Belongingness vs Social Connectedness

Belongingness vs Social Connectedness

I am struggling with translation of these two words into my language. In many studies, they measure connectedness (or how much people feel connected) or belongingness (as need to belong or sense of belongingness). I have been searching for definitions and based on my research of definitions and contexts (see below for examples) it can be concluded that it is the same thing. Is it correct?

For example:

  • Belongingness is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. (
  • Social connectedness is defined as the sense of belonging and subjective psychological bond that people feel in relation to individuals and groups of others (
  • Social connectedness, i.e. the experience of belonging and relatedness between people (
  • The study developed 2 measures of belongingness based on H. Kohut's (1984) self psychology theory. The Social Connectedness Scale and the Social Assurance Scale were constructed… (

Concluding Comments

The present research has added to the current body of literature by conceptualizing and measuring host national connectedness as a complex, multi-faceted construct. Both objective aspects (such as number of host national friends and frequency of interaction with host nationals) and subjective aspects (such as feelings of belongingness and social support) should be included in the assessment of host national connectedness to fully capture its complexity. Moreover, the study demonstrates that it is important to go beyond the consideration of individual differences and to incorporate contextual variables for predicting host national connectedness and the psychological adaptation of international students. Most importantly, the findings suggest that connections with host nationals may serve as a functional mechanism through which international students ease their transition stress and cope with cultural differences. As international education increases across the globe, how best to enhance intercultural connectedness remains an important question for students, teachers, counselors, administrators and policy makers.

The role of sense of belonging and social support on stress and depression in individuals with depression

This longitudinal study examined the role of sense of belonging, social support, and spousal support on the relationship between perceived stress and symptoms of depression in 90 men and women who had a history of depression (n = 51) and who did not have (n = 39) a history of depression. Data were obtained at 3, 6, and 9 months after initial entry into the study. A series of regression analysis procedures revealed a mediation effect, but not a moderation effect, of sense of belonging and perceived social support on the relationship between perceived stress and depression in only the depressed group. Spousal support had neither a direct effect nor an interaction effect on the perceived stress-depression relationship in the depressed group. For the comparison group, perceived stress did not correlate significantly with the symptoms of depression. Repeated measures analysis of variance showed that increased perceived stress and lower sense of belonging had significant direct effects on the severity of depression and the effects were consistent over the period of 9 months. Social support and spousal support had only indirect effects that fluctuated over time. The results emphasize that interventions geared toward stress reappraisal and promotion of sense of belonging should yield direct and stable effects of decreasing depression.


Descriptive analyses

All four variables follow a similar distribution in all three languages (see Table 3 for means and SD, and Figures 1, 2, and 3 in the “Appendix” section for histograms). What stands out is that the highest value of the scale, indicating no challenge to one’s sense of belonging, is the modal value for all four items for all languages. The other four responses, indicating various degrees of challenged belonging, display an almost normal distribution.

The proportions of missing items vary between 2.7 and 14.4% (see Table 6 in the “Appendix” section), depending on the survey language. Respondents who answered the scale in English skipped more questions than those who responded in Arabic or Farsi/Dari across all items. While 92.8% of the Arabic-speaking respondents and 89.1% of the Farsi-speaking respondents answered all four scale items, only 78.0% of the English-speaking respondents did. Among English-speaking respondents, average item nonresponse across all four items was 13.2%, compared to only 3.5% among Arabic-speaking and 5.8% among Farsi-speaking respondents.

There does not seem to be a strong systematic pattern as to who answered all CSBS questions and who did not (please refer to Additional File 2 for the results of a logistic regression analysis on response behavior). There is some indication that respondents with higher levels of education were more likely to answer all scale questions and that those who did not report their legal status were less likely to answer all scale questions. However, the findings are not consistent across languages and the confidence intervals are large. Thus, for further analysis, we treated the missing values as “missing completely at random” (Little & Rubin, 1987), refraining from imputation or weighting adjustments.

Evidence for construct validity

To assess construct validity, we first employed a confirmatory factor analysis for all language groups separately. As indicated by the factor loadings (see Table 4), all items map onto the same latent construct. Additionally, fit-indices (CFI, RMSEA, SRMR) suggest that the proposed structure fits the data well.

The test for measurement invariance indicates full scalar invariance as all steps of the bottom-up procedure show adequate fit (configural: CFI = 0.98, SRMR = 0.03 metric: CFI = 0.98, SRMR = 0.06 scalar: CFI = 0.97, SRMR = 0.06). With full scalar invariance supported, we assume that the latent construct is the same across language groups.

Evidence for internal reliability

Reliability was measured using pairwise Pearson correlations, Cronbach’s alpha, and McDonald’s omega. As shown in Table 3, Cronbach’s alphas and McDonald’s omegas for the different sub-samples are all adequate to good. Additionally, the item-test correlations (ITC) and the item-rest correlations (IRC) are all of a sufficient magnitude, indicating that the items are highly correlated with the overall score. Pairwise correlations shown in Table 7 in the “Appendix” section reveal that some items are only moderately correlated with each other. Nevertheless, all effects are strongly significant, and no correlation is smaller than 0.42.

