The discipline of psychology, from an early phase, right after its inception, has been emphasizing on the significance of social relationships. Psychologists, from the beginning, have been suggesting the role of relationships in individuals’ life. Over the years till contemporary times, theories and research, in psychology, have emphasized how social and interpersonal relationships play an integral role in guiding human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, in shaping the psyche of the individual, and being an important source for individual and social wellbeing.
One of the earliest psychologists to extensively talk about social relationships is William McDougall. McDougall suggested that human beings are goal-oriented and purposive. He called his approach hormic psychology. 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 was one of the pioneers of the instinct theory of motivation. His theory of motivation states that organisms are pre-programmed to behave in the way they do so. This includes seeking social relationships.
In 1908, McDougall wrote his highly influential book, Introduction to Social Psychology. This is one of the first books to emphasize on social behavior, and was a major precursor to the field of social psychology. It was in this book that McDougall introduced his instinct theory of motivation. In the book, he wrote a full chapter on what he called the gregarious instinct.
The gregarious instinct, according to McDougall, enables individuals to seek others and works as a motivation to have social interactions and develop affiliations. McDougall also writes that it is the gregarious instinct that makes people indulge in behaviors like cooperation, and leads people to sharing of feelings and emotions with as many people as possible. McDougal further suggests that the gregarious instinct is responsible for the development of civilizations. It is the gregarious instinct that makes people want to be in groups and socialize at a much larger scale, leading to the formation of cities and societies.
The gregarious instinct, therefore, plays a very important role with respect to social behavior and the development of social relationships. By the year 1932, McDougall had created a list of a number of instincts such as hunger, sex, sleep, curiosity, construction, comfort, among others, including the gregarious instinct.
Drawing inspiration from McDougall, Henry Murray, in the 1930s, developed his theory of needs, called personology. According to Murray, a need is something that is internally aroused or results from external stimulation that produces an activity on part of the individual, which continues till that need is satisfied.
A need, as per Murray, may be weak or intense, momentary or enduring, but it gives rise to overt behavior leading or directing to reduction or satisfaction of the need. Murray, further, suggests that a need is related to underlying processes in the brain and is accompanied by feelings and emotions.
Murray listed a number of needs, among which is the affiliation need. The affiliation need is a psychological or psychogenic need and is characterized by being drawn towards cooperation, reciprocity, winning affection, and remaining loyal to others.
Murray’s theory led to a great deal of research, especially by the psychologist David McClelland. McClelland in his theory of social motives or social needs talked about three needs that lead to social outcomes. One of those three needs is the need for affiliation.
The need for affiliation 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. Nevertheless, each and every person has this need to some extent or the other.
Before McClelland’s research, Abraham Maslow, one of the pioneers of the humanistic movement in psychology, extended Murray’s personology, in the 1940s, and gave his theory of hierarchy of needs, in which he described a number of inherent needs that motivate individuals. Among these needs, Maslow talks about the belongingness needs.
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, according to Maslow, are, thus, naturally and inherently driven towards belongingness.
Extensive research has been done on the need for belongingness in contemporary times. Leading researchers in this area are Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary. In the 1990s, Baumeister and Leary did extensive work on the need for belongingness suggesting that it is a pervasive need to develop long-lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. It involves a need for frequent, pleasant, and stable interactions. If such interactions are with the same people then it is more satisfying as compared to when they interact with a changing sequence of individuals. A lack of belongingness, according to Baumeister and Leary, leads to a feeling of severe deprivation and other psychological issues.
|Emily Esfahani Smith|
The need for belongingness is viewed as highly significant in understanding human behavior, and over the years a number of psychologists have emphasized its importance. More recently, in her book The Power of Meaning, published in 2017, Emily Esfahani Smith suggested that the fulfilment of the need for belongingness is one of the major factors to experience meaning in life.
Therefore, the instincts and underlying needs depicted in the early and modern theories of motivation show that individuals 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.
