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Posted: September 20th, 2023

Independence vs. Connectedness

In social psychology, understanding ourselves is shaped by those around us. The concepts of independence and connectedness, and how they tend toward gender differences. With which one do you identify most–a sense of independence from others (i.e., doing thing because it’s fair or right for you; achieving your own goals) or connectedness (doing things because it’s right or fair for someone else or other people, achieving goals because it would bring prestige or honor to your family or other group)? Is that demonstrated in your behavior? If so, how?

Independence vs. Connectedness: Understanding Gender Differences in Social Relationships
The ways in which people view themselves in relation to others can have important implications for behavior, well-being, and gender differences. Two key concepts examined within social psychology are independence and connectedness. While independence prioritizes autonomy and individual goals, connectedness emphasizes relationships and collective interests (Cross & Madson, 1997). Research has found gender plays a role in how these tendencies manifest, though most individuals experience both to some degree.
Independence refers to a sense of self that is separate from others. Those higher in independence tend to define themselves through their own attributes and accomplishments rather than their relationships or roles within a group. Goals and decisions are made based on personal interests, needs, and values rather than considering how it may affect others (Cross & Madson, 1997). This allows for a strong sense of autonomy but can potentially undermine relationship-building if taken to an extreme.
Connectedness, on the other hand, describes a self-concept defined through close relationships and a sense of belonging within important social groups. Those higher in connectedness are more likely to make choices based on maintaining harmony, prioritizing others’ needs above their own, and deriving a sense of purpose from their roles within important relationships and communities (Cross & Madson, 1997). While promoting cooperation, an overemphasis on others’ needs at the expense of personal well-being could enable unhealthy dependence.
Gender Differences in Independence and Connectedness
Research has consistently found gender plays a role in how independence and connectedness tendencies manifest (Cross & Madson, 1997). On average, men tend to score higher than women on measures of independence, viewing themselves as more autonomous beings defined through their own attributes rather than relationships. Women, meanwhile, often place greater importance on connectedness, deriving self-worth from close bonds and prioritizing others’ needs above their own goals.
However, it is important to note these are general averages that do not apply to all individuals (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Factors like culture, upbringing, and life experiences also shape a person’s orientation. For example, one study found women from more collectivist cultures scored similarly to men on independence, suggesting cultural norms influence gender differences (Hofstede, 2001). Overall, most research indicates both genders experience a blend of independence and connectedness to varying degrees based on situation and context.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Each Orientation
Both independence and connectedness confer benefits but also risks if taken to an extreme. Independence can promote self-sufficiency, autonomy in decision-making, and pursuing goals aligned with one’s values (Cross & Madson, 1997). However, overemphasizing the self without consideration for others could undermine relationship-building and cooperation. Connectedness fosters strong social bonds through mutual care, support and responsibility for one another’s well-being (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). But an excessive focus on pleasing others or deriving self-worth through relationships alone could enable dependence and loss of personal identity.
Most research suggests a balanced approach is healthiest. Maintaining a degree of independence allows for self-definition while still valuing important relationships, whereas moderate connectedness satisfies the fundamental human need to belong without compromising autonomy (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Cross & Madson, 1997). Overall well-being may depend most on finding the right blend based on personal tendencies, life stage, and cultural-social context.
In summary, independence and connectedness represent two key dimensions of how individuals view themselves in relation to others according to social psychology research. While men on average place greater importance on independence and women connectedness, most individuals experience a blend based on myriad factors. Both orientations confer benefits when balanced but risks when taken to an extreme without consideration for the other. Understanding these concepts and how they manifest based on gender and culture provides insight into social relationships and well-being.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497.
Cross, S. E., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self-construals and gender. Psychological bulletin, 122(1), 5.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations. Sage publications.

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