The Journal of Neurobehavioral Sciences

: 2021  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 150--156

Collectivity as a basic instinct for survival: Mechanisms and clinical reflections

Baris Onen Unsalver1, Mehmet Emin Ceylan2, Aslihan Donmez3, Fatma Duygu Yertutanol4, Alper Evrensel4,  
1 Vocational School of Health Services, Department of Medical Documentation and Secreteriat, Üsküdar University, İstanbul, Turkey
2 Departments of Psychology and Philosophy, Üsküdar University, İstanbul, Turkey
3 Department of Psychological Counselling and Guidance, Boğaziçi University, İstanbul, Turkey
4 Department of Psychology, Üsküdar University, İstanbul, Turkey

Correspondence Address:
Baris Onen Unsalver
Üsküdar Üniversitesi NP Feneryolu Tıp Merkezi, Ahmet Mithat Efendi Cd. No: 17, Kalamış, İstanbul


Collectivity, referred as the drive to be and stay together with the other beings, serves as a basic tool for survival and reproduction. Thus, it should be considered a basic instinct. In the first part of this article, we are describing the basic mechanisms of collectivity: (1) the collectivity instinct, (2) social trust, (3) inter- and intragroup dynamics, and (4) the ability to recognise the facial expression of others. In the second part, we will give some clinical examples (such as autism and narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders) as the disorders of collectivity. The ideas presented here may be the basis for the modification of new psychotherapy techniques for the disorders of collectivity in future.

How to cite this article:
Unsalver BO, Ceylan ME, Donmez A, Yertutanol FD, Evrensel A. Collectivity as a basic instinct for survival: Mechanisms and clinical reflections.J Neurobehav Sci 2021;8:150-156

How to cite this URL:
Unsalver BO, Ceylan ME, Donmez A, Yertutanol FD, Evrensel A. Collectivity as a basic instinct for survival: Mechanisms and clinical reflections. J Neurobehav Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jan 17 ];8:150-156
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Human beings are parts, not wholes. We are all the parts of wholeness. The world is wholeness, a family is wholeness, a city is wholeness, but we, as individual human beings, are just a part of these wholenesses. Our ancestors survived because they were the parts of some kind of wholeness. Forming and maintaining social bonds can have both survival and reproductive advantages.[1],[2] Groups can share their food, provide mates, and help care for the offspring (including orphans as well). Some tasks that are important for survival, such as hunting large animals or maintaining watchful vigilance against predatory enemies, are best carried-out by group cooperation. Cues that imply possible harm, such as illness, danger, nightfall, and disaster, seem to increase the need to be with others.[3] Because of these benefits, the drive for collectivity, and even sometimes for unity, is a characteristic and genetically transferred feature of all human beings. A hand continues with a hand, a shoulder continues with a shoulder, a brain continues with a brain. In fact, the human brain includes a million, not just two hemispheres. Even our fights are born from the drive for collectivity; most of our fights derive from the frustration of our need to become a whole; we fight with our partner if our relationship is about to end. We also sometimes fight for our groups, community, country, etc., in order to protect our collectivity with that wholeness.

The drive for collectivity is as strong as the drives for our basic needs (hunger, thirst, etc.). We need some mechanisms to connect with others. These mechanisms must have helped for the survival of our species, thus must have been coded in our genes. The main purpose of this article is to describe the mechanisms of collectivity. We will group the mechanisms of collectivity under four main headings: (1) the collectivity instinct, (2) social trust, (3) inter- and intragroup dynamics, and (4) the ability to recognize the facial expression of others. In the first part of this article, we will explain each of these four mechanisms of collectivity. In the second part, we will give some clinical examples (such as autism and narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders) as the disorders of collectivity.