Evidence for convergent validity

We calculated partial correlations controlling for duration of stay in Germany separately for all three language groups in order to assess the association between the CSBS score and measures linked to belonging as evidence for convergent validity (see Table 5). Across all languages, CSBS scores are positively associated with greater mental health, that is: less challenged sense of belonging is associated with greater mental health. Out of all associations tested, this is the strongest one, with lower and upper confidence interval bounds for Pearson’s r values of a minimum of 0.32 and a maximum of 0.55 across languages. The well-being measure, life satisfaction, is positively, albeit less strongly, associated with the CSBS total score. The Pearson’s r confidence intervals show that there is an association across languages: the weakest among Farsi-speaking respondents (0.11–0.29) and the highest among Arabic-speaking respondents (0.25–0.32). Regarding the social embeddedness variables, we find that the number of people with whom respondents can share private thoughts and feelings is modestly positively associated with CSBS among Arabic-speaking respondents (0.03–0.11) and modestly or not at all associated in Farsi-speaking respondents (− 0.05 to 0.14). Frequency of contact to Germans in general and to Germans in the respondents’ own friend groups, are both positively associated with the CSBS score with confidence interval bounds for Pearson’s r between 0.01 and 0.34 across languages. A higher frequency of contact to people from the country of origin who are not relatives is modestly or not at all associated with higher CSBS scores in Farsi-speaking respondents (− 0.08 to 0.10) and modestly negatively associated with CSBS scores among English-speaking respondents (− 0.20 to 0.03), indicating that a higher frequency of contact could actually be linked to a more challenged sense of belonging.

Belonging: Why do we need a sense of belonging?

One of the many things that is common to humans across cultures is the need to belong and be accepted by others. This is one of the reasons people seek to spend time bonding with family, friends, hobby-buddies, sports fans, and religious congregations. Whenever I’ve found myself musing aloud why we have this need, the answer I’ve received is: “Because humans are social animals!” But *why* are we social animals? Why do humans need to belong?

Let’s get something straight first, do we really *need* a sense of belonging?

The answer is a resounding “yes!”

Social psychologists have been studying our need for belonging for well over a century and one of the most famous studies on this subject was done by Abraham Maslow who in 1943 proposed that this human need to belong was one of the five basic needs required for self-actualization. In fact, after physiological needs (like food and sleep) and safety needs, he ranked the need for belonging as the next level up in his “Hierarchy of Needs”.

As will be seen, without belongingness, not only would we never make it past infanthood, but it is likely that we would be no-where near as evolved as we are today!

Why do we need this sense of belonging? Why do we need to be social animals?

It all boils down to: “Because belonging helps us survive”.

This is true looking at it from several different perspectives:

1.) Evolutionary perspective :

In the history of mankind, social people were far more likely to survive than hermits. Why? Because people helped one another to ensure their survival by:

a.) Hunting together to capture large prey which would have been impossible for one human to hunt alone. Many years later people worked together on farms, being able to grow and share a wide range of nutritious food thanks to the “many hands make light work” principle.

b.) Delegating community jobs, enabling division of labour, where it was typical for the women to cook the fresh kills from a hunt, freeing up the males to collect more food for the community. This saved time and allowed more food to be gathered and therefore secured longer survival.

c.) Reciprocity of helping one another build shelter meant that the task was done with increased speed and ease than if done alone.

d.) Safety in numbers meant that together, people protected one another and were able to save one another. If you’ve got more than one pair of eyes watching your back it definitely enhances chances of survival. If you belong to a group and have an important role to play in the group, it increases others’ motivation to protect you.

2.) Developmental perspective: We Learn that Belonging is Important from Infanthood:

As infants we are among the most helpless babies in the animal kingdom. Human babies rely on their parents to provide every basic needs, from food and shelter to love and affection. If human babies didn’t have the internal need to bond with their parents, and vice versa, there is no chance that babies would be able to survive on their own.

In order to give babies the instinct to belong to their parents, and to ensure that parents look out for their young, we’ve evolved to secrete neurochemicals like oxytocin, which drive our need to belong to one another because it makes “being together” feel good, triggering off feelings of happiness and love.

Since babyhood we learn that belonging feels safe and good, and so we seek it out later in life, trying to recapture it by surrounding ourselves with feelings of belonging to family groups, friend groups, partner-pairs and wider community groups.

3.) Motivation-based perspective:

Today whilst evolutionary and developmental reasons are still valid, one of the main forces driving our need for belonging is “reward and punishment”.

- Reward of bailing one another out in times of trouble: If you are helped in times of trouble, you are far more likely to want to reciprocate and help others who are in a similar position in the future.
In 50AD Roman slaves had an emergency fund to aid fellow slaves in need. Similarly, today our sense of belonging motivates charities that help those in need. If you were banished from the community, chances of survival are much reduced without this charitable give-and-take that comes with belonging.

- Reward of utilizing other people’s specialized strengths and skills to allow better progress of the group: This applies to every industry. One example of society groups using different people’s skills is as follows: If it wasn’t for people skilled in electricity, scholars in society wouldn’t have light to study with, and if it wasn’t for scholars finding cures for diseases, a lot of us would be killed off by disease.

If everyone fended for themselves, everyone would focus on gaining general knowledge needed for survival, and there would be no time or opportunity to specialize in any one field. The consequence? Progress in every field would be hindered severely.

- Reward of information from others: We have more knowledge as a group than individually, and this pooled knowledge is known as “transactive memories”.
OK, so maybe getting information about a good book or movie won’t be a matter of life or death, but getting the information about where the local burger joint is might be!
By exchanging information with others, better decisions can be made for important things in life that do affect survival, and this can not only increase survival rates but also can help society progress and evolve at a faster rate.
It is because of the view that groups form better decisions than individual people that we have democracy and juries in courts.

