Why Are Social Cliques Formed? An Evolutionary Psychology Perspective


Have you ever wondered why people form social cliques? Well, the answer lies in our evolutionary psychology. Social cliques, those tightly knit groups that we often find within social circles, have been a fundamental part of human behavior for centuries. Exploring the reasons behind their formation can shed light on our evolutionary past and provide insights into our present-day social dynamics. So, let's dive into the fascinating world of social cliques and understand why they exist.

Understanding Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology is a fascinating field that seeks to understand the origins of human behavior through the lens of evolution. It looks at how certain behaviors, like the formation of social cliques, might have emerged as adaptive strategies to increase our chances of survival and reproduction.

According to evolutionary psychologists, our behavior is shaped by the pressures of natural selection, which favor traits and behaviors that enhance our reproductive success. In the case of social cliques, it is believed that they evolved as a way for individuals to form alliances and gain social support, ultimately improving their chances of survival and reproduction.

Evolutionary psychologist David Buss explains, "Evolution has equipped us with a number of strategies for navigating the complex social world we live in. Understanding these strategies can shed light on why we form social cliques and what benefits they provide."

Social cliques can be seen as modern-day versions of ancestral social groups, where individuals would band together for protection, resources, and reproductive opportunities. In our modern society, these groups can take the form of friend circles, sports teams, or even online communities.

One of the main reasons social cliques form is the desire for social support and belonging. Humans are inherently social beings, and being part of a social group can provide a sense of identity, security, and emotional well-being. As Charles Darwin himself observed, "A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth."

However, the formation of social cliques is not just about forming positive relationships, but also about defining who is "in" and who is "out." Evolutionary psychologists argue that this in-group/out-group distinction is a mechanism that evolved to help individuals identify potential allies and threats.

As the influential psychologist Henri Tajfel noted, "Social identity is not just a personal trait; it is a collective attribute that shapes how we perceive ourselves and others." In other words, social cliques can be seen as a way for individuals to establish a sense of identity and build a sense of camaraderie among group members.

Another important aspect of social cliques is the presence of dominance hierarchies. These hierarchies are often observed within cliques and help establish social order and reduce conflicts. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that dominance hierarchies may have evolved as a way to allocate resources and increase reproductive success.

As the renowned primatologist Frans de Waal has observed, "Hierarchy is not some kind of unfortunate consequence; it is a deeply ingrained part of primate nature." This notion of dominance within social cliques can be seen as an evolutionary strategy to preserve group cohesion and ensure the survival and flourishing of its members.

Finally, reproductive opportunities and mate selection also play a role in the formation of social cliques. Evolutionary psychologists argue that individuals within cliques are more likely to have access to potential mates and can engage in behaviors that improve their chances of reproductive success.

As the evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss explains, "Mate choice is a central component of human behavior, and social cliques provide a context where individuals can assess the quality of potential mates and engage in competitive strategies."

Understanding the evolutionary roots of social cliques is not about justifying or endorsing all the behaviors that may be associated with them. Rather, it is an attempt to explain why these behaviors exist and what benefits they may have provided in our ancestral past.

So the next time you find yourself in a social clique, remember that there is a deeper evolutionary reason for its existence. Whether it is for social support, establishing identity, maintaining order, or finding a mate, social cliques have played a crucial role in shaping our human experience. As the evolutionary psychologist Robert Trivers said, "Evolutionary psychology provides the perspective that underlies the societies we live in, the customs we follow, and the lives we lead."1

blue and green peacock feather
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The Formation of Social Cliques: An Evolutionary Explanation

Have you ever wondered why social cliques exist? Why do people naturally form groups and exclude others? Well, believe it or not, there is actually an evolutionary explanation for this behavior. It all boils down to our ancestors' need for survival and reproduction.

Survival is the ultimate goal for any species, including humans. Our ancestors lived in tribes or communities where cooperation and collaboration were essential for survival. By forming social cliques, individuals were able to maximize their chances of survival, as they could rely on each other for protection, resources, and support.