 The Collectivity Instinct

This instinct is inborn, as all instincts are. Every human being needs a partner to connect with to complete their inner world. For human beings, the main partner is, as expected, another human being. Sometimes, however, this partner may also be an animal. This is why humans have domesticated animals. Here, we are not referring to occupational partners; instead, we are referring to partnerships that are formed because of the need to complete the inner world and because of the need to complete someone else's inner world. According to us, this inner world includes the needs to love and be loved, to care and be cared for, to understand and to feel understood, to value and to be valued and to belong. When this partnership is formed, the life energy and functionality of the person increase in every daily activity. If this instinct is not met, the life energy decreases in almost every area.

The hypothesis that people are motivated to form and maintain interpersonal bonds is not new. Baumeister and Leary[4] proposed that the need to belong shapes our emotional patterns and cognitive processes and may have behavioral consequences, thus it should be stated as one of the fundamental human motivations. More recently, it has been argued that the need to belong may also effect personality expression; such as social exclusion may increase aggression.[5]

There is considerable evidence that, from early in the development, infants take pleasure in social interactions, and they are born with behavioral skills that serve to form positive engagements with others.[6] For example, by 8 weeks of age, infants smile in response to their social partners,[7],[8] and by 12 weeks of age, they rarely smile outside of positive face-to-face exchanges with others.[9] Around 12 weeks of age, infants start engaging in protoconversations.[10] What is important is, these social exchanges also occur with relative strangers in the laboratory settings and they are not restricted to the infants' caregivers.[11] Therefore, they are not simply a reflection of the bond between the infant and the caregiver but suggestive of a common gratification from social interaction. Later in the development, children engage in affiliative behaviors actively. The two examples are joint attention and imitation, in which infants seek to share attention and interest with others.[12],[13] Further evidence in favor of the claim that young children, from as early as 14 months, seek to engage in positive social interactions comes from research on prosocial behavior.[14],[15],[16] The instinct for collectivity includes not just starting a social contact but also forming and maintaining long-lasting bonds with others. There is also evidence that, from early in the development, children form long-lasting bonds with their group members. Naturalistic research has demonstrated that even infants have preferences for particular peers, spending more time in the company of some individuals than others.[17],[18] During the preschool period, children start to form stable patterns of friendship that endure over time.

The evidence from the last few decades supports the idea that the infant is endowed with an innate capacity of subject-subject engagements from very early stages of development.[11],[19] Rather than Freud's and Piaget's auto-and egocentric baby assumptions, this capacity enables the baby to engage in a game of bi-directional communication of direct alteroception[20] or even, as Braten[21] defines it, of “alter-centered participation.” In other words, the human infant is both ready and hungry for collectivity from the very beginning.

The human newborn is totally dependent on the caregiver for nursing, so belongingness is a “must” for the inborn. As the baby grows, this “must” turns into a “need” to belong, and the baby begins to seek some other people to belong to. This seeking process does not necessarily mean that the baby will leave the caregiver and find another; the baby needs to build more and more social bonds as he grows, but he still keeps the older bonds. However, this bond is reciprocal; as the baby needs to feel to belong to the caregiver, the caregiver also needs to belong to the baby. Postpartum depression is a good example to show how, in pathological conditions, this need to belong is affected. The melancholy of women who cannot have children may be related to the irrational thought that “no baby needed or wanted to belong to me.” A psychologically healthy individual has both abilities: (1) To feel the need to belong and (2) to meet the needs of others who want to belong to them.

Here, we will differentiate between the two forms of belongingness: Collectivity and unity. By unity, we are referring to a more intense form of collectivity, such as the first few months of a human inborn when there is total dependence on mother for nursing. During the development, this unity turns into collectivity between the baby and the mother. Thus, collectivity is a loosened form of unity. This bidirectional relation between unity and collectivity continues throughout the life. We build families that are the exact examples of a unity-collectivity model. When we meet our partner, at first, there is collectivity between us. After we are married, this collectivity turns into unity as we begin to share more sections of our lives. When a child is born into a family, the direction of the bond between the husband and the wife turns toward collectivity since the wife has a unity with the newborn. This goes on and on all through life. The social bond sometimes comes nearer to the unity end of the spectrum and sometimes comes nearer to the collectivity end of the spectrum. The absolute unity is the bond between a newborn and the mother. The ones who cannot create a healthy unity cannot create a healthy collectivity either, and vice versa. For example, a man with a healthy marriage unity most likely has healthy occupational collectivities. A teenager who succeeded to pass from absolute unity to a healthy collectivity with his mother would most likely have a healthy marriage unity too.

