The Need to Belong: Individual and Cultural Perspectives

The “need to belong” is, at its core, a desire to feel loved and accepted. And all men and women have such needs and strive to fulfill them in their relationships with caregivers. Infants, from the early days of their lives, experience this kind of need as attachment.

Everyone has “the love need,” which is the need to belong to a group of significant others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Maslow, 1943). In the same way, we can define love as the physical and emotional connection that a person feels for other people (Pinkus, 2020). Affiliative love and the need to belong can be fulfilled in various kinds of in-group relationships.

When the Basic Need to Belong Meets the Feelings of Attachment

Humans as a species are “social animals.” They are dependent on each other. Their need for interpersonal bonding implies the basic need to belong and be attached to others, which is significant for their physical, social, and psychological survival.

Infants and small children are dependent on adults as caregivers for care, support, and protection. In the early years, a child feels the need to belong to and be cared for by caregivers. This can be a group of caregivers, as in the case of tribal or kin community bonding. This can be one or two caregivers, as in a case of pair-bonding.

In various aspects of their lives, children experience attachments to their caregivers. They need to be close to significant others to feel physically and emotionally secure. These feelings fulfill their need to belong to the caregiver or a group of caregivers who protect them and deliver them an experience of psychological safety and comfort, like being in a “safe haven.” (Ainsworth, 1989; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1988/2008; Harlow & Zimmerman, 1959; see for review Karandashev, 2022).

Culturally different ways of socialization and childrearing practices in different societies can use ethnically specific strategies and methods to fulfill children’s needs to belong. These approaches vary in tribal communities, extended families, and nuclear families and may include multiple caregiving practices. These varieties of relationship systems incorporate culturally different models of attachment (Karandashev, 2022; Keller, 2013; Keller, 2018).

In any case, children feel secure when their need to belong is met and insecure when it is not. In later years, the need to belong to the “safe haven” of one or several caregivers transforms into the need to belong to a peer or a group of peers.

How Individuals Feel the Need to Belong

The need for bonding and the need to belong are among the most basic human motivations. However, individuals vary in the degree of these needs. Some individuals have a stronger desire to belong to a group, while others have a weaker desire to belong.

On the one hand, would you agree that…?

  • You need to feel that there are people you can turn to in times of need.
  • You want other people to accept you.
  • You do not like being alone.
  • You have a strong “need to belong.”
  • Your feelings are easily hurt when you feel that others do not accept you. 
  • You try hard not to do things that will make other people avoid or reject you.
  • It bothers you a great deal when you are not included in other people’s plans.

If you agree with most of these statements, you probably have a strong “need to belong” to the circle of another person or others.

If you strongly disagree with these statements, you probably have a low “need to belong” to the circle of another person or others.

On the other hand, would you agree that…?

  • You seldom worry about whether other people care about you.
  • Being apart from your friends for long periods of time does not bother you.
  • If other people don’t seem to accept you‚ you don’t let it bother you.

If you mostly disagree with these statements, you most likely have a strong “need to belong” to the circle of another person or others.

If you agree with the majority of these statements, you probably have a low “need to belong” to the circle of another or others.

Answering these questions gives an idea of how strong or weak your need is to belong to a group of others, even one.

You can find the full scale to assess the need to belong at

See also the references in Baumeister and Leary (1995).

A Cultural Need to Belong

Regardless of our individual differences and interests, the cultural norms of our society encourage us to feel that the need to belong is important or less important in our daily lives. The cultural value of the need to belong is high in interdependent collectivistic cultures, like in Eastern societies, while it is lower in independent individualistic cultures, like in Western societies (Karandashev, 2021; 2022).

In other words, when compared to people living in modern Western individualistic societies (like north-western European countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), people living in traditional collectivistic societies (like Japan, China, and other eastern-Asian countries) have a tendency to feel a greater need to belong in their communities. The values held by Eastern-Asian collectivistic societies encourage a sense of belonging, connections, and kinship among members of the community (Karandashev, 2021, 2022).

Therefore, societies teach individuals to belong or not belong according to their cultural values, despite people’s individual differences. Societies don’t like diversity, while individuals do.