The need of affiliation is one of three acquired needs laid out by psychologist David McClelland in his theory on the motivations for human behavior. This particular need concerns the desire to be associated with specific people and groups, to have a greater sense of belonging and place. It can play a role in a variety of human interactions and in the formation of bonds and friendships. McClelland's theory is of particular interest to the management and business community, where understanding motivations can be important for handling personnel.
A person with a moderate need of affiliation tends to want to belong to groups, create connections, and establish relationships with other people. In a setting like an office, this might include joining office organizations, making friends with coworkers, and creating a sense of belonging within the company. A low need of affiliation can be part of a more independent personality. People who do not feel a strong desire to affiliate with others may be viewed as loners, and could have difficulty finding support.
On the other end of the scale, a high affiliation need can create a clingy, demanding personality. These individuals may have limited tolerance for dissent and can exert pressure on the people around them. A desire for everyone to get along is also a key characteristic of people with a high need for affiliation. These individuals may fear controversy or arguments, and can be difficult in a workplace environment where criticism of projects and individuals may be an important aspect of collaboration on projects.
In social psychology, theories about motivation help researchers understand why humans make decisions and how they interact with each other. The affiliation need can be especially important when it comes to looking at how members of groups feel about their association with the group. It can also determine how and where people forge friendships. The origins behind unusually high or low needs can also be a topic of interest. Life experiences like neglect or popularity may determine how outgoing a child becomes as an adult.
This need interacts with the needs for achievement and power, the other two points in the acquired needs paradigm. Depending on the setting, greater and lesser degrees of these needs might be desirable. In some workplaces, employers may use screening tools to assess the psychological fitness of their employees, looking at how well they will fit into the overall office dynamic. In an office where independence is valued, someone with a moderate to high need for affiliation might be a poor candidate, for example.