Social Belonging – Beyond a simple emotion

If we look at the majority of psychological research on social belonging we see that it often is reduced to a minor type of emotion that bring a happy feeling when it is there and a sad feeling when it is absent. But over the last few decades we have discovered that social belonging is so much more, in fact, it could be argued that social belonging is the most important part of being human. Much of our knowledge in last couple decades has come from neuroscience which has tried to unlock our knowledge of the social brain.

Studies of our most intimate belonging such as individuals who are romantically in love, have found that love and need to intimately belong are just not mere emotions that can be controlled and manipulated they are basic human drives. The areas of the brain that are active when we are with or reflecting about our intimate partner are the same areas that regulate breathing, hunger, heart rate, and thirst. Indeed the need for intimate connection is a basic biological drive. We find similar findings with other sources of social belonging as well. In fact we are such social being that when we are doing an activity with another person, and are aware of that person and they are aware of us, our brains start to synchronize and mimic each other. This can be seen observing individuals on a first date. If you are a social voyeur like me you may have already done this but if you have not I encourage you to give it a try.

At a restaurant or bar sit and watch people who are meeting each other for the first time. If they like each other their bodies will first orient to each other. If there is a potential for a relationship watch the way they eat and interact, you will see them start to “parrot” each other. Their cups, forks, plates, body positions, breathing, facial expressions all will start mirror each other. While this is not conscious to the individuals it is very apparent to the outside observer. If you are at a place where there is dancing, watch the individuals dance with each other. They will after a few missteps start to partner dance with each other as if they are seasoned experts. Their steps will be in sync their body movements will move gracefully as one moveable object. We can observe the same thing in less intense relationships such as when friends get together or when a group becomes committed to an action. This may seem very negative to bring up at this moment, but even mob behaviors follow these similar synchronize patterns.

Additional evidence of the importance of social belonging is how much of our brain we commit to our social world. Scientist have always felt that the frontal cortex – more specifically – the pre-frontal cortex is what gives rise to human’s intellectual and analytical qualities. Indeed, it is what allows us to do math or read or look at a complex problem and provide several potential solutions. However, upon closer evaluation, very little area of the pre-frontal cortex actually is dedicated to this type of problem solving. Indeed the majority of our pre-frontal cortex becomes active when we are thinking of our social world. In fact, Dr. Lieberman a renowned Social Neuroscientist has coined the social system as the default network system. Not only does this system becomes active when we thinking of social relationships, it becomes active when we are told to think of nothing at all or to stop some type of math problem. The means that even when we are not thinking about our social world, we are thinking about our social world.

Studies of psychopaths, which are individuals who use others as if they were non-human and often take horrible advantage of others has shown damage to the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex acts as a regulator for our social behavior. Many of us have had that moment where we want to slap or hit a person in the face. I would almost guess that every human being will have this experience at least once in their life time. The difference between most people and psychopaths is that it is our prefrontal cortex that provide us with the ability to decide “no I am not going to do that because of XYZ”. This pathway that inhibits this impulse tends to be absent in psychopaths. Again providing evidence of our social brain.

So here is our evidence from our brain, what about our behaviors. Well we can see that our need to belong is a drive from human isolation experiments. We find that when a person is given everything they need to biologically survive: food, water, and shelter. When they are denied human contact their body starts to die as if it was starving or dying from thirst. This unfortunately has lead us to one of our most effective types of punishment which is social isolation. In our not so distant past, being with others was a means of survival and being kicked out of a community was almost a guaranteed death sentence. Hence, when people “acted out” they were simply kicked out of the village. Because during this time it was believed that people acted evil, because they were possessed by demons, when kicked out of the village into the woods, this is where the myth of the haunted forest outside the village has its origins. These myths were also used to make sure no one left the village as well, a form of double edged social control sword.

Into modern times, our prison systems use isolation for behavior management. Unfortunately the missing part of this is whenever you “cage” a human being and isolate them from others, humans become aggressive and violent – does not matter if you are a criminal or a clergy – put someone in captivity and they will become the worse version of them. Hence in these conditions the only means of social control become the threat or use of more aggressive means such as weapons. Indeed it is interesting when we look at our prison system. We have spent centuries using the punishment method – understand this logic – punish someone, all sudden they will realize what they did wrong and never do it again. That like taking a fish out of water and expecting it to learn how to breath like humans do. Instead, we find that in some countries and a few in the United States that use social connection as a basis of their correction efforts they do not have the recidivism or over crowding that United States system have. Indeed countries with the lowest criminal recidivism rates are ones where the inmates are treated like humans and not caged animals.