An individual feels the need to belong mostly when he loses this collectivity. We often feel depressed when we lose a significant other, by death or by separation. In this point of view, depression can be seen as a withdrawal syndrome caused by unmet needs for collectivity.

 Social Trust

By social trust, we are referring to the trust between the members of collectivity. This trust includes the belief that the particular member will serve the collectivity (or social adhesion) of the group. Social trust is mostly dependent on the time spent being a member of that group but also depends on sharing a common point (such as the same ideology, same blood, same benefit, etc.). Reduction in social trust may cause an ending of collectivity (or social rupture); thus, social trust is one of the main mechanisms of collectivity.

When we are talking about collectivity, social trust is similar to the collaboration between two organs of the body; there is no doubt between them. When the liver is producing bile, it is sure that the gall bladder will carry this bile to the intestine. If there is a stone in the bladder, the liver becomes full with bile and cannot function properly. All the organs in our body work collaboratively, in a biorhythm, as a perfect example of collectivity. In a similar manner, social groups can become collective or noncollective, depending on the social trust between its members. The social trust is based on the give-and-take between members, providing help whenever needed, and collaboration.

All brain functions are based on the conservation laws of neural energy, and the free energy principle says that any adaptive change in the brain will minimize free energy. For example, attention and goal-directed behavior are an emergent property of prediction, where high-precision prediction errors appear to greater gain.[22] Pattern completion facilitates the retrieval of a complete pattern from a perceived incomplete pattern. It is involved in memory retrieval and is another example of the brain's conservation law of neural energy.[23] When there is vague and incomplete auditory or visual stimulus, the mind refers to its formerly memorized auditory or visual patterns to match the current stimulus with the complete pattern most closely correlated with it. Then, that pattern is locked, and the person will perceive the vague pattern as the originally locked complete pattern.[24] When we meet a new person, his similarities with the information in our memory, through the mechanism of pattern completion and conservation law determines whether we choose either an approach or avoid behavior.

Social trust in a community implies that social structures within that community are clear and strong, and the information flow between community members is transparent. This is necessary for the development of benevolence, and through benevolence, social trust grows. People need to believe that their benevolent behavior is valued in the community, and if, despite their benevolence, they are faced with injustice, their benefits will be protected. Transparency provides that. In communities in which members' trust to social structures is strong, benevolence behavior increases, and that further increases the social trust and social bond. If the information flow between the members of a community is not transparent, members begin to fear that their benevolent behavior will not be valued. On that occasion, instead of being benevolent, they will begin to act in a way to protect themselves against badness. The badness in such communities is high because malignant social networks may behave more malignantly when they believe that their malignant behavior will not be punished. That decreases the social trust and weakens the social bond. The collectivity in that community is destined to vanish.

Being similar, recognizable, and predictable play an important role in social trust. Experimental evidence supports that facial resemblance is a potential cue of kinship for humans and increases prosocial behavior and positive attributions.[25] The neuropeptide oxytocin plays an important role in social trust as well[26] by improving the ability to read others' emotions,[27],[28],[29],[30] increasing perceived attractiveness and trustworthiness of faces with neutral emotional expressions,[31] and enhancing social attention.[32],[33] Physical touch, which is important for building social trust, has been found to be associated with peripheral oxytocin release in both animals[34],[35] and humans.[36],[37] If people are given a massage, they become more trustful in a subsequent social interaction (trust game). This effect covaries with plasma oxytocin levels.[38]

