Success friendship and dominance

Everyone is away and you have just spent a long, wet weekend by yourself. Nothing has happened. All sport was cancelled, you could not find a video that you had not seen or a book that you had not read. The television appeared to be unwatchable and the newspaper depressing. Everyone you tried to telephone was out (and no doubt having a good time). You are stir crazy and, desperate for human contact, you go out and spend time wandering around the supermarket simply for some human contact, for the sake of hearing someone say 'have a good day', ironic though it might be in the circumstances.

Many of our motives or needs are social. We are a gregarious species, although, as with everything, there are huge individual differences in the amount of contact we need. But it is not just a matter of needing social contact, but that this contact can take so many different forms and can satisfy so many different needs. Some of these social needs have been studied in detail because they seem to be of more general importance than others. Three of them are to do with achievement, affiliation and power.

The strength of achievement motivation has long been assessed by so-called Thematic Apperception Tests. These take the form of a series of simple pictures portraying people engaged in something or the other. Respondents are asked to make up stories about the pictures, the contents of the stories then being evaluated for themes related to achievement. Distinctly different stories are told by those with a high need to achieve than those with a low need to achieve. Of course, having a high need to achieve does not necessarily mean achieving great success in life.

Of possible importance here is whether a person wishes to achieve in order to prove something to someone else or to himself or herself. In other words, is it for recognition of doing well, or not? In either case, actual ability by itself is irrelevant; the result also depends on the nature of the task. Moreover, people vary considerably with respect to whether they are motivated to achieve for hope of success if they do or fear of failure if they do not.

Affiliation seems to be basic to human motivation. Most people are gregarious; they seem to need the contact of others. Just as with other human behaviours, there are enormous variations in the strength of the drive to seek contact with others. Affiliation is related to attachment (see Chapters 6 and 14) which is fundamental to so many aspects of our social and emotional development. Friendship and association with others are to do with developing a feeling of security socially and with the search for intimacy in social relationships.

It has also been established that there is a link between anxiety and affiliation. We tend to seek the company of others when we feel isolated and fearful. Interestingly, if we are fearful of the situation that we are in and are sharing this situation with strangers, the strangers rapidly become friends, at least for the time being. Think of the rapidity with which conversations are struck up when the lift becomes stuck between floors or the train between stations. Also, it is likely that people who share some extreme physical dimension would also more rapidly establish social contact than those who do not; the very tall or the very short, for example.

As a final example of a social motive, we all vary with respect to our liking for power. This is concerned with wanting to be dominant and/or to be recognised as of high status or good repute. Those with a high need for power tend to have high blood pressure and high catecholamine levels, which means that they are relatively argumentative, tend to be angry, play much sport and have trouble sleeping. Of course, as well as there being large variation in the need for power, there is a similarly large variation in how people use whatever power they might have. At one extreme are social goals and at the other personal ambition and aggrandisement; very different styles of leadership might result.

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