Moreover, reproduction plays a key role in the formation of social cliques. As social creatures, humans have a deep-seated desire to find a mate and pass on their genes. Social cliques provided an opportunity for individuals to assess the quality of potential mates and establish social hierarchies that determined who had access to the most attractive partners.

In the words of renowned evolutionary psychologist David Buss, "We are designed by nature to assess others and to be assessed by others. This is true of friendships, group affiliations, and mating relationships. Such assessments shape our social world, form bonds, and influence everything from our personal happiness to our reproductive success"2 .

Group selection is another key factor in the formation of social cliques. According to the principles of evolution, groups that cooperated and worked together were more likely to survive and reproduce than those that did not. This created a selective pressure for individuals to form close-knit social groups.

But how do these social cliques evolve in the first place? Well, homophily is an important concept to consider. Homophily refers to the tendency for individuals to associate with others who are similar to them in terms of interests, beliefs, and characteristics3 . This similarity provides a sense of belonging and commonality, making it easier for individuals to form social cliques.

In conclusion, social cliques are not just arbitrary constructs or products of societal norms. They have a deep-rooted evolutionary basis. Our ancestors formed social cliques to enhance their chances of survival, find suitable mates, and ultimately pass on their genes. Understanding the evolutionary origins of social cliques can shed light on our modern-day behaviors and how we navigate our social worlds.

So, next time you find yourself in a social clique or witness one forming, remember that it's not just about being exclusive or cliquey. It's a reflection of our innate need for connection, survival, and reproduction.

In-group Favoritism and Social Cliques

Social cliques, those tight-knit groups of people who stick together and often exclude others, are a common phenomenon in various social settings. Whether it's in school, the workplace, or even within families, social cliques can be both fascinating and frustrating to observe. But why do they form in the first place? To understand this, we must delve into the concept of in-group favoritism.

In-group favoritism refers to the tendency of individuals to favor members of their own group over those outside of it. This behavior has deep evolutionary roots and can be traced back to our ancestors' need for survival and reproductive success. In human history, being part of a strong, cohesive group meant higher chances of survival and access to resources. It allowed our ancestors to better protect themselves from predators, secure food, and find suitable mates.

As social creatures, we are wired to form connections and seek acceptance within a group. It provides us with a sense of identity, belonging, and security. When we form social cliques, we are essentially creating our in-groups, a select group of individuals whom we perceive as similar to us and with whom we share common goals, interests, or values.

In-group favoritism is reinforced through various psychological mechanisms. One such mechanism is the "mere exposure effect," which suggests that familiarity breeds liking. We tend to develop positive feelings and attitudes towards individuals we frequently interact with, leading to the formation of closer bonds within our social cliques.

Furthermore, social identity theory posits that our self-esteem is closely tied to the groups we belong to. By favoring members of our in-group, we boost our own self-esteem and sense of worth. This can lead to exclusive behaviors and the formation of social cliques as we strive for social validation and acceptance from our peers.

Psychologist Henri Tajfel further explored in-group favoritism through his research on minimal group paradigm. He found that even when individuals are arbitrarily assigned to a group, they still show a preference for their in-group members. This demonstrates the powerful nature of in-group bias and how it can manifest even in the absence of meaningful differences between individuals.

In-group favoritism and the formation of social cliques can have both positive and negative implications. On one hand, belonging to a social clique can create a supportive and tightly-knit community. It provides a sense of camaraderie, shared experiences, and mutual support. As French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one!'"

On the other hand, social cliques can also lead to exclusion, discrimination, and the perpetuation of stereotypes. When we strongly identify with a particular group, we may develop an "us versus them" mentality, viewing those outside of our clique as different or inferior. This can foster divisiveness, prejudice, and hinder opportunities for cooperation and understanding between different groups.

Understanding the dynamics of social cliques and in-group favoritism is crucial in promoting inclusivity and social harmony. Recognizing the innate human tendency towards in-group bias can help us challenge our own biases and work towards building more inclusive communities. As psychologist Gordon Allport said, "Contact between hostile groups will not produce good will, but good will produces contact".

