Need for Affiliation Definition
Human beings differ from each other in how much they like to associate with other people. Some people avoid being alone, put a high priority on their friendships, and try hard to please other people. Others are just the opposite: They are content to be alone, they don’t put much effort into their relationships with other people, and they aren’t very concerned about making other people happy. Henry Murray coined the term need for affiliation to differentiate people who are generally friendly, outgoing, cooperative, and eager to join groups from those who are unfriendly, reserved, and aloof. Most people could probably be described as having a moderate need for affiliation, but some people have an extremely low need and others have an extremely high need.
Murray used the term need to describe a kind of force within a person that organizes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. A person with a high need for affiliation is so motivated to build and maintain relationships with other people that many of his or her thoughts, emotions, and actions are directed toward fulfilling this motivation.
Nature of the Need for Affiliation
Having a high need for affiliation probably sounds like an important part of a desirable personality. Many people, after all, would rather think of themselves as being friendly than as cold or standoffish. And there are some advantages to having a high need for affiliation. Murray noted that people with a high need for affiliation try hard to make other people happy, which probably helps them build and maintain strong relationships. But there are also some disadvantages. People with high need for affiliation tend to be conforming and may even go along with unwise choices made by people around them. Under some circumstances, people with a high need for affiliation may also have trouble getting their work done. They may put such a high priority on socializing that they neglect some of their other goals.
Murray believed that the way people express their need for affiliation depends on other aspects of their personality. A person who is high in the need for affiliation and also high in need for nurturance might be extremely kind, but a person who is high in the need for affiliation and high in the need for deference might be extremely compliant. In other words, a group of people who are all high in the need for affiliation might consist of people who are all outgoing, but they would differ in other ways according to their unique need profiles.
Social psychologists have recently shown much interest in the need to belong, and it is important to understand how this related concept is different from the need for affiliation. The need to belong is considered a universal human drive to establish and maintain lasting, positive relationships with other people. Most researchers describe the need to belong as a component of human nature, or something that all normal human beings possess. Much research suggests that if people do not maintain at least a minimum quantity of enduring, healthy relationships, their well-being will suffer. The need for affiliation, on the other hand, is used to describe people’s personalities. People vary in how motivated they are to socialize and establish new contacts, and this is what is meant by the idea that there are individual differences in the need for affiliation. People who are high in the need for affiliation are more motivated to form relationships than other people are, and as a result, they may be more successful at fulfilling their need to belong.
Need for Affiliation Research Developments
Murray conducted his research on the need for affiliation in the mid-20th century, and researchers have since advanced psychologists’ understanding of this motive considerably. Early research on the need for affiliation used the Thematic Apperception Test, which requires respondents to interpret a number of ambiguous pictures, to identify the strength of people’s need for affiliation. But since that time, other tests of the need for affiliation have emerged. For example, Douglas Jackson designed a need for affiliation scale as part of his comprehensive measure of personality known as the Personality Research Form. Years later, Craig Hill developed the Interpersonal Orientation Scale, a self-report questionnaire that measures several specific components of affiliation motivation. The development of these and other tests have made it possible for researchers to find out how the need for affiliation shapes people’s experiences.
Early research on the need for affiliation yielded results that confirmed Murray’s description of the need. Relative to people with a low need for affiliation, people with a high need for affiliation are more concerned about others’ acceptance, feel more empathy for others, are more likely to initiate contacts and friendships, and are more likely to conform to the wishes of experts who pressure them into a decision.
Other research has made discoveries that Murray might not have anticipated. For example, Hill’s research shows that in some ways women have a higher need for affiliation than men do. Compared with men, women report that they get more pleasure from interacting with other people and are more likely to seek out others’ company when they are upset. Hill’s research also shows that people with a high need for affiliation can be discriminating when they choose a conversational partner: They prefer people who are warm and friendly to more than reserved people. This result makes sense in light of much social psychological research that shows that people tend to like others who are similar to themselves.
People with a high need for affiliation may also be better leaders than people with a low need for affiliation. In a study conducted by Richard Sorrentino and Nigel Field, students with a high need for affiliation were described by their fellow students as more leader-like than students with a low need for affiliation. But the students who were considered the most leader-like of all were students who were high in both the need for achievement and the need for affiliation. This research suggests that successful leaders are both ambitious and sociable.
- Hill, C. A. (1987). Affiliation motivation: People who need people…but in different ways. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 1008-1018.
- Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in personality: A clinical and experimental study of fifty men of college age. New York: Oxford University Press.