LEARN MORE ABOUT AFFILIATION, ALLIANCES, FRIENDSHIP AND SOCIAL WELLNESS
-- Updated October 7, 2010 --
Welcome to Dr. Sterling's Affiliation Web Page!
"Affiliate" means to become closely connected or associated. The ability to allow closeness, give closeness, and construct mutually-supportive interpersonal networks in our lives is the skill of affiliation. Affiliation is different from socialization. Social skills assist in creating closeness, but the ability to feel closeness, allow closeness and benefit from closeness goes a little deeper than developing social skills.
The Ability to Form a Connection with Others.
The ability to affiliate with others and the mindsets and skills necessary to facilitate closeness and intimacy are factors in mental wellness. It is a well-known human trait to seek out the company of others. In fact, studies show that people spend 50% of their lives in the company of others. However, as with other factors which play roles in our overall mental wellness, we may each have a biologically-determined baseline for how we deal with interpersonal closeness, touching, and intimacy. It could be concluded that we all have a biologically determined "autism-factor" which, if we inherit it in a strong way, affects how much we can handle attention and intimacy.
Please keep in mind that our affiliation comfort zone and our ability to make alliances and affiliate with others has a benefit to our mental wellness, but it is only one factor in the mental wellness equation. Being too "independent" or a "loner" does not necessarily imply mental wellness difficulties. It is the sum of the five factors -- self-appreciation + resilience + affiliation + negotiation + mental and physical exercise -- that gives a bigger picture about our particular mental wellness profile.
Most of us accept and believe that infants need a lot of human attention to grow properly. But, what about when we are older? Shouldn't we be able to live just fine without much attention from others? Well, not really. The importance of human contact and connectedness even when we are older is reflected in many research studies, some better than others. For instance, the survival rate of elderly people who have had a heart attack doubles if they receive social support from two or more people (Kiecolt-Glaser et al, 1987). Persons with more social contacts have a higher life-expectancy (Berkman and Syme, 1979).
Although you may think there is an obvious answer to the question "Why do people seek out the company of others?," it may surprise you to know some of the answers that researchers have proposed:
However, whether we are "happy" with our too-independent style or our too-dependent style, when it comes to our affiliation style, it makes sense to try to understand it. Self-awareness is never out of style.
"Affiliation needs" were defined by John Bowlby in 1969 to refer to the evolved tendency to be sociable with others (Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books). They drive people to spend time in the company of others, to be involved in friendships, and to engage in a wide variety of social activities, such as play, alliance against outsiders, and squabbles (Weiss, R. S. (1998). A taxonomy of relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 671-683). Much of what follows are excerpts from Bowlby, Weiss, and Ainsworth (Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum>.
"Attachment" refers to a set of behaviors and inferred emotions that can be observed in humans older than 6 months. Humans need attachments with others for their psychological and emotional development as well as for their survival. The earliest manifestation of attachment is the unique and exclusive relationship between an infant and its caregiver after the sixth month of life. The quality of this relationship is likely to color the person's relationships for the rest of his or her life.
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