On many occasions, experts in the field of social psychology have defended the idea that human beings are social by nature.

But what does this statement really mean and what implications can a lack of relationship between human beings and their environment have on them?

The needs of the human being: what are they?

The Hierarchy of Needs proposed by Abraham Maslow was presented in 1943 as a model in the form of a pyramid where five typologies of needs to be satisfied by the human being are represented, ordered according to their complexity and relevance granted in the achievement of the maximum state of personal growth. At the base level are physiological needs (food, for example), followed by security needs (protection of the individual), social acceptance needs (belonging and love), self-esteem needs (assessment of one’s status) and, at the top level, self-realization needs (self-fulfillment).

The first four types of needs are called “deficit needs”, since they can be satisfied at a given time, while the fifth is known as “needs of being”, since they can never be completely satisfied, and are continuous. When an individual achieves the satisfaction of the most elementary needs, his interest in covering the needs of higher levels increases. This movement towards the top of the pyramid is defined as a force of growth . On the contrary, the decrease in the achievement of increasingly primitive needs is due to the action of regressive forces.

Meeting needs

Maslow understands that every human being aspires to the satisfaction of needs of increasingly higher levels , although he admits that not all people wish to conquer the need for self-realization, it seems that it is a more particular goal depending on the characteristics of the individual. Another important idea of the author’s model is that it highlights the relationship between action (behavior) and the will to achieve the different levels of needs. Thus, the unsatisfied needs are the only ones that motivate the behaviour and not those already consolidated.

As can be seen, all the components of the pyramid of needs in Maslow’s model are closely related to the significant relevance that the environment has for human beings. Thus, both the base or physiological elements and those of security, belonging and self-esteem can only be understood and given when an individual develops in society (at least in a psychologically adaptive way).

Relevance of environmental stimulation in humans

A great deal of research has shown how human development is influenced by biological or genetic factors, by environmental factors and by the interaction between the two. Thus, an internal predisposition is modulated by the context in which the subject develops and gives rise to a very particular conformation of the characteristics that this one manifests, so much to cognitive level, as to emotional or behavioral level.

Among the environmental factors to be taken into account as determining aspects in children’s psychological development are

  • The relationship of the child with the environment , the affective bonds established with the referent figures derived from the behaviours of affection and care coming from them.
  • The perception of stability of the surrounding framework (family, school, etc.).

Both aspects have a significant influence on the type of cognitive and emotional functioning that the child internalizes, on the quality of his or her communication skills, on the adaptation to the changing environment and on his or her attitude towards learning.

An example of the above is illustrated by the scientific experience of the doctor Jean Itard with the wild child of Aveyron. The boy was found at the age of 11 in the woods, where he behaved like an untamed animal. After a substantial alteration of the boy’s context, he was able to learn certain social skills, although it is true that progress was limited since the environmental intervention took place at a very advanced stage of development.

Secondary Intersubjectivity

In reference to the mentioned point on affective bonds, also the role of the concept of “secondary intersubjectivity” can be considered as relevant. Secondary intersubjectivity refers to the phenomenon that takes place in babies of approximately one year of age and that consists of a form of primitive symbolic interaction between the baby and the mother where two types of intentional acts are combined simultaneously: the practical ones (such as pointing at an object) and the interpersonal ones (the smile, the physical contact with the other, among others).

A deficit in the achievement of this evolutionary milestone is determined by the establishment of an unsure emotional bond and can have significant consequences such as difficulty in building a symbolic world of their own, deficits in interpersonal communication and intentional interaction or development of stereotypical behaviors similar to those manifested in the autism spectrum.

The contribution of Ecological or Systemic Theories

One of the fundamental contributions in this respect has been the proposals of the Ecological-Systemic Theories, which defend the relevance of intervening not only in the subject in question, but also in the different social systems where this subject interacts such as the family, the school and other environments such as the neighbourhood, the peer group, etc. In turn, the different systems influence each other and others simultaneously .

From this systemic conception it is understood that individual behavior is the result of the relationship between the subject, the environment and the interaction between both parties (transactionality). The system, therefore, is not equal to the sum of its components; it has a different nature. In this sense, this model gives a holistic vision to the process of human development, assuming that all the capacities of the subject in the infancy stage (cognitive, linguistic, physical, social and emotional) are interrelated and form a global whole impossible to segment in specific areas.

Another characteristic that this theoretical proposal offers of child development is its dynamism, by which the context must be adapted to the needs of the subject to facilitate the maturation process. The family, as the main system in which the development of the child takes place, also presents these three particularities (holism, dynamism and transactionality) and must be in charge of providing the child with a safe physical and psychological context that guarantees the global growth of the child in all the indicated areas of development.

Relationship between the concept of Resilience and Sociocultural Deprivation

The Theory of Resilience emerged from the work of John Bowlby, the principal author of the Theories of Attachment established between the baby and the affective reference figure. This concept came to be adopted by the current of Positive Psychology and was defined as the ability to face adversity in an active, effective and reinforced way. Research shows that resilient people present lower indexes of psychopathological alterations, since this phenomenon becomes a protection factor.

In relation to the issue of socio-cultural deprivation, the Resilience Theory explains that the person exposed to an environment that is not very stimulating and suitable for development (which could be understood as an adversity) can overcome this complication and achieve satisfactory development that allows him/her to advance through the different life stages adaptively.

Intervention in cases of socio-cultural deprivation: the Compensatory Education Programmes

Compensatory Education Programmes aim to reduce educational limitations in groups that are socio-culturally and economically deprived, making it difficult for them to be included in society as a whole in a satisfactory manner. Its ultimate purpose is to achieve a positive link between the family, the school and the community .

These programs are situated within an explanatory ecological or systemic perspective, for which reason they prioritize directing their intervention in the environmental context in which the individual is circumscribed, analyzing and altering (if necessary) the economic factors, offering psycho-educational guidelines on the relevance of collaborating with the school area , addressing the emotional problems of the students and working to favor the training of the teaching staff .

By way of conclusion

Throughout the text, the quality and enriching nature of the context in which an individual develops has been observed and contrasted as a determining factor in facilitating or bringing him/her closer to greater emotional or psychological well-being. Once again, shows that the way in which the different factors interrelate , both internal or personal and external or environmental, to configure how the individual development of each human being is produced is very diverse.

Therefore, in the field of psychology, it cannot be right to attribute a certain psychological event or functioning to a single concrete and isolated cause.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baeza, M. C. Educational intervention on fundamental problems of social maladjustment (2001). http://www.um.es/dp-teoria-historia-educacion/programas/educsocial/interv-educ.doc.
  • Cano Moreno, J. (2000). Educational attention to special needs related to the socio-cultural context.
  • Del Arco Bravo, I. (1998). Towards an intercultural school. The teaching staff: training and expectations. Lleida: Educació i món actual.
  • Domingo Segovia, J. and Miñán Espigares, A. (2001). Special educational needs related to the socio-cultural context. Chapter 25, in Enciclopedia Psicopedagogica de Necesidades Educativas Especiales. Málaga: Aljibe.
  • Grau, C.; Zabala, J.; Ramos. C. Early intervention programs as compensatory education: model of a structured program: Bereiter – Engelmann. Available here.
  • Martínez Coll, J. C. (2001) “Las necesidades sociales y la pirámide de Maslow”, in La Economía de Mercado, virtudes e inconvenientes.