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The psychological origins of a “belongingness” drive are deep. From Freud to Jung to Maslow, a pervasive and robust human desire to belong--to establish positive, durable personal relationships with others--demonstrates strong and varied effects on emotional patterns, cognitive processes and behavioral responses. There are also substantial links to, and impacts upon, health and well-being.

Feeling connected is a fundamental human desire. Our brains are wired to connect with other people. Some of this social instinct can be traced back hundreds of millions of years, to the first mammals. These primal motivations drive us to get and stay connected with friends and family.

Psychologists and researchers agree that social connection—a subjective sense of having close and positively experienced relationships with other people—is a core psychological need that is essential for human development and survival. Virtually every branch of psychological research has produced evidence confirming its link to an array of psychological and physical health benefits.

Social connection has a strong association with subjective well-being. Individuals who are socially active with satisfying social relationships, for example, report above-average levels of happiness, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher resiliency across a broad spectrum of stressful life events.

Research has shown that higher levels of perceived social connectedness are associated with lower blood pressure, better immune response, and lower levels of stress hormones, all of which contribute to the prevention of chronic disease. Studies have also shown that higher levels of trust between people is associated with lower mortality rates.

The evidence is strong that poor social support has harmful consequences and having access to rich and functional social networks has a protective effect on maintaining physical and psychological health. Received or perceived social support may decrease the perception of experienced stress and increase a person’s ability to cope with a stressful event or situation.[1] Close and supportive interpersonal relationships also appear to confer general psychological benefits independent of stress that increase physiologic functioning, such as cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems.[2] This results in improved overall health and resistance to stress and disease. Well-being, in turn, has been linked to a host of psychological benefits, including enhanced creativity and flexible thinking, improved capacity to connect with others, enhanced physical health and coordination, greater optimism and strengthened resiliency.[3]

Social connectedness is increasingly being used to refer to protective relationships that exist between people and their environment. The number and quality of close friends, frequency of interactions with family and friends, trust in neighbors, and level of participation in volunteer activities or community events all play a role in supporting well-being and can also influence health, both directly and indirectly.

Despite its importance, research suggests social connection in American society is decreasing at an alarming rate. Average household size is decreasing, and people are becoming more geographically and emotionally disconnected from family and close friends. Consequently, loneliness, isolation, and alienation are rising and represent one of the leading reasons people seek psychological counseling. A revealing 2004 study found the average American has only two close others with whom they confide and nearly 25 percent have no one at all.[4]

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines connectedness as the degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated, or shares resources with other persons or groups. This definition encompasses the nature and quality of connections both within and between multiple levels of the social ecology, including

  • · Connectedness between individuals;

  • · Connectedness of individuals and their families to community organizations; and

  • · Connectedness among community organizations and social institutions.

Connectedness between individuals can lead to increased frequency of social contact, lowered levels of social isolation and loneliness, and a higher number of positive relationships. Positive attachments between youth, their families and organizations in their community (including schools, youth-focused social services, and faith-based organizations) are important and can increase a sense of belonging, strengthen feelings of identity and personal worth, and provide access to greater sources of support. Strong formal relationships between organizations and support services can help better ensure services are delivered and promote the community’s sense of well-being.[5]

[1] Cohen S. Social relationships and health. Am Psychol 2004;59:676–84

[2] Uchino BN, Cacioppo JT, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. The relationship between social support and physiological processes: a review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychol Bull 1996; 119:488–531.

[3] Seppala, E., Rossomando, T., & Doty, J. (2013). Social Connection and Compassion: Important Predictors of Health and Well-Being. Social Research, 80(2), 411-430. Retrieved from

[4] McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M. E. (2006). Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. American Sociological Review, 71(3), 353–375.

[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Connectedness as a strategic direction for the prevention of suicidal behavior. Retrieved September 27, 2011 from Strategic_Direction_Full_Version-a.pdf


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