- Psychological rewards of feeling needed:

a.) Being needed gives meaning to life: Feeling needed when you belong to part of the group can give more meaning to your life and increases desire for survival. Ideally though, it’s best to have your own strong internal meaning of life that is independent of external things like belongingness, otherwise your reason for living is very vulnerable.

b.) Your belongingness to a group can boost your self-esteem , especially if the group is doing well. When you feel you belong, it comes with feelings of being wanted and loved, and this makes you feel more valuable. Ideally, we should all have this feeling that we are valuable from within, even if we don’t have a sense of belongingness. This can be achieved through internal work on confidence and self-love.

c.) Your group can give you a sense of identity: Ideally, your sense of identity should come from within you, and not from external locations, however many take comfort in a group giving them a sense of identity. When asked “Who am I?” lots of people would identify with their religion, their race, their profession – all groups they belong too. However your true identity isn’t any of these things. It is something unique to you and can only be found inside yourself.

d.) Belongingness gives you feelings of moral support from which you can draw strength . Ideally we’d want to draw strength from within rather than be dependent on others, but until we strengthen ourselves, belongingness to groups of people with life experience and compassion that can offer comfort can be our rocks in stormy seas.

e.) Belonging to a group can give you a direction in life. When you don’t know what *you* want to do with your life, social comparison and discussion with other group members can help guide you.

f.) Groups expressing the same value you want to express helps us with self-expression , particularly in people prone to repression. Expression is important for good mental health.

g.) Belonging to groups helps us make sense of the world around us . Stereotyping through belongingness to groups helps order the world (although whether it orders the world in a positive or negative way is not so sure!).

4.) Religious perspective:

From a Christian and Biblical perspective Man was made, not only as part of a pair (a small group), indicating that it’s God’s wish for Man to be a social creature, but also as a being that belongs to God. Belongingness began when God made Adam and Eve, and this belongingness binds every human being together in the group that is “God’s creations”.

For the non-religious, you could say that the fact that we are all human binds every human being into the same group of belongingness.

Deviations from the Norm

There are cases where people resist belonging or have difficulties belonging, like spiritual people who become hermits and meditate on mountains alone without human contact for months people suffering from avoidant personality disorder, social anxieties, or autism spectrum disorders.


Emerging infectious diseases, such as HIV and 2009’s pandemic influenza A (H1N1), can have significant economic, social, and medical costs (Danziger, 1994 Gasparini, Amicizia, Lai, & Panatto, 2012 Meltzer, Cox, & Fukuda, 1999 Shrestha et al., 2011 Szucs, 1999 ). In late 2019, an emerging disease called coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) rapidly spread across the globe and became an unprecedented public health event (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020 World Health Organization [WHO], 2020 ). Indeed, in 4 months’ time, COVID-19—which is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2 Lu et al., 2020 Zhou et al., 2020 )—has infected over 2 million people and caused nearly 150,000 deaths across 185 countries (CDC, 2020 Dong, Du, & Gardner, 2020 ). The U.S. has been among the most highly affected countries to date, accounting for approximately 30% of infections and 20% of deaths worldwide (CDC, 2020 Dong et al., 2020 ). Moreover, due to a combination of COVID-19’s long incubation period, ease of transmission, relatively high mortality rate (compared to the seasonal flu), and lack of pharmacological interventions (Linton et al., 2020 Rajgor, Lee, Archuleta, Bagdasarian, & Quek, 2020 Shereen, Khan, Kazmi, Bashir, & Siddique, 2020 ), extraordinary social distancing interventions have been implemented in many states to slow the spread of the virus, including relatively restrictive shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders issued in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (Mervosh, Lu, & Swales, 2020 ). These orders, which have shuttered schools, universities, and nonessential businesses, urge individuals to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to leave, and promote strict physical distancing to slow the spread of the virus (CDC, 2020 ).

From a public health perspective, the reasoning behind such interventions is clear: Physically separating people is an effective strategy for preventing infectious diseases from spreading (Ahmed, Zviedrite, & Uzicanin, 2018 Jackson, Mangtani, Hawker, Olowokure, & Vynnycky, 2014 Qualls et al., 2017 ), including COVID-19 (Flaxman et al., 2020 Thakkar, Burstein, Hu, Selvajar, & Klein, 2020 ). Yet, despite the necessity of stay-at-home orders and other social distancing interventions from a disease prevention perspective, these measures are likely to have numerous unintended social and economic consequences that may adversely affect psychological outcomes during this time (Galea, Merchant, & Lurie, 2020 Reger, Stanley, & Joiner, 2020 Thunström, Newbold, Finnoff, Ashworth, & Shogren, 2020 ).

Indeed, pandemics of this nature have well-documented economic and social consequences (Chen, Huang, Chuang, Chiu, & Kuo, 2011 Reger et al., 2020 Thunström et al., 2020 )—some of which have been linked to psychological difficulties (Montemurro, 2020 Wang et al., 2020 ), including suicide risk (see Reger et al., 2020 ). Currently, in the United States, beyond the immediate physical health consequences of COVID-19 (and related fear and distress associated with these consequences), two consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic that stand out as particularly relevant to suicide risk are the social isolation related to stay-at-home orders and the widespread job loss related to the current economic crisis—both of which have been theoretically and/or empirically linked to suicide risk (e.g., Classen & Dunn, 2012 Oyesanya, Lopez-Morinigo, & Dutta, 2015 Reger et al., 2020 ). For example, with regard to the economic consequences of this pandemic, both theory and research support an association between involuntary job loss and suicide risk (Classen & Dunn, 2012 Milner et al., 2014 ), with recent job loss from mass-layoffs in particular (comparable to what is occurring currently in the United States) associated with increased suicide risk (Classen & Dunn, 2012 ).