 Inter- and Intragroup Interactions

Groups are the basic units of collectivity, and small groups are the parts of larger groups. Each member of the group is also a member of another group. There is also collectivity between the groups. Thus, there are intra- and intergroup social bonds. If intergroup interactions are weak, then intragroup interactions become stronger. For example; intragroup bonds of a refugee family may be strong since the intergroup bonds with the foreign community they are living in may be weak. Members' financial incomes are shared by other family members, without “you-I” differentiation. The first connection of the members with an outsider is usually faced with suspicion, and the intragroup bonds of the members other than the member who connected with the outsider become stronger. As time passes, other members begin to form social bonds with the outsiders, and as other intergroup bonds become stronger, intragroup bonds become weaker. If the intragroup bonds in new groups become stronger than the intragroup bonds of the old group, then the old group begins to dissolve. If the members are disappointed by the new group they are in, they would want to form the intragroup bonds of the old group, but usually, those bonds are residual and dysfunctional.

Some people are better at starting new collectivities than other people. From now on, we will name those people as “converters,” since they act as converters of Lego pieces. They help the formation of new bonds between and within the groups. The main character features of these converters are being reliable, flexible, and emphatic. They are good at understanding people's needs and fulfilling them. They may postpone their needs if someone else's need is more urgent. They give comfort to others, so the others usually do not want to lose them. They can easily predict the others' reactions. Converters may even keep two “difficult” members together in the same group by neutralizing the opposite poles. For example, they may keep two narcissistic people, two paranoids, one obsessive compulsive and one borderline person together in the same group. It is difficult for these personality disorders to be in the same group. Converters play the major role when new groups are forming. Converters are similar to carpal bones and wrist joints in the way they can face hits from different angles, and shoulder joints in the way they may move toward many different angles. They can face most kinds of traumas. They may even turn a malignant social network into a benign social network. Some mothers are the perfect examples of a good converter; they are complementary, supplementary, nurturing, and good at problem-solving.

Here, we would like to present a new concept that we will name the “human attraction law.” It is based on Granovetter's threshold model of collective behavior.[39] Here, the “threshold” refers to the number or proportion of others who must make one decision before a given actor does so; this is the point where the perceived benefits to an individual of doing the thing in question exceed the perceived costs. Thresholds are situation-and person-specific. A radical will have a low threshold, while a conservative will have a high threshold. Inevitably, some situations will engage an actor more ideologically than others; one will seem more dangerous and one more exciting. Most of us would prefer to eat in a restaurant with a number of people already sitting in it than a completely empty restaurant. The restaurant with a number of people already sitting inside feels more comfortable, warm, and attractive. This is what we call “human attraction law.” We feel more socially secure in a place with people in it. People attract people. When we see someone in the street looking up, we also feel the urge to look up. If we see a crowd of people looking up, we look up too. Therefore, we may say that the attraction force increases as the number of people doing that thing increases. However, there is a threshold, like Granovetter's threshold.[39] If there are too many people sitting and waiting in a restaurant, we may prefer to choose another restaurant. Thus, the human attraction law turns into the “human aversion law” when there are too many people. Because the collectivity instinct parallels the survival instinct; the likelihood of survival decreases when there is too much competition around. A number of people are needed for collectivity, yet if there are too many people, the collectivity is ruined too. An optimal number of people are needed for collectivity to form.

Other important concepts for intra-and intergroup dynamics are absolute self-value and relative self-value for the members of the collectivity. Absolute self-value refers to the value that the individual gives himself as a member of that collectivity. It is determined by many factors such as the role, character, and position of that individual in that collectivity. Relative self-value is the value that the other members of that collectivity give to that particular individual. If the absolute and relative self-values of a particular individual are close to each other, then the possibility of that collectivity increases. If there is a great difference between these self-values (e.g. the individual thinks that he is more valuable to the other members than he actually is), then there is a good possibility that the collectivity for that individual is about to end. Of course, the similarity or the difference between absolute and relative self-values may change over time and situations.

