The Modern Tribe: Building A Human Bond

Over the course of our evolutionary history, we as humans have interacted and bonded with one other in order to fulfil some of our most basic human needs. Prehistorically, we acknowledged that forming a group increased our safety and the efficiency of hunting for food. But as resources have grown in abundance, and technology has enabled the intangible at our fingertips, it appears as if the independent modern human can in theory be self-sufficient, and no longer need a ‘tribe’ or community to get by. 

Biochemically, however, our brains and bodies tell a different story. We still very much crave the hormones associated with human bonding. And as social animals, it is our nature to bond with one another to fulfill some of our most basic personal needs, as famously depicted in Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’

Cradle to Cradle

Bowlby and Ainsworth’s 'attachment theory’ goes a step further to explore the nature of social interaction and human bonding, presenting a framework for how we bond from the day we are born until the day we die. Bowlby found that the first 'attachment' we experience is with our parents or primary caretakers, who fulfill our most basic needs such as safety through a biological and behavioural response system inherited from birth. For example, when we feel scared, we cry in order to attract the attention of our parents to feel safe.

Ainsworth took this theory a step further, asserting that the attachment patterns developed between an infant and a parent will determine how we act in social relationships throughout our lives. According to this theory, even the facial expressions our parents expose us to as infants can significantly impact how we form bonds later in life. According to this theory, there are four different pattens of attachment that occur during our early years that impact our ability to form bonds in life: 

  • Secure attachment: a responsive relationship between an infant and caregiver, meaning a child is largely influenced by the caregiver's availability and sensitivity to their needs for survival no matter what they are. 
  • Ambivalent attachment: an unconventional relationship between the infant and the caregiver where they are available and responsive, only sporadically or inconsistently.  
  • Anxious-avoidant insecure attachment: a pattern in which the caregiver will avoid or even ignore the infant's basic needs.
  • Disorganised attachment: an unhealthy relationship such as mental or physical abuse between infant and caregiver.

Theoretically, attachment theory can ‘predict’ how a person will act in future relationships. A person who has experienced a secure attachment is more likely to develop into a self-reliant and confident adult, and be equipped with the social tools necessary to enable social interaction and meaningful human bonding. On the other hand, people who experience an avoidant, ambivalent and disorganised attachment are less likely to be successful in bonding, simply because they have been ill-equipped with the necessary social tools.

Future Tribal

We live in a world where our social interactions are being heightened and substituted by social media and technology, how can we explain how this affects our ability to truly bond? Technology seems to provide an easy route in fulfilling these basic need of safety, emotional connection and acceptance. Imagine a world where many of our most basic needs can be fulfilled at the touch a button, where we can magically have a pizza with all our favourite toppings delivered to our doorstep by tapping a screen, or feeling euphoric when someone special clicks ‘like’ on your Facebook status.

In a world where we can access virtual platforms that connect us to endless networks of people and instant gratifying social ‘connections’, the way in which we historically experience human bonding in digital life, versus real life, is flipped upside down.

We could say digital connection hinders many aspects of genuine human bonding. The subtleties of face-to-face interaction, gestures, laughter, facial expression, body language, and the energy felt simply by being amongst other humans during social gatherings...  all elements that play pivotal roles in forming genuine human connections. Biochemically, these all have profound effect in the release of human bonding mediators such as oxytocinvasopressin and endorphins.

So as we scroll through Instagram, click ‘Like’, or interact online, be aware that these habits are fulfilling instinctual needs to satisfy hormone releases in our brains, as they effectively crave true human bonding.