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Zachary P. Hohman and Olivia R. Kuljian

The need to belong and to be part of a group is a fundamental part of being human. The exact inspirational force that motivates people to join a group is not agreed upon in the psychological literature. Realistic group conflict theory, the self-esteem hypothesis, uncertainty-identity theory, terror management theory, and sociometer theory each explain the need to belong through distinct perspectives. These five heavily researched theories provide different explanations and predictions for why people join and identify with groups, such as the motivation for completing personal goals, the drive to increase self-esteem, to reduce anxiety surrounding death, to reduce uncertainty, and to seek protection within a group. Across the research on this topic, it is becoming clear that self-uncertainty reduction seems to be a powerful reason for identifying with groups. However, there is no doubt that other reasons may also be involved in the motivation to join groups. For example, existential uncertainty may drive people to affiliate with groups that specifically address existential issues; people may prefer to affiliate with desirable, rather than stigmatized, groups in order to satisfy the basic pursuit of pleasure over pain; and people may affiliate to protect against a wide variety of fears. Further research is needed to fully elucidate why people join groups.