If you think about the happiest moments in our lives they rarely happen when we are alone. They always involve someone else. Indeed if we think about the most happy events they tend to represent the height of human connection. Weddings, graduations, birthdays, a work promotion, buying a house, etc etc all are intensely social events. Some the saddest moments in our lives tend to be when we have the threat of losing someone or the actual loss of someone. Even couples who have amicable divorces experience loneliness and sadness. The loss of a job is a loss of identity and social connection. The loss of a loved one. In our modern time forgetting one’s smartphone at home when going to work can bring some people so much pain they rather risk being fired at work, and go back home to get their phone. The smartphone is a social device, indeed it is our social outsourcing partner. It allows us to connect at a distance, it makes sure we don’t forget our social obligations. These outsourcing devises have become so integral in our need for social connection and belonging, we have had to ban them when our cognitive and thinking resources should be else where such as when we are driving. Bottom line everything that brings us pleasure and pain our social in nature. When that pain becomes too much we will try to seek out non-social means to alleviates them such as using drugs, hoarding behaviors, become obsessed with non-human objects, become materialistic, and in some cases act out towards the social order.

Beyond biology and behavior there are also psychological and emotional aspects of belonging. Susan Fiske identified four psychological motives for belonging: understanding, control, self-enhancement, and trusting. Understanding and control are relatively cognitive and rational processes and within our self-concept model would be evaluated through self-awareness. Self-enhancement and trusting are relatively emotionally/affective based and are more susceptible to irrational thinking and are evaluated more by the self-esteem processes in the self-concept model.

Understanding is our need to have a shared experience and make a situation predictable. Controlling is our need to feel we understand why something happened and what the outcome would should be. When I explained this to my students, I often use the example of asking the students what they would do if I jumped on a table and started to crazy dance. Then I ask the students what would they do? The usual answer is “think you are crazy and just lost it”. Then I explained, what you most likely to do is within the first six seconds you would look to the right then look to the left, and pay attention to other’s reaction. Why? because what they are looking for is (1) am I experiencing the same thing everyone else is (understanding), and (2) what should our reaction be (controlling).

The two more emotional/affective based needs for belonging are self-enhancement and trusting. I am going to start with trusting, because this is not the “normal” type of trust we usually associate with this word. The “normal” trust is when we have a reciprocal relationship with someone and we have this feeling that if we get stuck they be there to help. This type of trust is usually developed in infancy. When baby cries, mom comes and feeds baby, baby is satisfied smiles, mom smiles back, and they have that reciprocal positive emotion assuring next time the baby cries mom will return. While this is a important type of trust and necessary for the development of healthy relationships, the type of trust we are talking about here is the need to see other a benign and non-threatening. In any social situation either consciously or unconsciously the first thing we do is scan the room for threats. Once we determine where is safe and where is threatening, this is when we determine where we will sit and who we will sit with. This is this type of trust. As I said though this is not always rationally based. For example I am not a biker and my only exposure to bikers is what I have seen on T.V. and so walking into a biker bar would be very threatening to me and I probably leave promptly.

In that same vein there are people who find individuals who commit crimes as more safe than individuals who do not commit crimes. This is not rationally based either, and can be seen by looking at research on adopting children out of the foster care system when the child is older than ten years old. If you talk to these children who want to be adopted many report wanting the safe and loving environment normally associated with happy and healthy children and families. Yet when put in that environment greater than 90% will return to their family of origins when they turn 18. Most reporting they did so because they felt more comfortable and safe, even though it is actually can be more dangerous and risky.

Self-enhancement is the need to see one’s self worthy and improvable. But the only reliable source on this is our social world and the feedback it provides. While this may seem simple it is not, as I stated this can be lead a stray as well and trusting. For example a child who is labeled as bad and is constantly told they are a bad child on a rational level you would think that under self-enhancement their motivation would be to become a “good child”, so bringing their behaviors to light should motivate the child not to engage in those behaviors. If you thought that I would encourage you to read the sections on identity again. Who we are like and who best fits our behaviors is the identity we take on in our personal and social world. Therefore the positive motivation for a “bad child” is not to become a “good child” no rather it is to become the baddest and worst child they can be. This allows them to have congruency between their behavior and what people tell them they are in this world. And I hope from our discussion on incarceration you cannot punish someone into being good. Again what makes these difference in evaluation: the social situation a person is raised in and is currently experiencing. What happens when we do not meet our belonging needs? This is where we are heading – into the world of loneliness.