The idea of the individual and social relationships is appositely reflected in the concept of the self. The self is a construct that is referred to contain an individual’s organized and stable experiences. It is 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 in psychology by William James, in his book The Principles of Psychology, published in the year 1890. According to James, the self is central to all of an individual’s experiences 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.
James also talked about the social self. The recognition that individuals get from others is referred to as the social self. This further led to the idea of many selves – suggesting that individuals have different sides to them, depending on the person with whom one interacts with. We maybe a completely different individual with one person as compared to the other, indicating how others are important in shaping the self.
|George Herbert Mead|
The views of William James were taken forward by George Herbert Mead, often considered to be the father of social psychology. Mead, in the early 1900s, argues that the self is a product of social processes. The self, according to Mead, 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. His ideas were published posthumously in the book Mind, Self, and Society, in 1934.
Influenced by Mead, Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of the interpersonal approach to psychology, and a post-Freudian, in the 1940s, placed great emphasis on the social, interpersonal basis of the development of the self. Sullivan preferred the term self-system, instead of self, conveying his notion that the self is not a static entity, structure, or being, but rather an active process, or dynamism. For Sullivan, the self, including individuality and uniqueness, is a product of interpersonal experience and social influence. The self-system is constructed out of the individual’s perceptions of others reactions, from reflected appraisals.
|Harry Stack Sullivan|
Sullivan extended his idea of interpersonal interactions shaping the self to his notion of personality. In his theory of personality called the interpersonal theory of psychiatry, Sullivan 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 an individual’s life. For Sullivan, personality cannot be isolated from interpersonal situations, and interpersonal behavior is all that can be observed as personality. He repeatedly insisted that personality is shaped almost entirely by the individual’s relationships.
The interpersonal approach to self and personality led to other post-Freudian views that gave emphasis to interpersonal relationships in the development of the individual. One of such perspective was the object relations theories. The object relations theories suggest that the essence of an individual cannot be understood without the understanding of the significant relationships of the individual. Objects are internalized representations of real people.
The most influential object relations theorist is Heinz Kohut. Kohut is 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. According to self psychology, the key issue in the formation of the self is the presence and absence of loving relationships. Kohut, in the 1960s, suggests that the receipt of empathic reactions from significant others is highly important for the healthy development of the self.
Kohut further suggested that healthy interactions 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. By suggesting the role of healthy interactions with significant others, Kohut was clearly emphasizing the significance of relationships in the development of the self.
Apart from the post-Freudians, the humanistic psychologists, especially Carl Rogers, have also emphasized the role of interpersonal relationships in the formation of the self. Self is the central concept of Rogers’s theory, which is why it is referred to as the self theory.
The self, according to Rogers, is patterned conscious perceptions experienced by the individual. The self is an outgrowth of what a person experiences, and an awareness of self helps a person differentiate himself/herself from others.
Rogers, in the 1940s, suggested that the self is a social product that is developed out of interpersonal relationships. For a healthy self to emerge, a person needs unconditional positive regard – love, warmth, care, respect, and acceptance – from parents/caretakers. This unconditional positive regard helps in having less discrepancy between the real self (what the person actually is) and the ideal self (what the person wants to become), a state referred to as congruence by Rogers. This state of congruence leads to the condition of becoming oneself, eventually making the individual what Rogers calls a fully functioning person – a person who is well adjusted and is close to his/her true potential.
These perspectives of the self, right when it was introduced by William James to the post-Freudians and Rogers, vividly indicate that individual is shaped by his/her interpersonal interactions. This is further reflected in the emergence of the concept of the relational self, first proposed by Susan Anderson and Serena Chen, in early 2000s. They suggest
the self is relational, in the sense, that it is entangled with significant
others that has implications for self-definition, self-evaluation,
self-regulation, and daily functioning, which is all in relation to others. By significant others, Anderson and Chen
mean someone who has been highly influential in the individual’s life and
someone in whom the individual is or was emotionally invested.
