Human beings are said to be ‘by nature’ a gregarious species, which would mean that humans are built so that social interaction is an intrinsic part of their make up. However what actually motivates one person to look for the company of another is what is variable and may differ from person to person or on the other hand show a trend for people in general. For example it would be inappropriate to assume that all people seek the company of others for romantic reasons. Similarly all humans cannot be viewed negatively as only turning to others for selfish purposes.
In trying to understand why people seek the company of others it is necessary to look at the advantages of such social interaction. In other words what is it about a companion or a group of people in an environment that is beneficial to a person and thus makes a person want to be a part of this?
People are established as needing and also liking the company of others. It is thus not just simply something innate but also something pleasurable and wanted by choice.
This could be due to the fact that the result of social interaction and a network of companions creates a certain environment in particular. This environment offers safety and protection both physically and emotionally. Physically this could mean the benefits of safety in numbers and protection provided by stronger protective members within a group. Emotionally the social interaction provides comfort, support and shared meanings.
The practical reasons for seeking the company of others can be put down to economical reasons, as shared food and living arrangements may be more convenient.
Schein (1980) looking at social interaction argues that groups do not simply exist to fulfil organisational goals, not are their actions all, always task related but rather the group also fulfil the needs of individual members. Hence it can be argued that people do not only seek the company of others solely for their own benefit but also to fulfil individual affiliation needs for friendship, love and support. In addition to this Schein concurs that groups of people or proximity reduces insecurity, anxiety and a sense of powerlessness. Thus this would mean that people feel more enthusiastic about completing a task if they have other people in similar situations to relate to.
Schachter (1959) argues that affiliation has evolutionary roots that emphasise the safety and comfort of groups as well as a stronger defence. This is also well defined in animals, in terms of group hunts or flocks of birds flying together.
In comparison to all these positive reasons for being attracted to be around other people, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) argued against all this. He described humans as being self-centred and as being a species that only concentrates on their own gain, regardless of the ruthless cost to others. Hobbes stated that the ‘civilizing constraints’ of society are all, that keep people from actively destroying one another in a quest for self-fulfilment only. His psychological ideas would as a result argue against the idea that people are naturally social but instead are by nature asocial and destructive to one another and personal gain is the only motivation for seeking the company of others. An example of humans behaving in such a way is mostly inherent in studies looking at war situations or anarchy.
Alternative ways of looking at what motivates people to form alliances and be around others, are by studying what it is about people in terms of physical features that are most attractive. Physically attractive people are more pleasing to the eye and thus physical features are immediately noticeable. People associate physical beauty with purity, healthiness, and positive attributes. People are more enthusiastic and motivated to be in the company and around people who appear to be physically pleasing.
For example a smartly dressed candidate at an interview may stand out as more sharp to the interviewer. Walster et al. (1966) from their study of freshman randomly paired students at a dance and later asked how much they liked their partners’ in terms of being potential dates. The study found that the main criteria that determined each person’s desirability as a date was his or her physical attractiveness. Consequently physical attraction is a strong factor in motivating people to interact with others.
From an evolutionary perspective this could be linked to the instinctual need to find a mate. However just as physical perfections can attract some people it can also repel others who may penalise people whose good looks may be intimidating as they may encourage feelings of inferiority or shyness. Sigall and Ostove (1975) put forward this idea of penalisation for good looks.
Other reasons why people may be motivated to be in the company of others is that the resulting intimacy helps to maintain self esteem as suggested by Jourard (1971) and Baumeister (1982).
The possibilities of relationships forming with ‘liking’ or ‘loving’ as a basis, is an appealing reason for social interaction.
Being in the close proximity of a person or a group of people may also motivate people to interact and want to join a group of people rather than stand alone and be isolated. Mere exposure to people when we ourselves are alone means we may find the idea of being around people more tempting and confidence enhancing than feeling awkward or alone.
Therefore people are motivated to be in the company of others for a number of the above reasons. Evolutionary factors encompass the appeal of physical beauty as an attraction. Also communal benefits such as the company of people providing certain advantages such as shared food, shelter, resources and also emotional support, are overall a strong appeal for interacting with people. However just as there are positive motives for wanting to be around people, there are also negative reasons too. Selfish gains are also a reason for making certain alliances. For example befriending someone with a better knowledge of a subject you are struggling in.
In addition there are psychological needs for companionship and formation of productive relationships.
Finally there are the social advantages, such as self-esteem, competition or support that motivates people to want to be in the company of others.