Responding to Criticism on my notion of loneliness

By: Curtis Peterson ©


Recently I have been criticized for my views on loneliness, even though these views are deeply seated in current research on the topic of loneliness. I would like to respond to some of the criticisms I have received. For this blog, I want to take on one of the most salient criticisms I have received

Criticism 1: Loneliness is not a product of an individual’s social world, but rather a disposition of a person and psychological disorders.

This criticism mostly comes from individuals who work in the mental health field, and work with individuals who report being extremely lonely. In this view, many of the individuals who are upset with my notion that loneliness is deeply seated within one’s social experiences, claim that loneliness is part of one’s psychological disorder and therefore should be treated on the individual level.

However, there are fundemental problems with this argument. The first comes from science dating back to the 1940s and is supported by current research, and that is loneliness is not a symptom of psychological disorders, but are a consequence of the social allienation most individuals with psychological disorders experience.

There is only one exception to this rule, and that is for individuals who experience depression. But, loneliness, when someone is in a bout of depression, is qualitatively different than the normative loneliness that everyone experiences. Loneliness during depression drives us away from seeking social and emotional connections, while normative loneliness drives us to seek out a social and emotional connection to alleviate the negative emotional state associated with the experience of loneliness. For me, there is another very important reason to separate loneliness from depression, and that comes from recent research conducted with individuals who have made serious suicide attempts and individuals who display suicidal thoughts. According to this research, individuals who are diagnosed with depression seem to only have suicidal ideation and attempts when they also score high on scales of normative loneliness – such as the UCLA Loneliness Scale. This is important because it provides a window into what drives individuals who are experiencing depression and when they are at risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts.

The second fundamental problem with loneliness only being a feature of psychological disorders that are self-driven is that everyone can experience loneliness regardless of their mental state. In fact, loneliness is a fact of being human. One reason that some individuals may argue that it is not is we all have varying degrees of the need to have social and emotional connections with other individuals. Indeed, most of the individuals that disagree with me have very low needs for social and emotional relationships. Loneliness and social connection as a drive system are very much like our system for hunger and thirst. Some individuals need for more food intake – and make sure they get three meals a day -and some individuals only have the desire to eat maybe once during the day. Loneliness is the same way, some individuals need a constant stream of socialization and emotional connection, whereas others need very little. Unfortunately the high-level person – especially in American culture – are considered needy, dependent, and weak – whereas individuals who have very little need are seen as strong and independent. While I would argue that being at either extreme can lead to dysfunction – just like too much food can lead to obesity, and too little food can lead to anorexia – the assumption that low social need people are stronger than high need individuals is just empirically false. There is no evidence in the empirical literature to suggest that individuals differ on how “strong” and “independent” they are based on their need for social and emotional connections.

My main goal for refuting the claim that loneliness is a feature of one’s disposition is in our modern world individuals are becoming more and more disconnected from each other. Evidence indicates that loneliness and the negative physical and psychological consequences of continued chronic loneliness are on the increase especially among at risk populations such as teens, elderly, and individuals who are members of stigmatized groups. Therefore, loneliness as an increasing epidemic in our society needs to be addressed on the social and cultural level, and we should let go of old unsupported notions that loneliness is a feature of one’s disposition. I make this plea that we should look at loneliness as a disease of society because the only long-term solution and “cure” for loneliness are for one to meet their social and emotional connections with others, through engaging in their social life.



Theoretical Framework of Loneliness

By: Curtis Peterson ©


Suicide and the sacred

I have been asked a lot lately why I think a person’s social identity would reduce a person’s experience of loneliness. So I have decided instead of retyping the same thing over and over I would just provide a link to the theoretical framework of identity and loneliness that I have developed over the past few years.

Theoretical Foundation

In this section the theoretical basis for the hypothesis that saliency of social identity may reduce an individual’s current subjective experience of loneliness will be explored. Figure 1 represented the combination of four formalized theories that together explain the theoretical relationship between social identification and loneliness (figure 1. Proposed model of loneliness reduction through social identification).

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Based on the theories that will be presented after Figure 1, the theoretical model is based on the assumption that emotions occur through the cognitive appraisal of a person’s current situation, this is represented in the first three boxes of figure 1, starting from left to right. Under situation, one will note that saliency of one’s social identity is important in this model, as it will be argued that saliency of one’s identity is important in the evaluation of one’s situation and determines one’s evaluation of loneliness. Additionally, two other factors have a role in the appraisal process, (1) past emotional memories, and (2) social categorization and social identification. Both of these factors are used by the individual to determine whether the current situation is one that is potentially harmful to the individual (part emotional memories) and the importance of the saliency of the person’s social identity (social categorization and social identification). Based on these initial appraisal of the situation, emotional memories, and identity, the person will evaluate the situation as either they belong or they are lonely in the given situation.