The concept of relational self indicates that each of the significant others are linked to the self, capturing unique aspects of that relationship. Therefore, the self is shaped by the significant others, if they are present both physically as well as symbolically.
Influenced by this, a number of interpersonal 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.
Therefore, theories of self indicate that individuals are shaped by their relationships. Some theorists suggest general interpersonal interactions to shape the self, and some give emphasis on healthy interactions with significant others in the formation of the self.
Along with theories of motivation and self, more recently, advances in neurosciences suggest that human beings are in fact built to have appropriate social relationships. The biological system of human beings is structured in such a way that it helps them develop proper interpersonal interactions. This is explicitly depicted in the field of social neuroscience.
Social neuroscience is the biological approach to social behavior. It was proposed by the neuroscientists John Cacioppo and Gary Berntson in 1992. Social neuroscience is an integrative field that 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. 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 term social brain was introduced into neuropsychology by the psychologist, and founder of cognitive neuroscience, Michael Gazzaniga in 1985 in his studies of disturbances in social and emotional communication after damages in the right hemisphere. The term was then more prominently used by Leslie Brothers in 1990. Brothers in her studies with monkeys proposed that there are a set of brain regions that are dedicated to social cognition. With the advent of brain imagining techniques, the social brain has also been discovered in human beings, and neuropsychologists like Ralph Adolphs have found similar results in humans as that of monkeys.
The social brain is a set of distinct but fluid and wide-ranging neural networks that synchronize around relating to others. 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 specific brain cells called the mirror neurons play a very important role in this. The mirror neurons were first discovered in the early 1990s by the neurophysiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti.
The mirror neurons, found in the social brain, connect the brain of one person with that of the other. The mirror neurons 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, if a person smiles the mirror neurons detect that and make the other individual to smile back. Or, if a person waves his/her hand, the mirror neurons detect that and make the other individual to wave back. Emotions have been found to be contagious because of the mirror neurons. In these ways, mirror neurons function during any social activity in the brain region that is responsible for that action.
The social circuits together keep things operating smoothly during interactions. Damage to any of these social centers impairs the ability to attune. It leads to making poor interpersonal decisions, misjudge the feelings of other people, and are incapable in coping with the social demands of life.
Interpersonal intelligence, one of the multiple intelligences proposed by the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, the the mid-1980s, is an important factor in social interactions. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. It includes sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures; the capacity for discriminating among many different kinds of interpersonal cues; and the ability to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way. These aspects have been to be associated with the frontal lobe, right temporal lobe, and the limbic system.
Emotional intelligence - a set of abilities related to self and social awareness – is another important aspect that helps in having appropriate social interactions. Reuvan Bar-On, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, on the basis of lesion studies (studies on patients who have brain injuries in clearly defined areas) identified several brain areas crucial for the abilities of emotional intelligence. Other findings using different methods support the same conclusion. These brain researches suggest that there are unique brain centers associated with specific aspects of emotional intelligence, including aspects that help in social interactions.
For instance, abilities to solve interpersonal problems, managing impulses, expression of feelings effectively, and relating with others, have been found to be associated with the prefrontal cortex. Empathy, the ability to understand the emotions of others, has been found to be associated with the right somatosensory cortex and the insula. A large number of studies have also found the amygdala (center of emotions in the brain) to be associated with empathy.
Research has identified many specific chemicals that are synthesized in the brain to be associated with social behaviors that play a role in social interactions. Cameron Carter and Eric Keverne, in early 2000s, found that 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 also responsible for social bonding.
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 form proper social relationships.
In the field of psychology, the notion of humans being social in nature, like to be in groups, and have social interactions, can be said to have begun with the early theories of motivation. This notion was strengthened by the perspectives of the social self, and the beginning of the interpersonal approach to psychology. Finally, the advances in neuroscientific techniques gave proper evidences that the brain plays a very important role in fine tuning social interactions to help in having appropriate social relationships.