Likewise, the widespread social distancing interventions implemented to slow the spread of the virus (of which stay-at-home orders are the most restrictive) have been proposed to increase suicide risk by increasing social isolation and loneliness (Reger et al., 2020 ). Specifically, although stay-at-home orders are designed to increase physical distancing in particular (and need not negatively impact social connections and connectedness through remote or virtual means), researchers have suggested that an unintended consequence of social distancing interventions may be an increase in social isolation and related feelings of loneliness (Reger et al., 2020 ). Loneliness, in turn, is a well-documented suicide risk factor (e.g., Calati et al., 2019 Joiner, Ribeiro, & Silva, 2012 Li, Dorstyn, & Jarmon, 2020 ) that evidences strong associations with suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide risk (e.g., Calati et al., 2019 Chang et al., 2017 Li et al., 2020 Stickley & Koyanagi, 2016 Stravynski & Boyer, 2001 ).

Beyond just examining the relations of pandemic-related stay-at-home orders and job loss to suicide risk, research is needed to clarify the factors that may account for these relations. The Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide (ITS Van Orden et al., 2010 ) provides a particularly useful framework in this regard. According to this theory, the desire for suicide is driven by perceived burdensomeness (i.e., perceptions of being a burden to others) and thwarted belongingness (i.e., feeling disconnected from and lacking meaningful relationships with others). Notably, although thwarted belongingness overlaps with loneliness, it is a broader construct that also captures the nature and extent of supportive and reciprocal interpersonal relationships. A recent meta-analysis provides empirical support for this theory and the proposed relations of perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness to suicidal desire (Chu et al., 2017 ). With regard to the relevance of these factors to the relations of interest in this study, thwarted belongingness would be expected to play a particularly important role in the relation of stay-at-home orders to suicide risk, capturing the proposed unintended negative consequences of social distancing interventions on social connectedness (Reger et al., 2020 ). Conversely, although a recent job loss could also contribute to thwarted belongingness (particularly if that job was a primary source of social connection), theory suggests the particular relevance of perceived burdensomeness to the relation between job loss and suicide risk. Specifically, the inability to provide for loved ones or support oneself financially could increase the experience of being a burden on others, which, in turn, would increase the desire for suicide and suicide risk (Cukrowicz, Cheavens, Van Orden, Ragain, & Cook, 2011 Van Orden et al., 2010 ).

The present study examined the relations of COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders and job loss to suicide risk, both directly and indirectly through thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness. Given that social distancing and related social isolation have been proposed to increase suicide risk through loneliness, we also examined the indirect relation of stay-at-home orders in particular to suicide risk through loneliness. We hypothesized that both recent job loss and stay-at-home order status would be associated with increased suicide risk. We also hypothesized the differential relevance of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness to the relations of stay-at-home order status and pandemic-related job loss, respectively, to suicide risk. Specifically, we hypothesized that stay-at-home order status would be indirectly related to suicide risk through thwarted belongingness and loneliness, whereas recent job loss would be indirectly related to suicide risk through perceived burdensomeness.

1. Introduction

Serving in the U.S. military provides a substantial opportunity for a sense of community, belonging and understanding. Re-establishing a new sense of community is essential for veterans transitioning out of the military and into civilian life. However, developing a new sense of connectedness is one of many challenges separating service members may face. Little is known about the role social connectedness may play in promoting positive transition outcomes.

One such challenge transitioning veterans may encounter is unmet mental health needs, particularly posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Evidence suggests that veterans are especially at risk of developing PTSD due to the potential stressors associated with combat exposure and military-related trauma. The prevalence of PTSD among veterans ranges from 11 to 30% based on the area of service [1,2]. Research indicates that an estimated 30% of Vietnam, 10% of Gulf War, 15% of Iraq veterans and 11% of veterans returning from Afghanistan struggle with PTSD [1,2,3]. PTSD is a result of traumatic or stressful life events, and it can interfere with social, physical and psychological functioning. PTSD is characterized by intrusive thoughts in which the trauma is re-experienced, avoidance of situations that might trigger the trauma, a state of hyperarousal or vigilance and negative alterations in cognition and mood which may cause irritability and aggression [4,5]. Veterans with trauma exposure and PTSD are more susceptible to sleep disorders, mood changes, reckless behavior, substance use and isolation which may impede a successful transition from military to civilian life [1,5].

One of the primary risk factors for the development of PTSD is combat exposure. Extensive research identifies combat exposure as a strong predictor of health and psychological complications in veterans due to the risk of physical injury, psychological trauma and other stressors related to war [6,7]. A recent study examined associations between combat exposure and physical and psychological health focusing on the physical pain, PTSD and depression in veterans. The findings indicate that veterans exposed to combat had greater pain intensity and as a result higher PTSD and depression symptoms in comparison veterans without combat exposure [7].

Another factor associated with negative outcomes during transition is non-honorable discharge status. As qualification for benefits is determined by discharge status, the roughly 16% of veterans who leave the military with non-honorable discharge status are often met with additional barriers to getting care, which can create significant transition challenges [8,9]. With limited access to services, veterans with non-honorable discharge status are at increased risk of adverse mental health outcomes including PTSD [10].

