From friendships to families to entire societies, humans naturally form social groups; in fact, this tendency is essential to what it means to be human. A social group is any grouping of two or more interacting people who recognize their relationship with each other as a distinct social unit. Social groups play an important role in daily life and help humans make meaning of the world around them.
Social groups, including families and friendships, are an essential part of the human experience. They allow individuals to meet physiological and psychological needs as well as impact society as a whole.
A Sense of Belonging
Social groups fulfill one of the basic psychological needs for survival: a sense of belonging. Feeling needed and wanted motivates humans to persist and affects mental health. For this reason, belonging is an important element of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In this model, humans must first meet their physiological needs for survival, including shelter, food and basic bodily functions. Once they meet these needs, they must meet less tangible needs like safety and a sense of belonging. Only humans who meet these needs have the ability to self-actualize, or make meaning in their lives.
Family and Friendship
One of the first social groups that an infant human connects with is a family. Families play crucial roles in meeting survival needs. These include both physiological needs like shelter and access to food but also psychological needs like security and belonging. In addition, families share a unique culture and pass this culture on by teaching new members the family's values. This includes belief systems and codes for acceptable (or unacceptable) behavior.
Friendship is another vital social group that most individuals begin to establish early in life. Further, friendships may form within any social group. Spending a lot of time with people builds relationships and alliances within the group. Since social groups form due to each member recognizing the other relationships as an important social unit, the members of a group share commonalities, which makes it more likely for deeper bonds like friendship to form.
Communication in Social Groups
An important feature of social groups is the way these groups allow friends and peers to communicate in order to meet needs. Communication itself plays an essential role in life, and individuals who are unable to communicate or lack social groups may suffer from social isolation and depression. Many social groups use common terms or in-group language, including slang or linguistic dialects. Sharing language in this way strengthens the associations within the group and fosters a sense of shared identity.
Support and Society
Social groups act as a great support system when needed. Groups can identify problems and unify to help solve them or increase the members' quality of life. The importance of this feature is why many social services organizations like addiction rehabilitations programs promote group counseling or support groups. This allows members with a common experience to help each other and may be especially important if other social groups (like family or friendships) have been compromised or are not sufficient for support.
Social groups also impact society by allowing like-minded people to accomplish a unified goal. Examples of this phenomenon include group protests or the formation of unions to improve the daily lives of individuals living in a shared society. Social groups may be especially important for disenfranchised members of society since they provide a sense of safety and belonging. The formation of social groups to support members and work toward societal change is how marginalized people can respond to that disenfranchisement.