowered cognitive functioning and can lead to a dizzying array of physical symptoms.
Forming and maintaining social linkages is therefore a characteristic feature of mankind. Human beings need the acceptance, presence and comfort of others to fell fully alive and fulfilled. It is only when people interact in mutually acceptable ways that they can optimize their ability to be psychologically and socially well.