Cues That We Belong And Are Recognized
- Relationships are important to belonging, however, people can also feel like they belong in contexts where they don’t have friends and can experience belonging uncertainty in places where they do have friends.
- Belonging is about feeling like you are a valued and respected member of the community, not necessarily about how many friends you have in a given space.
- Cues in our environment play a powerful role in how we interpret our sense of belonging or non-belonging in a given context.
It may seem like common sense that cultivating positive relationships is an important way to foster belonging. However, people can also feel like they belong in contexts where they don’t have friends, or conversely, can experience belonging uncertainty in places where they do have friends. How can this be? Belonging is about feeling like you are a valued and respected member of the community, not necessarily about how many friends you have in a given space.
So how DO we determine if we are a valued and respected member of a community? We don’t usually ask this question outright. Instead, we look for signs that we are recognized and valued and that we connect with others in our environments. We also look, both consciously and unconsciously, for signs that we are NOT successfully connecting with others or that we are not valued.
As a result, small cues can play a powerful role in how we interpret our sense of belonging or non-belonging in a given environment. These cues are especially important because the world is an extremely ambiguous place. Why didn’t that guy say hi? Is my teacher avoiding eye contact?
These ambiguous cues can be especially threatening to students who are members of stereotyped groups. For example, imagine a young girl entering her sixth-grade classroom. At the back of the room is an “inspiration board” with pictures of famous scientists on it. All the scientists pictured are White men. What meaning does the girl make about her place in the classroom? Especially considering that in the TV shows she watches, most of the “scientists” are White men as well. She might start to think that maybe science isn’t an area of study that she will like, or that she will be able to succeed in.
Luckily, small cues that help students feel recognized and valued can make a huge difference in how students interpret their surroundings. In the next topic, we’ll talk about what some of these powerful cues are.
Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Ambient belonging: How stereotypical environments impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 1045-1060. Walton, G. M., Cohen, G. L., Cwir, D., & Spencer, S. J. (2012). Mere belonging: The power of social connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 513-532. Wirth, J. H., Sacco, D. F., Hugenberg, K., & Williams, K. D. (2010). Eye gaze as relational evaluation: Averted eye gaze leads to feelings of ostracism and relational devaluation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(7), 869-882.