Tapping Our Social Nature for Health & Survival

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In an evolutionary sense, we humans are a social species with the innate capacity to collaborate and associate with others. Millions of years of collaborative habits around food gathering and shared problem solving have shaped human existence. Feeling that you belong, that you are part of an identified group—a community—is part of what it means to be human.

Health studies show that this sense of belonging is a basic human need required to achieve general levels of health, happiness, and survival. One study concluded that belonging to no groups but then deciding to join one can cut the risks of dying in half over the coming year. A UCSF study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that those who went through cancer alone were four times more likely to die from their disease than those with ten or more friends supporting their journey.

Despite our need for association, our technologically and commercially driven society is increasingly fragmented and disconnected. There are many ongoing efforts to heal this alienation and recover our sense of mutual connection. There are examples in every community. In East London a community garden is becoming a place for improving Londoners’ quality of life by lowering food bills, sharing skills, and building strong relationships. What’s going on in your community?

Another fine example is the emergence of the community-schools movement. A nationwide alliance of teachers, administrators, and parents who want schools to become community hubs—combining academic instruction with extracurricular enrichment activities that support connections between students, families, neighborhoods and social institutions. Having a community center to identify with is especially important in low-income communities of color where vulnerable students are more at risk. We are all looking for some place meaningful to belong.


Emily Esfahani Smith, “Is Human Morality a Product of Evolution?” The Atlantic, December 2, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/12/evolution-of-morality-social-humans-and-apes/418371/

Chelsea Dinsmore, “The Science Behind the Need to Belong The 2016 LYLL World Party Video Debut,” Live Your Legend, March 30, 2016, http://liveyourlegend.net/the-science-behind-the-need-to-belong-the-2016-lyll-world-party-video-debut/

Jasleena Grewar, “How to Make Friends in the City: Grow Vegetables Together.” YES! Magazine, February 19, 2016, http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/how-to-make-friends-in-the-city-grow-vegetables-together-20160219.

Abigail Lew Savitch, “A Bold Shift to Make Public Schools Serve Low-Income Students.” YES! Magazine, January 25, 2016, http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/a-bold-shift-to-make-public-schools-serve-poor-students-20160125.

Student Researchers: Dorsa Hakimzadeh Abyaneh and Adaeze Iroka (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)