Among the challenges that military veterans encounter during their transition from military to civilian life is a loss of social connectedness. Social connectedness refers to an individual’s internal sense of belongingness to the social environment [11]. Social connectedness impacts interpersonal relationships, peer affiliation, memberships, social behavior and overall social integration throughout the lifespan [12]. There are health and psychological benefits linked to social connectedness. Documented benefits to social connectedness include intimacy, sense of sharing and belonging [13]. Existing research shows that experiencing a higher sense of social connectedness may serve as a protective factor against psychological distress, depression, PTSD, low self-esteem and suicidal ideation [14,15]. The need for social connection is fundamental to the successful reintegration of veterans into civilian life. With the loss a sense of community, identity and belongingness often provided by the military, the inability to find a new sense of social connectedness may create difficulty for veterans interacting in the civilian world. This can lead to isolation and further transition challenges.

While it is well established that veterans may struggle in their transition out of the military and into civilian communities, little has been done to examine this transition in relation to social connectedness and its impact on risk factors and transition outcomes. The purpose of this study is to explore the effect of combat exposure, non-honorable discharge status, and social connectedness on PTSD symptoms in individuals who have served in the U.S. military.

Formulating belongingness scale for higher education students – a pilot study

The starting point of this pilot study and the larger project around it was the concern about student wellbeing in higher education institutions (HEIs). In a recently published study the students of Finnish universities of applied sciences felt that the strongest factors associated with their ability to study were their personal resources and their social study environment (Lavikainen 2010: 97–108). Many studies report that students feel less satisfied with their lives than the general population (Vaez, Kristenson, & Laflamme 2004 Kjeldstadli et al. 2006).

Student wellbeing can be examined from the viewpoints of general life-satisfaction (Krokstadt 2002), self-esteem (Mellor, Cummins, Karlinski & Storer 2003), stress (Lopez et al. 2001) and coping (Vitaliano et al. 1985). However, the belongingness dimension seems to be increasingly important one when we look at the higher education institutes nowadays. The concept ‘belongingness’ has been used more than before since the 1960s (e.g. Osterman 2000 Levett-Jones et al. 2007). It has been defined from the various viewpoints in social sciences and psychology. According to Hagerty et al. (1992), ‘sense of belonging is the experience of personal involvement in a system or environment so that persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment’. Baumeister and Leary (1995) and Somers (1999) define belongingness ‘as the need to be, and the perception of being involved with others at different interpersonal levels, which contributes to one’s sense of connectedness (being part of, being accepted, fitting in) and esteem while providing reciprocal acceptance, caring and valuing each other.

Belongingness, connectedness and integration or lack of them, are related to many wellbeing factors of students: self-esteem, burdensomeness, sleep, depression, risk of suicides (Lee 2002 Armstrong et al. 2009 Wong et al. 2011). They are also associated with student retention, academic attitudes, motives and progress which are professional, scientific and economic indicators of success for individual students and for higher education institutions (Tinto 1975 Osterman 2000 Rosenthal et al. 2007 Allen et al. 2008). According to Tinto (1975) student drop out is associated with the students’ degree of academic integration, and social integration. This is why higher education institutions need instruments to follow up students’ sense of belongingness.

Konrath et al. (2011) found that empathy amongst American college students has been declining sharply since 2000 and so has the capacity to take another persons’ perspective into consideration. School shootings are the most serious indicator of separation and malaise. According to Newman (2004), the school shooters are far from being ”loners” but rather ”joiners” whose attempts at social integration have failed. School bullying may lead to a negative view of students’ peers and schoolmates. In the long run, the effects include an increased risk of depression and a negative attitude toward other young adults. (Ministry of Justice, Finland 2009). Lack of integration, belongingness or connectedness characterise often these youngsters. The extent of school shootings indicate that something must be done to improve the wellbeing of the students.

This study is a part of a larger research and development project called ‘Promoting student
wellbeing in Second Life’. The purpose of the project was to promote the availability of student wellbeing services in real world and virtual world. It was financed by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. In previous phases of the project, a qualitative study was conducted involving the students and staff of one large Finnish University of Applied sciences (UAS) in order to find means to promote communal wellbeing and a sense of belongingness. On the basis of those suggestions, an action model was set up for communal meeting spaces that had been established. Also virtual student wellbeing services were constructed and studied their usefulness.

In order to promote belongingness in higher education institutes, we must have instruments to measure it. The aim of this part of the study was to formulate a scale measuring belongingness in higher education institutions.

Materials and methods

Data collection

This pilot study was conducted during spring 2011. Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences is a multidisciplinary higher education institute having about 16,000 students with 67 degree programmes, 14 of them being taught in English. An invitation to take part in the study via a web-based questionnaire was placed in an internal information portal of University of Applied Sciences. Identical paper questionnaires with boxes for returning them were also placed in seven communal meeting places created in the previous phase of this project. The questionnaires and hard copy versions of them were available in the web for three weeks. The data received from the web based questionnaires was converted to SPSS PASW 18 program directly after the end of the data collection period. The boxes were collected back by the project group members and coded to the same SPSS matrix as the web based data by the first author of this article. This program was also used for the analysis.


