Belongingness, Approval Motive, and Practical Implications For You

Belongingness Hypothesis

Image credit to “The Red Boa” blog.  

The belongingness hypothesis was proposed by Psychologists Baumeister and Leary in 1995, who suggested that human beings have an almost universal need to form and maintain at least some degree of interpersonal relationships with other humans. According to these theorists, belongingness is an innate quality with an evolutionary basis, and would have clear survival and reproductive benefits.  They suggest that this drive motivates humans “to maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive and significant relationships.”  The popular term “significant other” comes to mind.

Wikipedia describes “Belongingness” as:

“the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, or a sports team, humans have an inherent desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. The motive to belong is the need for ‘strong, stable relationships with other people.‘ This implies a relationship that is greater than simple acquaintance or familiarity. The need to belong is the need to give and receive affection from others.”

The Approval Motive

In 1960 Psychologists Crowne and Marlowe developed a measure of their theoretical “Need for Approval” or “Social Desirability.”  Today we often refer to being “politically correct.”  “Peer pressure” is a consequence of this motive.

How to Motivate People to Do What You Want

Ben Franklin is quoted as saying that the only way to get people to do what you want them to do is to find out what they want and show them how to get it by doing what you want.  I believe it is a pretty good bet that anyone you meet wants to belong and to be approved of.  By giving them what they want, you can motivate them to do what you want.

Of course, it always works best if your friendship and approval are sincere.  I am not suggesting that you fake approval to manipulate someone.  The point is that we very often have the opportunity to give recognition and approval sincerely.  However, we often waste the opportunity to win friends and influence people by not expressing the sincere praise we are silently thinking about.

Catch Them Doing Something Right and Reinforce It

Positive reinforcement creates a win-win situation.  What gets rewarded gets repeated.  Furthermore, the recipient of the reward likes you better for it as well.  They will want to please you again.  On the contrary, if you focus on what they do wrong and punish them, they will avoid you like the plague.

If you want to win friends and influence people, it is wise to find a way to “make them right.”  If you try to argue with someone, you will no doubt find that a person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.   It is human nature to defend one’s ego.  We are all highly motivated to “look good” and to be perceived as “right.”  Going against this drive is like swimming upstream against the current.  If you disagree with someone, it is most effective to find a way to allow them to “save face” by agreeing with you.  


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