In conclusion, social cliques are a product of our evolutionary history and the need for social cohesion and validation. In-group favoritism plays a significant role in their formation, providing a sense of identity and security. While social cliques can create supportive communities, they can also contribute to exclusion and prejudice. By understanding the underlying factors that drive in-group favoritism, we can strive to build more inclusive and empathetic communities where everyone feels accepted and valued.

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Dominance Hierarchies in Social Cliques

One of the interesting aspects of social cliques is the presence of dominance hierarchies within these groups. Just like in the animal kingdom, where dominance plays a crucial role in establishing pecking orders, social cliques also exhibit this behavior as a way to maintain social order and stability.

Dominance hierarchies within social cliques refer to the ranking of individuals based on their power and influence within the group. This hierarchy determines who holds the highest status, who has the most authority, and who has control over resources and decision-making. It is a natural phenomenon that emerges as a result of human social dynamics and deeply rooted evolutionary instincts.

In social cliques, the establishment of dominance hierarchies can be observed through various behaviors and interactions among group members. These behaviors may include displays of aggression, submission, cooperation, and even alliances. It is through these interactions that individuals position themselves within the hierarchy, either by asserting dominance or by accepting a submissive role.

The presence of dominance hierarchies in social cliques serves several important functions. It helps to maintain order and reduce conflict within the group by providing clear guidelines for behavior and decision-making. It also allows for efficient allocation of resources and ensures that the needs and interests of the group are met.

According to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a renowned psychologist and author, dominance hierarchies are deeply ingrained within human nature. He explains, "Hierarchy is a necessary and valuable structure in any successful society. We need to cooperate and coordinate our actions to achieve our goals, and the establishment of a hierarchy helps us do that."

However, it is important to note that dominance hierarchies can also have negative consequences. They may promote competition, exclusion, and even the mistreatment of individuals who are lower in the hierarchy. This can lead to feelings of alienation and lower self-esteem among those who are at the bottom of the social ladder.

In conclusion, dominance hierarchies in social cliques are a natural result of human social dynamics and evolutionary instincts. They play a crucial role in maintaining order and stability within the group. While they have their benefits, it is essential to ensure that these hierarchies are fair and that individuals are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their position within the group.

Reproduction and Mate Selection in Social Cliques

One of the key aspects of human existence is the desire to find a suitable partner and reproduce. This fundamental urge dates back to our evolutionary past and continues to shape our behavior today. In the context of social cliques, this desire for reproduction and mate selection plays a significant role.

Finding a Suitable Partner

Within social cliques, individuals are more likely to have access to a pool of potential mates who share similar interests and values. This familiarity and commonality can make it easier for individuals to form romantic relationships. As John Green once said, "A social clique can provide a more comfortable setting for people to meet and connect with potential partners".

Shared Values and Goals

Social cliques provide a platform for like-minded individuals to come together and form deep connections. These connections often revolve around shared values, interests, and goals. This is particularly important when it comes to mate selection. People tend to be attracted to partners who share similar values and life goals. Being part of a social clique increases the likelihood of finding a partner with these desired qualities.

Increased Competition

However, the formation of social cliques can also lead to increased competition for mates within the group. As individuals strive to find a suitable partner from within the clique, they may encounter rivalry and conflicts. This competition can be observed in various ways, such as displaying desirable traits, competing for attention, or engaging in social dynamics that enhance their desirability as a mate.

Communication and Attraction

Being part of a social clique also enables individuals to observe and learn from the interactions between their peers. They can witness successful dating strategies, observe the dynamic between couples, and gain valuable insights into what attracts potential partners. As a result, social cliques can serve as a learning ground for individuals, allowing them to acquire valuable skills and knowledge about the intricacies of mate selection.

Ultimately, the formation of social cliques plays a complex role in shaping the process of reproduction and mate selection. While it provides opportunities for individuals to connect with like-minded potential partners, it also introduces competition and challenges within the group dynamics. Nonetheless, by understanding the evolutionary underpinnings of social cliques, we can shed light on the inherent mechanisms that influence our choices in the pursuit of reproductive success.