An example of how this process may work in the real world is a student who identifies with be a college student at a given college – let us call this ABC University. In a given evaluative situation, for example, being home during the summer away from school mates and the ABC University environment. The individual may evaluate this situation as lacking in strong social connection and identity, and therefore, may evaluate their situation as lonely and experience the desire to return from summer break early, the alleviate the state of loneliness. Once the student returns to ABC University and the situation makes their identity as ABC University student salient again, and the shared bond (categorization) and similar connection (emotional belonging), the individual experiences an increase in belonging and a reduced feeling of loneliness.

The need to belong.

To understand the interplay between loneliness and social settings it important to start with a meta-theory of the need to belong (Fiske, 2013; Lieberman, 2013; Cacioppo, & Patrick, 2008). Lieberman (2013) who studies the neurological basis of social behavior and Cacioppo and Patrick (2008) who studies the neurological basis of loneliness both agree that the human brain has largely evolved to meet the social demands of humans. Lieberman (2013) extends this to the notion of evolution, stating that if evolution had a purpose and a consciousness it made a bet on the social aspects of the human brain rather than the individual survival skills of the human brain to assure it continued survival. Indeed, both Lieberman (2013); and Cacioppo and Patrick (2008), provide significant evidence that the higher evolved areas of the brain are used in the processing of social information rather than non-social information. Lieberman (2013) even provides compelling evidence that when individuals stop engaging in non-social actions the brain immediately reverts to the activation of the social areas of the brain without conscious knowledge or effort. Based on this neurological evidence, it has lead these researchers to theorize that one of the most basic needs of human beings is to create and maintain social connections.

While Lieberman (2013) and Cacioppo and Patrick (2008) developed a neurological basis for social belonging, Fiske (2013) develop a social cognitive needs model which places the need for belonging as an overarching motivation to four other cognitive and affective cognitive reasons for creating and maintaining social connections. In one’s motivation to belong Fiske (2013) theorizes that there are two relatively cognitive needs and motives, and two relatively affective needs and motives. The cognitive needs include the need for understanding and the need for control. The need to understanding is the need to have shared experiences that makes both the social and non-social world predictable. The second cognitive need is the need and motivation for control as defined as being able to have some control between behavior and the outcome of behavior. Again this can arise through shared meaning, storytelling, and knowing the experiences of others. Indeed, one can argue that while there are self-enhancements that drive this proposal and dissertation, the other social meaning is to provide a shared meaning of social identification and loneliness, and to provide a potential control between one’s behavior resulting from experience of loneliness and the potential positive outcomes through engaging in the social identification process. However, if the results of this proposal are not supported it also has shared understanding and control as well. Fiske (2013) also argued that there are two relatively affective needs and motives that are driven by the belonging process. The first is the need for self-enhancement, this is the basic need to be able to see one’s self as basically worthy and improvable. It can be argued that this can only occur within a social context either through direct social feedbacks or by comparing one’s self to some social norm. The second affective need is the need for trust which is defined by Fiske (2013) as seeing others as basically benign. Lieberman (2013) argued that the reason the human brain evolved in a large part to meet their social world is because it was an evolutionary advantage for human being to live in groups and work as a coherent unit. This social system also requires seeing individuals within that social system as relatively benign and safe. Therefore, Fiske (2013) felt this was an important aspect of one of the sub-categories of the need to belong, as she argues the more benign others are within a group, the more open and creative; and less closed and apprehensive.

Cacioppo and Patrick (2008) theorize that loneliness is a mechanism by which a person comes to understand that their need to belong or social connection is not being fulfilled. This will be discussed in the next section titled “Thwarted belonging leading to loneliness”. However, to summarize this section, the need to belong is considered a basic human need and can be explained by neurological evidence (Lieberman, 2013), and social cognitive evidence (Fiske, 2013). In the overall model presented in figure one the need for belonging would be evaluated in the appraisal of the situation for which the individual is attending. This appraisal can result in a thwarting of any five of Fiske’s cognitive needs leading to the negative emotional state of loneliness.

Thwarted belonging leading to loneliness.