When we talk about collectivity and how it effects group dynamics, we must also refer to personal variations. Variation can be defined as the difference between general characteristic features of most members of that collectivity and characteristic features of an individual in that collectivity. Thus, variation is similar to the concept of “standard deviation” in the statistics. Too much variation may cause the exclusion of that individual from that collectivity, since there will be a great difference between the absolute and relative self-value of that individual. However, if the number of excluded members from the collectivity increases because the variation becomes frequent, then there is a great chance that the relative self-value of those individuals will begin to change, and this may cause a sudden shift in shared beliefs, ideas, idols, interests, and social values of that collectivity. The 68 zone is a good example of that shift.

 Recognition of Facial Expressions

Recognition of facial expressions and more importantly, recognition of changes in facial expressions of other member of the group is an important mechanism of collectivity. This is important to predict the next behavior of the other. By predicting the other's next behavior, we may also behave in a way that will strengthen the social bond between us (or loosen the bond, if we prefer). Thus, recognition of facial expression of others is important for collectivity.

The ability to recognize a caregiver's face is essential in mammalian infants for their survival. Human babies have an inborn interest in faces.[40] They are able to recognize their mother's face within a few months after birth or even shortly after birth under certain conditions,[41],[42] and infants share similar neural mechanisms with their mothers in regulating and encoding the affect in social and emotional attachment systems.[43] The infant-mother attachment is mostly based on their experience of mutual interaction where the infants learn to recognize the emotional state of the mother or other people. Reciprocal behaviors between an infant and the mother are considered to be the primary means by which infants prepare for human social activities.[44]

The mothers can even change the facial expression of the child by her own facial expression. The same is true for every relationship. A mother who can easily read the facial expression of her husband can even change the negative affect of the husband by using her facial expressions. The changing of someone else's facial expression by using your own facial expression is similar to the “laughing game” between a mother and an infant. A play of mutual exchange takes place between the mother and the infant which might take the form of timing each others' behaviors, such as the onset of facial expressions, or of anticipating other's intentions.

It has been well-established that the face-to-face interactions of parents and infants occur quite early and are bidirectional.[45] Facial mirroring between the mother and infant helps to create the sense of “we,” and an emotional contagion as defined by the neurobiologists Singer and Hein[46] occurs. We understand other's actions through a mechanism of resonance, in which the motor system of the observer “resonates” whenever an appropriate visual and/or acoustic input is presented, although it does not necessarily imply the production of an overt movement. Stern[47] points out an interesting issue: “To resonate with someone, you may have to be unconsciously in synch with that person. You could move in synchrony, as lovers may do when they sit across a coffee table and trace a dance as they simultaneously approach and withdraw their faces from one another or move their hands together at the same instant.”

The possible neural mechanism underlying this resonance is the mirror neurons.[48] Rizzolatti et al. discovered a new class of premotor visuomotor neurons, called mirror neurons, that discharge both when the monkey executes goal-related actions like grasping objects and also when the monkey observes other individuals (monkeys or humans) execute similar actions.[49],[50],[51] Later on, so-called prefrontal mirror neurons with similar properties were discovered in a part of the posterior parietal cortex reciprocally connected with area F5.[52] Existence of a mirror neuron system at premotor and parietal areas in the human brain has been demonstrated in different studies.[53],[54],[55] The findings on the infant-mother relationship clearly suggest that the human nervous system is formed in such a way to enable us to capture others' living experiences just by watching them. Thus, mirror neurons are the possible neural mechanisms underlying the resonance between the mother and infant.

In the case of collectivity, a similar kind of resonance must be taking place between the members of that collectivity. Understanding the facial expression of the others and even changing someone else's facial expression by using your own facial expression can be therapeutic in social groups and helps to develop social trust and cohesions in social groups. Thus, recognition of facial expressions is important for collectivity.

