Many people, especially teenagers, are insecure about some aspects. They may be insecure about their looks, their (odd) behavior, or may question whether they belong to a group (of friends, colleagues and what not). I quickly looked at some social psychological literature but I could only find that in some cultures people are more self-oriented and in others they are more group-oriented (see the abstract of this book, I was not able to read more).

I was wondering thus: why people are insecure?

If I would consider an evolutionary perspective, insecurity (1) should have some beneficial effects, (2) should disappear if harmful for people, or (3) is not harmful enough to disappear. It is not likely to be the second for it then should not exist, so hypothesis (1) and (3) remain. Is there some benefit to being insecure, or is their some other explanation for why it exists?

  • $\begingroup$ I've been asking myself the same question for quite a while now. Since I couldn't really find anything that explained it to my satisfaction, I tried to come up with my own concept of how to explain it. I'm not a student in the cognitive science field so I don't want to proclaim this as true or backed up in any way, but I would still like to hear your thoughts on the presentation I put together: youtu.be/1XXTeITeaCM $\endgroup$ – Sami Jun 25 '17 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ Hi @Sami and welcome to CogSciSE. I sat and watched your YouTube video and whilst there are some areas which I feel you may need a bit more research on, there is a strong base there with how self-perception compared to societal values come together to create a level of self-worth in the person and how that self-worth can affect the person. The video does have an air of non/pseudo-scientific basis to it but if you was to work on it you could improve that. One area I would suggest for your research is to look at addictions and their perceived purposes. You are getting there though. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jun 25 '17 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for successfully narrowing such a broad question. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jun 25 '17 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris - assuming you're the upvoter - the answer was flagged for being not an answer and I converted it into a comment. Do you reckon OP (Sami) can turn it into a proper answer based on the video you saw? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jun 25 '17 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD - I think the content in the video would take a lot to put into text but if Sami is prepared to put the time in it would form an excellent answer. The only thing is it doesn't directly answer the question like your answer does but gives other aspects which expands on your answer $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jun 25 '17 at 20:46

Short answer
Hypothesis (1)

The question is quite broad, as exemplified by the statement: They may be insecure about their looks, their (odd) behavior, or may question whether they belong to a group (of friends, colleagues and what not).

Personally and anecdotally, I think that a healthy self-doubt forms the core of self-reflection and allows a social animal like Homo sapiens to improve its behavior and mold itself according to the social structure with all its rights and obligations.

To approach this question with a less opinion-based perspective, I think that the root of a possible answer is the question what happens when people lack any self-doubt. I'm not a psychologist, but narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) comes to mind. The characteristic features of this condition are dominance, arrogance, superiority, power seeking, and disregard of others. All these traits seem to fit a total lack of self doubt (Ronningstam, 2011). However, some phenotypes of this condition may include insecure people, but it is just for the purpose of showing what people may turn into that lack self-doubt (and admittedly oversimplifying NPD). The typical NPD sufferer therefore won't fit in well in a social structure, and humankind, obviously, has built highly complex social societies.

In terms of evolution, Joseph Henrich explains that long before the origins of agriculture, when humans expanded across the globe from the arid deserts of Australia to the frozen tundra of the Canadian Arctic, survival in the immense diversity of habitats depended not on specific genetic adaptations, but on large bodies of culturally transmitted know-how, abilities, and skills that no single individual could figure out in his or her lifetime. Even among foraging societies, humans show an immense variety of social organizations, group sizes, kinship structures, and mating patterns. He explains that this diversity is at least partially rooted in culturally-acquired and widely shared social rules.

- Ronningstam, J Psychiatric Practice (2011); 17(2): 89–99

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    $\begingroup$ Wow thank you for this. Very nice how you tackle the question from three different perspectives. I was indeed afraid of the broadness of the question, but you've answered it perfectly. $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Jun 21 '16 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RobinKramer - no worries. It took me some thinking. I got side tracked by risk-taking behavior, but that's obviously not what you are after. My pleasure. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jun 21 '16 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ +1 from me too for an excellent answer. As you have said, it would have been easy to go on a tangent and look at risk-taking/self-harming behaviours as a result of insecurities and problems resulting from them, yet you answered a broad question with as concise an answer as possible. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jun 25 '17 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris, many thanks - I'm honored ! $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jun 25 '17 at 19:21

I have not studied cognitive sciences but questions such as this always come into my mind as well. And my answer to your question:

Is there some benefit to being insecure, or is their some other explanation for why it exists?


Yes there is benefit. Let's think of another trait: fear. Fear can be a person's greatest strength but too much fear can also be detrimental. Therefore, I say the same is true for insecurity: some insecurity means the person is well aware of their weaknesses and have the ability to self reflect. Thus this trait can be beneficial. I mean if a person does not care about belonging to a group (of friends, colleagues and what not), what are their chances of survival in certain situations? Especially situations back in the days when the enemy would attack.

Thus your hypothesis:

insecurity (1) should have some beneficial effects

is correct.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to CogSci. We expect answers to be sourced, preferably by scientific literature. As of now the answer seems a collection of associative thoughts on the matter, rather than a definitive answer. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jun 25 '17 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD I am curious to find out why it needs to be sourced if I am not referencing anything. Are you saying this site does not expect any answers unless the answer is referencing something else? $\endgroup$ – CodingYoshi Jun 25 '17 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Coding Yoshi, that is in fact exactly what we expect at CogSci. As you can see in this question already, AliceD answered the question with scientific citations which make the statements he made credible. Moreover, it allowed me to read upon the subject more closely (and this resulted in upvotes from many different people) . Without citations I do not know if what you say is a truthful fact or merely some personal believe. Please have a look at the welcome Tour, under the Help section, to see what we expect here. $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Jun 26 '17 at 5:25

I suggest you read about attachment theory. The most common reason for insecurity is a failure to form secure attachments or a traumatic loss of an attachment. This is especially harmful in early childhood. By the way, narcissistic personality disorder is invariably associated (and caused by) severe insecurity. It is the result of an attempt to overcome that insecurity.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice suggestions. Do you perhaps have a paper to give me a start? $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Jun 22 '16 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ There is an excellent book called "Becoming Attached" by Robert Karen, PhD $\endgroup$ – BitShrink Jun 22 '16 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Christiaan I'm new to StackExchange and don't really understand the conventions yet. If you're asking whether your description of NPD is accurate, I'd say it's an accurate lay description but that experts universally regard NPD as a reaction and attempted compensation for low self-esteem. It's a bit hard to choose one reference for something like this, but for a sophisticated layperson, I'd say Salman Akhtar's "Broken Structures" is a good book to read about personality disorders. BTW, I'm a psychiatrist who specializes in treatment of personality disorders. $\endgroup$ – BitShrink Jun 22 '16 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, these statements "The most common reason for insecurity is a failure to form secure attachment" and "narcissistic personality disorder is invariably associated (and caused by) severe insecurity" are both just plain not correct. Insecurity is a normal mental state of all human beings, and the causes of NPD are unknown and considered complex. Attachment may well play a part in both, but to make such hard statements is very misleading. -1 This answer needs credible references. $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Jun 22 '16 at 23:05

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