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Why is the ‘need for approval’ so central to our emotional needs?

Evolutionary Theory

The following section discusses the evolutionary reasons why it is proposed that one of a human’s (and other animals’) primary emotional needs, is to obtain ongoing approval from, and to be highly esteemed by those who are in close relationship to her.  The explanation references evolutionary theory, and is complicated.  If you are happy with the idea that the aforementioned is one of our primary needs, and you do not wish to digress into complicated evolutionary theory, then I suggest that you skip this section and move onto the next section (soon to be added to the website).  Many people complain that I get too technical and don’t want to read complex psychology but would rather read information more relevant to their emotional needs now.  This makes perfect sense.  However, I personally have always wanted to understand ‘why’ I am as I am, and so this kind of information has been important to me (and this need largely depends on your personality ‘type’ – compulsive types typically have a need to have ‘intellectual’ understanding in order to feel comfortable with information).  So for those who wish to have a more technical explanation, please read on. 

So if the need for affection and approval is so central to our emotional health, then why is this?  A branch of Psychology which has become increasingly important within the overall field of Psychology is Biological Psychology.  Much of this field is dedicated to looking at how the brain functions and to the chemicals released into the brain and body in response to different situations.  An important branch of Biological Psychology is Evolutionary Psychology.  Let us take a brief look at Evolutionary Psychology.

Evolutionary Psycholgy

In essence evolutionary psychology aims to understand why we have evolved to exhibit the traits we exhibit.  The theory, and finding evidence for the theory, ends up operating in a somewhat cyclical manner: one studies humans and attempts to demonstrate that a certain trait exists (this is pretty much Social Psychology at this point) and proposes one's evolutionary theory as to why this trait exits.  In essence there is no proof the theories are correct, they are more an attempt to trace our development as a species and understand our behaviour in the context of our fight for survival over the epochs. 

Man’s ability to forge social ties has given him survival advantage

I feel that one important branch of Evolutionary Psychology is that associated with Machiavellian theory.  Without going into the Machiavellian theory in depth, the important detail I wish to highlight is as follows: one of the main features that separates humans from other animals, is the vast development of the grey matter in the human brain.  Human intelligence is far superior to most other animals.  Why is this of such importance in survival terms?  There is undoubtedly great importance attached to man’s creative abilities: for example much of our development as a species has followed man’s acquisition of the capacity to farm the land.  However, another feature that has been proposed is that man’s capacity to understand social rules and interact socially has enabled him to forge affiliations with other humans, and these affiliations have given him survival advantage.  Even higher primates operate complex social rules within their living groups, and those monkeys/primates who will fare better in the groups are those who are able to best navigate the social terrain and forge affiliations with higher ranking members of the social clan. 

Before I go any further into a field that promises to induce a serious headache should we delve too deep, I will quickly summarise with following point:  I believe that our survival is contingent upon our ability to learn with immense speed, both social and survival behaviours from our parents.  And importantly, man, possibly more than any other animal, has developed the capacity to adapt to vastly different types of environments.  Therefore, behaviours necessary for survival cannot simply be passed down genetically: in a new environment, many behaviours must be passed on by learning, since, due to the speed with which the man’s environment has changed, there may not be enough time for the necessary genes to be selected and bread in order for humans to develop the trait in question. 

A child’s incessant desire to obtain parental approval facilitates her capacity to learn from the parent

And this brings us back to our original question: if the nature of our emotional health is so contingent upon our having the affection and approval of those who are close to us, why is this?

I believe that this trait bestows survival advantage: if children are highly concerned to ensure that their parents ‘approve’ of their behaviour, then they are more likely to try to learn the behaviours the parent wishes them to learn.  If one watches a young child it is easy to see that she invests great energy into trying to learn and copy from adults around her, and something that has also struck me is the extent to which young children copy and take on the values of their parents without questioning.  This capacity to be constantly alert to a parent’s approval is, I believe, a crucial attribute necessary for children to quickly learn behaviours which are necessary for survival and for gaining survival advantage within the social group in which the infant is beginning her new life. 

Click on the following title to be taken to the next page in this section:

Natural Conflict between Parents And Children

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