As will be presented on the literature review on loneliness, the study of the topic has a long and rich history. What seems to be clear from this collection of data is that loneliness is a negative emotional state that motivates an individual to fulfill their needing for social connection and belonging (Ayalon, Shiovitz-Ezra, & Roziner, 2016). There are two types of loneliness that individuals experience best explained by Weiss (1973/1985) who theorized that individuals can experience two types of loneliness one emotional and the other social. Emotional loneliness is defined as a person’s subjective evaluation that they do not have sufficient emotionally close relationships. It can be argued under Fiske (2013) model that individuals need close emotional relationships to enhance their self-enhancement through honest feedback and encouragement. One could also argue emotional relationships are necessary to have a sufficient amount of trust, in a complex social world in which not everyone can be trusted.

The second form of loneliness described by Weiss (1973/1985) is social loneliness, also known in the literature as social isolation. Social loneliness is the appraisal that one does not have sufficient social connections. Not having sufficient social connections can thwart Fiske’s (2013) need for understanding and control, by not having sufficient information through social connection to make one’s world predictable and to have some sense of control. While the majority of Cacioppo’s work on loneliness has specifically dealt with social loneliness in relation to neurological process and health and mental health outcomes, he concedes that when social-emotional needs are not met this thwarts an individual’s confidence and abilities to create and develop meaningful social connections leading to the experience of chronic loneliness (Cacioppo, Christakis, & Fowler, 2009). The clear separation for emotional loneliness and social loneliness comes from evidence that individuals may still experience loneliness despite having several social connections, and when this has been investigated the main conclusion is that for these individuals while they may have a large social network, they lack any real meaningful emotionally close relationships (Grageset, Eide, Kirkevold, & Ramhoff, 2012). While as will be indicated later in this proposal loneliness can lead to some rather anti-social and self-defeating behaviors such as isolation (Cacioppo, Hawkley, & Thisted, 2010), drinking (Chen, & Feeley, 2015), hypervigilance and inability to trust (Lodder, Scholte, Clemens, Engels, Goosens, & Verhagen, 2015), focusing on non-social objects (Epley, Akalis, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2008), and becoming more non-conforming, loneliness is largely seen as a negative emotional motivational model rather than a self-defeating model. Indeed, for the majority of individuals the experience of loneliness leads to increase social and emotional connections with others, satisfying and individuals need for belonging. As can be indicated in Figure 1, emotional and social loneliness are seen as outcomes of the evaluative process after a person has determined that they are not meeting their belonging needs. Loneliness is represented in the manner to emphasize that this emotional experience then leads to proceeding behaviors such as socialization or regaining emotional connections. Before moving on to the proposed mechanisms that may reduce loneliness (social identity) it is worth pausing for a moment and taking a look at the theoretical models of emotions, as loneliness is considered as an emotional state.

Emotional basis of loneliness.

Loneliness can be considered as fitting within two groups of emotions, the first is personal emotions where one has an individual experience of loneliness which aspects of this experience of loneliness are best explained by theories of emotions presented by Cacioppo and Gardner (1999). The second is loneliness can be experienced as a social and group emotion and be driven through social and group processes which is best explained by the group based emotion theory of Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016). A full evaluation of Cacioppo and Gardner’s (1999) theory is provided in the section on loneliness while a full evaluation of Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016) is provided in the section on social identity. The purpose here is to provide the theoretical underpinnings of each of these theories as they relate to the experience of emotions.

To begin the exploration of emotions it should begin with some basic ideas of emotions presented by Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016) who provide evidence that the majority of research on emotions indicates that it is a situationally bound experienced based on an appraisal process of what elements of a situation are being attended to and how they are appraised based on the individual’s identity and experience with the situation. The idea and notion of emotions being situationally bound and go through an appraisal processes emphasizes a short fall in both the research on emotions and the personal experiences of emotions, in that, according to Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016), emotions are well understood as they are experienced. This may explain why at times individuals may try to alleviate emotions through more destructive means rather than in a manner consistent with what the emotion means to the individual. Lastly, Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016), point out that in research, that compares group emotions versus personal emotions, has largely concluded that they are not experienced qualitatively different. Meaning that emotional states as experienced by the individual versus group emotions experienced by a group, do not differ in any significant way. This according to Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren, and Gross (2016) indicates that social identity and social evaluation should be taken into consideration in the evaluation of emotional states. Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016) theory and ideas of emotions are explored more deeply starting on page 106 and represented on Figure 2 on page 109. For this section on building a theoretical framework Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016) ideas can be represented in the situation, attention, and appraisal aspects of Figure 1, in that their theory supports the appraisal process of emotions based on the current situation.