 Clinical Reflections– Disorders of Collectivity

In this section, we will explain how the concept of collectivity is affected in some psychiatric disorders. As we have described above, the collectivity instinct includes two abilities: (1) To feel the need to belong and (2) to meet the needs of others who want to belong to them. In schizoid personality disorder, neither of these two abilities exist. Schizoid personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships.[55] These individuals neither desire nor enjoy close relationships, including being part of a family. Thus, the collectivity instinct is very low or even, in some cases, does not exist in schizoid personality disorder. This is just the opposite in dependent personality disorder, in which there is a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation.[55] These individuals constantly seek support and reassurance from others and lack self-confidence in judgment or abilities. Thus, the degree of collectivity instinct is very high in dependent personality disorder. In addition to this, these individuals have difficulty passing from intragroup interactions to intergroup interactions, since they tend to cling to group members rather than forming new bounds with other people. Their motivation to form new bounds only increases in times of separation from close others, since they urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support. The need to belong is very high in dependent personality disorders.

Problems with social trust can be seen in paranoid and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. In paranoid personality disorder, there is a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent.[55] These individuals have little or no social trust, so they cannot form healthy collectivities. They are preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends and associates. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are very rigid and inflexible in many aspects of life including relationships. They want and force others to do things exactly in their own way.[55] It is hard for them to end partnerships once they are established, so we may say they have a seldom but excessive social trust, since the amount of effort to build a trustful collectivity is high for them.

In Cluster B personality disorders, as described by the American Psychiatric Association,[55] there are many problems in terms of collectivity. Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.[55] Thus, the reason for a possible collectivity instinct in these individuals is conning others for personal profit. They cannot form social trust in others. In borderline personality disorder, there is a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships with frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.[55] Thus, we may assume that the need to belong is high, while the ability to meet the needs of others who want to belong to them is low, and social trust is unstable in borderline personality disorder. This is just the opposite in narcissistic personality disorder, in which there is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy;[55] their need to belong is low, while their need for others who want to belong to them is high.

Other than personality disorders, autism disorder, which is characterized by persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication that results in effective communication, social participation, social relationships, etc.,[55] show deficits of collectivity in many areas. The deficits with regard to collectivity instinct and social trust depends on the degree of autism; high functional autistics may have a small degree of collectivity instinct and social trust, while a full-blown syndrome of autism lacks both of them. The main problem of collectivity is the failure to recognize facial expressions in autism disorder. Some evidence for this comes from eye-tracking, electrophysiological, and brain imaging studies. These studies often report abnormal eye gaze patterns, delayed event-related potential components in response to facial stimuli, and anomalous activity in emotion-processing circuitry in autism spectrum disorder.[56]


In this article, we focused on the importance of the collectivity concept on personal and interpersonal development. We have proposed that collectivity is a natural born instinct, is important for survival, and affects the motivation to build the relationships from early on. We have discussed the importance of social trust, and the intra-and intergroup dynamics on the development of collectivity. We have stated recognition of facial expressions of others as one of the main mechanisms for the development of collectivity. We have presented how collectivity is affected on some of the clinical conditions. We hope that the ideas presented here will be the basis for the modification of psychotherapeutic techniques that will be useful for abnormalities of collectivity in future.

Patient informed consent

There is no need for patient informed consent.

Ethics committee approval

There is no need for ethics committee approval.

Financial support and sponsorship

No funding was received.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest to declare.

Author contribution subject and rate

Barış Önen Ünsalver: (% 30) Helped with the development of the main idea and writing of the text

Mehmet Emin Ceylan: (% 30) Developed the main idea and wrote the Turkish version of the text

Aslıhan Dönmez: (% 30) Helped with the development of the main idea and English translation of the text

Fatma Duygu Kaya: (%5) Helped with the development of the main idea and reviewed the text

Alper Evrensel: (%5) Helped with the development of the main idea and reviewed the text.


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