The questionnaire began with eleven background questions, four of them about sosiodemographic issues (age, gender, marital status and number of children or other dependents), three about studies (degree programme of the respondent, years of studies and basic education), and four about taking part in student or other activities.

There are many scales measuring belongingness (e.g. Mehrabian 1994 Leary et al. 2007). The 35- item instrument was developed on the basis of the Levett-Jones Belongingness Scale – Clinical Placement Experience (Levett-Jones et al. 2009), which has its ground on the work of Baumeister and Leary (1995) and Somers (1999). This scale was chosen on the basis of instrument development because the Levett-Jones (2009) instrument has also been developed in the higher education context in an institution respective to universities of applied sciences in Finland. The construct validity and consistency reliability of the Levett-Jones (2009) scale were high. The authors believe that belongingness is multifaceted concept that needs to be examined from several viewpoints. The benefit of the scale chosen (Levett-Jones et al. 2009) is that it is multidimensional. The permission to use and modify the scale was received from the creator of the scale in written.

The Levett-Jones et al. (2009) BES–CPE –instrument had 34 items which formed three factors: Esteem subscale (Cronbach’s alpha 0.92) comprising statements being in held esteem by one’s work colleagues, Connectedness subscale (Cronbach’s alpha 0.82) included statements concerned with interpersonal connections, and items included in Efficacy subscale (Cronbach’s alpha 0.80) were about efficacious behaviours undertaken to enhance one’s experience of belongingness. Four of the original items (Q6, Q11, Q15 and Q27) were left out of the questionnaire because they were specific to clinical replacement. Five new items about cooperation and meeting places were added because in the qualitative study by Jenze (2010), which was also part of the same larger study, it was found out that in the higher education context, communal meeting places are very important in order to gain a feeling of belongingness. BES–CPE items Q12 and Q22r, which were excluded from the factor analysis in the testing by Levett-Jones et al. (2009), were included in our questionnaire, but not item Q6. In the instrument the phrase ’clinical replacement’ was substituted with ’University of Applied Sciences’ or the name of it, or ’student community’. The word ’colleagues’ was replaced with the words ’fellow students’ or ’student mates’. Considering the amount of customized and revised items, it can be stated that in this study a new instrument having its grounds in the theoretical structure in the work of Levett-Jones et al. (2009) was formulated.

The instrument was delivered in Finnish and English languages. The customization and first version of the translation was made by the Finnish language project group members who all have good skills in English language. The accuracy of the translation was reviewed by a translator who is both native English and Finnish language speaker. The questionnaire applied five-point Likert-scale. The choices were 1 = never true, 2 = rarely true, 3 = sometimes true, 4 = often true and 5 = always true.


The psychometric properties of the instrument were tested in the same way as in the study of Levett-Jones et al. (2009). Principal component analysis with varimax rotation and Kaiser Normalization was performed. The number of factors was restricted to three and Cronbach’s alphas were calculated in order to determine internal consistency of the scales.

Permission for the study was asked from and granted by the vice rector of the University of Applied Sciences. A letter explaining the purpose, financier, voluntary of responding, executors and time of responding was enclosed to the electronic as well as to the paper format questionnaires.


Background variables

Although the questionnaire was available for all the students of the University of Applied Sciences (n=16 000), only 57 responses were received. These represented all the faculties of the UAS: Business school, Civil engineering and building services, Culture and creative industries, Health care and nursing, School of information and communication technology, Industrial engineering, and Welfare and human functioning. The mean age of the respondents was 24 years, with 37% of them married or living in a registered relationship, and there were students from all the semesters of the three and a half years that completing a degree takes. Most of them (75%) had college-level training as basic education, and 60% of them belonged to some real-life community and the same proportion of them to some virtual community.

Psychometric testing

Principal component analysis with varimax rotation and Kaiser Normalization was performed for all the 35 variables of the belongingness scale. Eight components with eigenvalues greater than one were extracted accounting 73.44% of the variance. However, this factor structure did not fit into the theory of the instrument because the first factor comprised most of the variables and the remaining seven factors consisted of one to three items. Factor solutions with five to three factors were run, and out of those the three-factor solution fitted best to the theory of belongingness in the context of higher education institutions. This three-component solution accounted for 52.12% of the higher education institutions students’ sense of belongingness.

The variables stemming from the original scale of Levett-Jones et al. (2009) and the new items created for this study loaded to the factors quite in a different way than in the study of Levett-Jones et al. (2009). For that reason they were renamed. Items loading to the first factor (n=22) were about feeling connected to other students and being part of student community. The first factor accounted for 27.78% of the variance. The items loading to the second factor (n=9) described feeling part of, and belonging to the UAS as higher education institution: importance of cooperation between the degree programmes, taking part to common activities and about the relation to the UAS staff. This factor accounted for 12.44% of the variance. The third factor having four items was about the integration to the student community and higher education institution. It explained 11.97% of the variance. (Table 1)

Table 1. Rotated component loadings of the instrument.

Cronbach’s Alpha of the first factor ‘Connectedness to the student community’ was 0.95 and item– factor correlations varied between 0.37 (weakest) and 0.84 (strongest). However, leaving any statement out of the scale would not have given higher Alpha to the scale. Scale ‘Connectedness to higher education institution’ received Cronbach’s Alpha 0.84. Item–scale correlations were between 0.23 and 0.70. Leaving out the item ‘I have liked the University of Applied Sciences’ lecturers I have met’ would have given Alpha size of 0.85. The variable was left on the scale because of its importance from the viewpoint of content. The last factor ‘Integration’ received Cronbach’s Alpha 0.81 with item scale variation between 0.49 and 0.80. Leaving the last two items out would have resulted a higher Alpha. The scale was given the name Belongingness in Higher education institutions BES-HE (Table 2)

Table 2. Cronbach’s Alphas of the BES–HE scale.