The second theory of emotions used for the development of this theoretical framework come from Cacioppo and Gardner (1999). Like Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross (2016), Cacioppo and Gardner (1999) theorized that emotions, while not always rationally based have cognitive evaluative processes by which a person may determine the meaning and purpose of a given emotional state. Cacioppo and Gardner (1999) theorized that emotions have both a safety and appetitive pathway or what they called channels. The safety channel are emotions that signal either the need to gain safety or that the organism is in a safe situation. In figure 1, this is represented through the appraisal of past emotional memories, which provides information on whether the situation is safe. The appetitive channel (also called hedonic needs by Goldenberg, Halperin, Zomeren and Gross, 2016) are needs that satisfy the basic needs of the organism but also the pleasure needs of the organism. In the context of loneliness and the belonging model of Fiske (2013), safety needs (fulfilled through trust, understanding, and control) when thwarted can lead to the negative emotional state of loneliness signaling to the organism that these basic needs are not being fulfilled. Appetitive needs under Fiske (2013) may include self-enhancement needs when not being satisfied may lead to the experience of loneliness. In addition to this emphasis on cognitive process, Cacioppo and Gardner (1999), also placed emphasis on socio-emotional development as an important understanding of not only how one will experience an emotion but understand and cope with it as well. The emphasis of socio-emotional development is represented as past emotional memories in Figure 1 to emphasize that individual’s experience with emotions and their already developed personal theories about emotions has significant implications of how one will evaluate the current situation and therefore the proceeding emotional state. One question that this proposal is trying to determine, is if emotional states – such as loneliness – are situationally bound, then there must at least theoretically, be a way to change situational variables that can lead to a changing evaluation of the situation and therefore the experience of the given emotion. This proposal theorizes that a potential situational variable is the saliency of one’s social identity. The next section will provide a theoretical overview of social identity theory.

Social identity theory and social categorization theory.

This research builds on the research conducted on Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Social Categorization Theory (SCT) research findings, which was originally formulated by Tajfel and Turner in 1982. According to SIT individuals seek groups which have similar attributes that they have. This leads to group affiliation and the development of a social identity based on the qualities of that group (Turner, 1982). Once individuals start to develop a social identity in order to protect that identity he or she will categorize individuals into either in-groups or out-groups as described by SCT (Abrams, 2014). Like one’s personal identity, individuals like to think of themselves as good people, in general, therefore they will implement protective mechanisms to enhance their social identity and have their social identity protected (Carter, 2013). Accordingly, most research on SIT has focused on how individuals protect their social identity through engaging in prejudice and discrimination towards out-groups (Kumar, Seay, & Karabenick, 2011). However, recent research has focused on the positive aspects of social identity, for example Haslam (2014) provided evidence that a sense of social identity among medical doctor residency students can enhance their educational experience through developing a sense of identity as a doctor. Haslam (2014) also argues that social identity is becoming such a key variable in individual’s social and personal experiences that both mental health and physical health practitioners should not deny the importance one’s social identity has and should work to enhance their social identity for the welfare of their clients and patients.

Specific to this research, the original assumption of SIT is that individuals seek out a social identity in order to enhance their self-esteem (Turner, 1982). However, research on this self-esteem hypothesis has been inconsistent and generally does not support this view (Abrams, 2014). This has lead Abrams (2014) to believe that there are probably multiple mechanisms which motivates an individual to engage in social identification. The argument of this proposal is the experience of loneliness maybe on motivating factor for one to engage in social identification. More importantly, is that social identity maybe a protective factor in reducing not only the evaluative phase of loneliness but also the experience of loneliness. This is represented in Figure 1, part of the evaluation process, and allows the individual to interpret the situation as one in which they belong both emotionally and socially. If this assumption is correct, it will indicate that social identity does indeed have a key role in an individual’s experience of loneliness. As will be shown in later sections in this chapter social identities provide the opportunity for social belonging and the development of emotional bonds based on similar attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs. This emotional bond and the feeling of social belonging may provide relief of the emotional pains of loneliness. Additionally, the saliency of which can be placed in any situation in which maybe lonely evoking for individuals, subsequently reducing the chance that individual will experience loneliness. Emphasis on the saliency of one’s social identity is important, because research on social identity finds that unless one’s identity is made salient within the situation, it has little influence affective and behavioral outcomes (Carter, 2013). With this theoretical model in mind, focus will now turn to research that is relevant to understanding loneliness and social identity both from a historical standpoint and a contemporary view.

Full Reference List

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