In the Academy Award nominated movie Cast Away, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) finds himself stranded on an island for four years after his plane crashes in South America. Being separated from his long-time love and of any social contact for that matter naturally took a toll on Chuck, causing him to go slightly insane through his loneliness. Because of this, he creates an imaginary person from a ball he comes across and names him "Wilson". For years, "Wilson" served as Chuck's only source of "social" contact and provided some form of comfort to Chuck. However, in an effort to escape from the island on a raft, "Wilson" falls from the moving raft and is lost, leaving Chuck in an overwhelming loneliness that almost destroys this once strong and doting man (Cast Away).
The loneliness derived from being stripped from social contact by Chuck Noland in Castaway is exactly the reason why people have a "need to belong." According to the need-to-belong theory, human beings "have a biologically based need for interpersonal connections" (Lilienfeld, p. 495). Due to this, we tend to socially "band" together and form groups when we can and when we are deprived of this ability, we naturally "suffer [the] negative and physical consequences" associated with this rejection (Lilienfeld, p. 495). A prime example of this is in Castaway itself. Finding himself lonely, Chuck creates "Wilson" so that he can "communicate" with him. However, once "Wilson" is lost in the deep see, this loss of contact takes a deep, psychological toll on Chuck, causing him great depression and loneliness (Cast Away). Finally, research has shown complete social isolation has the potential to not only be self-destructive, but also severely damage one's cognitive functioning (Lilienfeld, p. 496). This is quite scary, as it shows what a lasting effect deprivation can have on human beings. Even in the face of social contact again, it's quite surprising how much of a toll this takes on a person, as they seem very detached from the general public. Likewise, in the film, when Chuck is rescued and brought back to civilization, he find it very hard to connect with the society he was close to in the past. His mental state is further deteriorated when he discovers that the love of his life and his only source of hope, Kelly, has remarried in the time he was gone. This throws Chuck into a deep pit, literally leaving him to feel alone once again (Cast Away).
Though the story portrayed in Cast Away is fictional, it accurately paints a picture of the the need to belong theory and why this particular theory is so valid. Without social contact or communication, human beings will virtually deteriorate. Though they can be damaging at times, we need to form social groups in order to keep our own sanity in tact as other people serve as our own personal life lines. If we become so detached from society like Chuck became in Cast Away, it is very difficult to recover once we are faced in social situations. Furthermore, the psychological toll that isolation can have on people is quite scary. The best way to explain the harmful effects of this is with Jared Lee Loughner, who is the young man responsible for shooting Gabrielle Giffords and eight other people in Arizona. Though Loughner was social throughout high school, he isolated himself from others in the years following that. Along with the psychological problems that he already had, like bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, this isolation from society took a toll on this young man, trigger him to shoot those innocent people (Berger).
In all, I think it's pretty clear why we need to stay in contact with society. Without this communication, we are not only harming ourselves, but potentially the people around us. What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe in this theory? Why or Why not?
Lilienfeld, Scott O. "Chapter 13: Social Psychology." Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2010. 495-96. Print.
"Cast Away." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.
Judson, Berger. "Mental Health Warnings Preceded Rampage, as Arizona Gunman Likely Went Untreated." Fox News. FOX News Network, 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.