Belongingness in the higher education institute

In the University of Applied Sciences where the study was made the students gave highest scores to Connectedness to student community dimension of belongingness (mean 3.92), scale Integration mean score was 3.82 and Connectedness to higher education institute 3.48. There was no difference between genders in the sense of belongingness but all the dimension of if had mild inverse correlation with age (0.33 to 0.43).


Limitations of the study

The weakest point of the study is the low response rate of the study. Only 57 students answered the questionnaire although there were about 16,000 students in the UAS in question. Although the sample size was small, the respondents represented all the faculties of the UAS. However since the number of respondents was so low, there may be some selection in the sample e.g. students that are most interested in student wellbeing and social issues may have responded. This may have caused some bias to the responses favouring more positive views about the belongingness in the University of Applied Sciences in question.

The data collection was performed as a part of a larger study and comprised only a part of it. The questionnaire as an entity was too long and the marketing of the study could also have been better. However, this was a pilot study and the number of answers received was enough for running validity and reliability tests. Johanson and Brooks (2010) suggest that 30 representative participants from the population of interest is a reasonable minimum recommendation for a pilot study where the purpose is preliminary survey or scale development. The study was performed in just one UAS of Finland, which poses a limitation of geographic generalization. However, being the largest and multidisciplinary UAS in Finland, students all over the country and also from other countries apply for and study in this UAS. Because of the small response rate the results are only indicative need validation with larger and more geographically representative sample. It should also be culturally validated.


The BES–HE items loaded to the three factors quite differently than in the validation study of BES– CPE instrument by Levett-Jones et al. (2009), which was made in the context of clinical placement. To the first factor loaded about equal proportion of items from each three original subscales of BES– CPE plus one of the four new statements. However, although the factor structure looked different compared to the BES–CPE scale, it was quite logical when thinking about the context of BES–HE instrument. In the context of higher education social connectedness to individual students is one dimension of belongingness, and commitment to educational institution another (e.g. Allen et al. 2008). The student may feel connected to the fellow students but not connected or committed to the higher education institution or vice versa. To the third factor were loaded four statements which indicate integration to the student community and to the UAS as a higher education institution. In the lives of UAS students, integration is one of the most important developmental tasks especially during the first year of study but also for the students of all the semesters. Like Hagerty et al. (1992) state, integration or ‘experience of personal involvement in a system or environment’ is one central dimension of belongingness. This is why the last factor was given the name Integration.

All the dimensions of belongingness are important but also some different meaning for the higher education students may be found. If we think about individual students’ mental health and general wellbeing the subscales ‘Connectedness to student community’ and ‘Integration’ are the most important. If students feel respected, accepted and supported by other students and is involved in the student community, communicating freely with fellow students, they are better equipped to withstand many threats of student life such as lack of self-esteem in the face of failures, depression, stress and burdensomeness (Lee 2002 Armstrong et al. 2009 Wong et al. 2011). If the student does not feel connected to the student community, it may lead to adverse behaviour as may be read e.g. in the reports about school massacres (Ministry of Justice, Finland 2009). The subscale ‘Connectedness to HE institution’ which comprised items about cooperation between different degree programmes and staff may have more to do with the education success indicators. If the student feels at home in the higher education institution, gets along with the staff, feels that he is supported enough by the institution, this has a positive impact on the retention and progress of the studies (Tinto 1975 Rosenthal et al. 2007 Allen et al. 2008).


As a result of this pilot study, Belongingness in Higher education institutions scale was formed. It comprises three subscales totalling 35 items. Supported by theories of the topic (e.g. Tinto 1975 Rosenthal et al. 2007 Allen et al. 2008) and on the basis of the results of this study the authors suggest that the subscales ‘Connectedness to student community’ and the subscale ‘Integration’ are associated with student wellbeing. They also suggest that the subscale ‘Connectedness to higher education institution’ is associated with success indicators of higher education institutions.


1st and corresponding author: RT, PhD, Principal Lecturer Eija Metsälä, [email protected] Coordinator, Learning centre for evidence-based practice, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Health care and nursing

2nd author: RT., MSc., Senior Advisor Eija Heiskanen

3nd author: B. Soc. Sci., Wellbeing Advisor Maarika Kortelainen

[vc_tta_accordion active_section=𔄢″ no_fill=”true” el_class=”lahteet”][vc_tta_section title=”References” tab_id=�-b3f22396-5506″]

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Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


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October 3rd, 2009 by David Kronemyer · 18 Comments

One of Adler’s key concepts is that of social interest. “Social interest” in German is “Gemeinschaftsgefuhl,” which translates as “community feeling,” as opposed to one’s private interests or concerns. One’s “style of life” is the set of construals and personal narratives one has devised in order to cope with being-in-the-world. If one has social interest then one evidences or enacts a “useful” style of life. If one does not have social interest then one is self-absorbed and is concerned only with one’s self. Such a style of life is “useless.”