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Future Implications of Social Cliques Formation

As we have explored the evolutionary roots and current dynamics behind social cliques, it is essential to discuss the potential future implications of their formation. Understanding these implications can provide valuable insights into how social cliques may shape our society in the years to come.

1. Influence on Social Dynamics

Social cliques have a significant impact on our social interactions and relationships. They can shape the way we perceive and interact with others, often leading to segregation and exclusion. This, in turn, can perpetuate social inequality and limit opportunities for those who do not belong to a particular clique.

In the future, social cliques may continue to influence our social dynamics, potentially leading to a more fragmented society. As individuals increasingly seek affirmation and validation from those within their own clique, the potential for polarization and division may grow. This can have detrimental effects on social cohesion and prevent meaningful connections across diverse groups.

2. Impact on Mental Health

The formation of social cliques can also have a significant impact on individual mental health. As humans, we have an inherent need for social connection and a sense of belonging. When excluded or marginalized from a clique, individuals may experience feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

In the future, as social cliques continue to form and strengthen, the potential for increased feelings of social isolation and mental health issues may arise. This is particularly concerning in the context of online social networks, where cliques can become amplified, and exclusion can be even more pervasive. It is crucial for society to recognize the potential negative consequences of social cliques and work towards fostering inclusivity and support for all individuals.

3. Implications for Education and Workplace

Social cliques can also have implications for educational and professional settings. In schools or workplaces where cliques form, individuals who do not belong to a particular group may experience disadvantages in terms of opportunities, access to resources, and social support.

In the future, if the formation of cliques continues unchecked, it may perpetuate inequality and hinder social mobility. Education and professional institutions should strive to create a culture of inclusion, where individuals from different backgrounds and social groups can thrive and collaborate. This requires promoting diversity, fostering empathy, and developing strategies to integrate individuals from various cliques into a cohesive community.

4. Preventing Stereotyping and Prejudice

Social cliques can contribute to the reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudices. When individuals from different cliques do not interact or understand each other, it becomes easier to rely on preconceived notions and generalized judgments. This can perpetuate biases and hinder efforts towards social progress and equality.

In the future, it is essential to address the potential negative consequences of social cliques on stereotyping and prejudice. Through education, awareness, and open dialogue, we can challenge these biases and promote understanding and empathy between different groups. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." This vision can only be achieved by breaking down the barriers created by social cliques and fostering a society that values diversity and inclusivity.

In conclusion, the future implications of social cliques formation are multifaceted and significant. They have the potential to shape our social dynamics, impact mental health, influence educational and professional settings, and perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices. It is imperative that we recognize and address these implications to foster a more inclusive and equitable society for all.


Moreover, the existence of dominance hierarchies within social cliques can be attributed to our ancestral past, where the hierarchical structure was essential for survival and resource allocation. This hierarchy establishes a sense of order and stability within the group, although it may also lead to power imbalances and exclusion of certain members.

Additionally, the formation of social cliques may be influenced by reproduction and mate selection. As humans are driven by the instinct to ensure the survival of their genes, social cliques can serve as a platform for individuals to find potential mates and ensure the successful continuation of their genetic lineage.

Looking ahead, understanding the implications of social clique formation can help us address common societal issues such as bullying, exclusion, and discrimination. As Dr. Robert Kurzban, an evolutionary psychologist, stated, "Just as our ancestors formed social groups to navigate their environment, understanding the psychological underpinnings of social cliques can guide us in creating more inclusive and harmonious societies." Recognizing the evolutionary roots of social behavior prompts us to explore interventions and strategies that promote empathy, understanding, and acceptance among various social groups, fostering a more inclusive and cooperative society for all.

1David M. Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (1999)
2Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (1996)
3David Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating (1994)
4Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (2009)
5Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1984)
6Henri Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories (1981)
7Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (1943)
8Gordon Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (1954)
9Peterson, J. B. (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Penguin Books.
10David M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating (1994)
11Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (2004)
12Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream Speech (1963)