Canadian researchers have discovered that belonging to multiple groups that are important to you boosts self-esteem much more than having friends alone.

Investigators discovered strong group identification improves health by enhancing people’s sense of control over their personal lives.

Research fellows Nyla Branscombe (University of Kansas), Alexander Haslam and Catherine Haslam (both University of Queensland) recently collaborated with lead author Jolanda Jetten on experiments to explore the importance of group memberships for self-esteem.

Researchers studied a disparate set of individuals including groups of schoolchildren, the elderly, and former homeless people in the United Kingdom, China and Australia.

Using questionnaires, the researchers found that people with a strong sense of national, community, political or student identity had higher life satisfaction and reduced depression rates.

Investigators discovered that people who belong to many groups, whatever their nature, had higher self-esteem.

“This is in our view promising and suggests that boosting group memberships is quite a powerful way to make people feel better about themselves,” Jetten said.

The researchers compared group memberships to the number of friends people had, and found that having a large network of friends did not predict self-esteem, but belonging to multiple groups did.

The authors argue that groups provide benefits that interpersonal ties alone do not; namely, meaning, connection, support and a sense of control over our lives.

“Groups often have rich value and belief systems, and when we identify with groups, these can provide a lens through which we see the world,” said Jetten. For example, religious groups or organizations striving toward a goal such as reducing poverty can provide a greater sense of purpose.

The new study could signal a shift away from thinking about self-esteem as something that comes solely from inside of us.

“Rather than fetishizing self-esteem, a much better and probably healthier and more effective strategy is to encourage people to have rich social lives and multiple sources of social engagement. If you do that, one important by-product will be improved self-esteem, but there will be lots of other benefits too,” Haslam says.

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research/EurekAlert