The condition of being useless is not pathological. A person doesn’t “have” (possess) a defined set of psychological symptoms. Rather, she “uses” them in her dealings with others and lives within their parameters, confines and restraints. She believes there must be some benefit to deploying them and that her life would change for the worse if she wasn’t able to do so. In this sense neurosis is a form of reality-evasion. The useless person is not sick, rather just “discouraged” because the dysfunctional relationships she has developed result in loss of social functioning and subjective mental distress.

Adler’s process of analysis begins with the evaluation of one’s “family constellation,” which is the set of circumstances into which one is born such as gender and birth order. It continues through one’s “early recollections,” which are formative events that dynamically influence the growth and development of one’s personality. At the conclusion of this process one will be able to ascertain one’s “basic mistakes,” which are conceptual errors and adverse modalities or ways of being. One habitually enacts them, or uses them as a basis for action, as part of one’s style of life. One also will be able to identify and inventory one’s “assets,” which are accomplishments or successful instances of orientation towards people and projects that are not self-centered.

Adler identifies the source of basic mistakes as an “inferiority complex,” which is behaving “as if” one was of lesser stature (emotional, physical, intellectual) than others, and then creating a style of life based on this belief. The inferiority complex is more than just a cognition or an attitude. It is a form of self-centeredness and is self-defeating. If one solely pursues self-originated objectives then one tends to self-isolate and to avoid risk. People have a self-concept, which is one’s belief about who one is. People also have a self-ideal, which is a belief about how one should be. One experiences dissonance between these two ideations. The greater the tension between them, the greater one’s feelings of inferiority, because one is acting primarily to preserve one’s concept of self.

Feelings of inferiority in turn lead to self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of a useless style of life. They result in the promotion of self-interest over social interest. Social interest is more important than individual interest put slightly differently, the best expression of individual interest is to veer towards social interest. Only after recognizing one’s basic mistakes and taking prophylactic action to mitigate against them can one then segue to a useful style of life. Undeveloped or underdeveloped social interest is evidenced by poor performance of basic life tasks. Reorienting oneself to pursue one’s social interest in turn reorganizes one’s style of life and enables one to avoid committing further basic mistakes. In this way the goal of Adlerian therapy is to eradicate one’s “inferiority complex” and to awaken ones undeveloped or underdeveloped social interest.

“Social interest” presents the following issues.

1. Adler says social interest is an attitude or outlook towards furthering the welfare of others. It comprises then a set of beliefs about the relationship between actions and outcomes. Actions evidencing social interest cause a certain set of outcomes to occur, which are welfare-enhancing those that do not are welfare-reducing. This bifurcation however ignores the possibility that concerted group action may not be in the interests of all members of the group, or in the interests of members of other groups. In a democratic society there are many interpretations of what might be welfare-enhancing. A totalitarian society might have only one interpretation, with which many covertly disagree. Different cultures per se will have different points of view. Since Adler is committed to a theory of mass action he would be unable to draw these distinctions. He confuses a set of propositional beliefs about what comprises social interest with the dynamic of how social interest is created and then orients itself within a society towards different results.

2. Evaluating one’s style of life in terms of its “usefulness” is a form of utilitarianism. As classically defined by John Stuart Mill, “utilitarianism” is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This formulation ignores however the dilemma of what a society should do for those of its members who are the least advantaged (as argued by, among others, John Rawls). Adler is committed to the former definition.

3. Unless an individual is a person of influence it is unlikely her actions will result in an overall augmentation of social welfare or that they will implement or achieve any socially-desirable objective at all. In some cases individuals who are purporting to advance it simply may be gratifying their own desire to implement an outcome in response to their activity, which is not evidencing or enacting social interest. In most cases individuals simply do what they do without thinking about whether it advances or retards social interest. They are enmeshed within the structure of their own lives. They undertake tasks and pursue goals and objectives without giving the slightest thought to abstract notions like social interest.

4. Adler is committed to a theory of motivation. If one pursues social interest then one has a motive for doing so. An example of a motive implementing social interest is altruism. Altruism may be commendable but is not necessarily efficacious. It may even be counter-evolutionary. People are motivated to do things for a variety of reasons, only a small subset of which are altruistic. By evaluating everybody who isn’t altruistic as “useless” Adler dramatically overstates his case. People may advance social interest without necessarily being altruistic, just as many altruistic people may act in a way that does not advance social interest.

5. The way Adler defines it, “social interest” is a utopian ideal. It depends on a Marxist concept of society evolving to a utopian state of fraternity and brotherhood. Etymologically, social interest immediately suggests the possibility Adler is advancing a form of “socialism.” At the same time, “social interest” is inherently conservative. The way to enact social interest is by complaisantly and compliantly fulfilling one’s designated social role. Stepping outside its confines means one is pursuing an individual objective rather than a social one. This kind of mindless conformity is antithetical to the development of authentic personality.

6. This also is puzzling because Adler called his approach, “individual psychology.” One’s style of life comprises the set of one’s “choices” and what one chooses in turn depends on one’s style of life. It follows that a person cannot be biologically or environmentally predisposed or determined. Adler for example would say one “chooses” to be gay, which implies one can choose not to be gay. One is ego-dystonically homosexual. This is an outmoded view that was discarded two decades ago (among others it creates a problem of what the “default” conditions are before one can exercise freedom of choice). Properly understood Adler is committing a type of fundamental attribution error, in that one’s ability to choose freely is constrained by the very elements Adler eschews, such as biology and environment. People can make individual choices only within the context of a well-developed social milieu. If it is “individual,” then how come Adler is so concerned with a cultural (inter-individual) outcome such as “social interest”?