[bih-lawng-ing-nis, -long-]
Belongingness is the need to be a part or member of a group, whether it is family, friends, career, or sports affiliations. Humans have an inherant desire to belong and be an important part of something. A motive to belong is the need for “strong, stable relationships with other people”.

Belongingness and self-presentation

In order to identify with a group, individuals convey certain parts of their personality to those whom they are trying to impress. This is known as self-presentation . Certain aspects of someone’s personality may not be seen as desirable or essential to the group, so they try to convey what they interpret as essential to the group. For example, in a business setting, people may not show their humorous side but they will try to show their professional side in an attempt to impress those present.

The need to belong

One reason for the need to belong is evolutionary drive; in the past, belonging to a group was essential to survival. People hunted and cooked in groups. Belonging to a group allowed tribe members to share the workload and protect each other. Not only were they trying to insure their own survival, but all members of their tribe were invested in each others survival because each member played an important role and the loss of one would affect the group as a whole. Each member had a role and purpose. More modernly in Western society, this is not necessarily the case; most people no longer belong to tribes, but they do still protect those in our group and do still have a desire to belong to groups. It is important to note that people view their own ingroup as superior. A core social motive for this goes back to our genes being passed on. People want to fit into their group so they can stay a member. Staying a member helps insure the survival of their genes and their offspring’s genes. Because of this, people tend to follow what the group is doing as a whole, whether they agree with the behavior or not. It is an adaptive pressure to fit in.

Group membership

Individuals join groups with those who are like them. They like to spend time with those that they have things in common with, whether it is their sense of humor, style in clothing, socioeconomic status, or career goals. In general, individuals seek out those who are most similar to them. They do this in part because they are cognitively lazy, meaning they look at someone and from appearance alone sometimes decide whether they think the individual is someone they would like to spend time with, rather than taking time to get to know someone and then decide if they would like to continue spending time with them. People like to feel like they understand someone and those similar to them give them that feeling. People also like those that they think they can understand and who they think can understand them.

Belongingness and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow found the need to belong as one of significance. He thought that the need to belong was one of our five basic needs. The five needs are:

  • Physiological (this is the need for food and water)
  • Safety
  • Belonging/Love (have those around you that you belong to and that love you)
  • Self-Esteem, and
  • Self-Actualization (to achieve your full potential).

An individual must achieve these needs in order. In order to achieve one need, a person must first have achieved the need before it. Meaning, in order to achieve safety, they must have satisfied their physiological needs. After physiological and safety needs are met an individual can then work on meeting their need to belong and be loved. If the first two needs are not met, then an individual can not completely love someone else.


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