Group Dynamics - 13 Social Psychology - STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

5 Steps to a 5: AP Psychology - McGraw Hill 2021

Group Dynamics
13 Social Psychology
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High


Summary: If you could spare a few minutes for a close friend who asked for some help, would you? Of course you would. How other people, groups, and cultures shape our perceptions, attitudes, and behavior is the study of social psychology. It looks at how social and situational factors can influence us in both positive and negative ways. Research by social psychologists has raised important ethical questions because of the use of deception and manipulation to get results that are as accurate as possible. The American Psychological Association’s ethical guidelines have tightened the reins on researchers as a result of some of the more controversial, yet important findings in this field.

This chapter deals with how groups affect the individual, how we perceive others and others perceive us, and how groups can affect attitude change.


Key Ideas

Image Group dynamics

Image Bystander intervention

Image Attribution processes

Image Interpersonal perception

Image Conformity, compliance, and obedience

Image Attitudes and attitude change

Image Aggression and antisocial behavior

Image Altruism

Image Attraction

Group Dynamics

Humans have a basic drive to form social bonds with others. A social group is two or more individuals sharing common goals and interests, interacting, and influencing each other’s behavior. People occupying an elevator together are not a social group, but members of a Girl Scout troop would be because they have a pattern of socializing and working together on projects and common goals. Norms are implicit or explicit rules that apply to all members of the group and govern acceptable behavior and attitudes. Norms allow for smooth social interactions because they let people know how they are supposed to behave. Violating these norms can be grounds for exclusion from the group, so the desire to belong will cause some members to act very differently from the way they do when they are alone. Please see Table 13.1 for an overview of all the studies discussed in this chapter.

Table 13.1 Overview of Social Psychological Experiments


Social Roles

Certain social roles or social positions are also characteristic of group membership. In the Zimbardo prison study, Stanford students were arbitrarily assigned the roles of either prisoner or guard. As a consequence of their role assignment, individual behavior changed dramatically in a matter of hours. Although they were well aware that the “prison” was a simulated situation, by the sixth day the experiment had to be halted because of the severe stress inflicted by certain “sadistic” guards who took their roles too seriously. The entire experiment was videotaped, and experts in the prison system were amazed at how realistic the simulated situation had become in such a short period. Those assigned the role of prisoner were cowering in their cells, and one-third of those assigned the role of guard inflicted harsh punishment for the slightest infraction of the rules.

Working together in group situations either in the classroom or in the workplace is a common practice. Certain group members, either by assignment or natural inclination, assume leadership roles while others contribute to the group effort in other ways. All too often, a group member assumes the role of “slacker.” This tendency toward social loafing is a result of feeling less pressure to put forth effort when engaged in projects where group evaluations are being made. The “slackers” will leave the work to others who are more personally invested in always doing a good job. These same students or “slackers” tend to exert more effort if they believe they will be evaluated individually. Teachers and employers could ease group tensions by keeping this tendency in mind.

Another phenomenon that arises when people are in large groups is deindividuation. When we are in a large group, we tend to lose some self-awareness. We may engage in behavior that is unusual or uncharacteristic for us because of this group anonymity. This especially occurs when there is a heightened sense of arousal. Antisocial behavior from normally well-behaved individuals may occur in these situations. Let a pitcher hit a batter with a ball for a second time and watch the benches of both teams empty and a fistfight take place. This normative behavior reduces the conflict any one person feels toward acting in such a brutal way. None of the players gives much thought to the repercussions. Similarly, when a blackout occurs, we have become accustomed to expect certain groups to riot and loot. Deindividuation can also lead to prosocial behavior, with an unusual outpouring of generosity among virtual strangers all caught up in an emotionally arousing situation.

Effects of the Group

Your performance on certain tasks is also affected by being in a group situation. Social facilitation refers to a tendency to perform well-learned tasks better in front of others. The well-rehearsed piano student may perform much better at the recital than he or she has all week during practice. This tendency for improved performance can be explained by the level of arousal and increased motivation that occurs in front of the audience. Studies have also shown that when first learning a new task, performing in front of others leads to the opposite tendency or social impairment. Someone just learning to play tennis may begin to hit the ball across the net much more consistently until a crowd gathers to watch, and then the player blows nearly every shot.

When we are in a group of like-minded people, group polarization might occur. The decisions reached by the group are often more extreme than those made by any single individual. Groupthink can be a disastrous consequence of group polarization. Irving Janis first discussed this phenomenon in relation to the ill-fated decision for the United States to invade Cuba in the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961. Presidential cabinet members wanting to preserve the harmony of the newly formed group failed to raise objections or voice dissenting opinions and actively engaged in self-censorship of any opposing ideas. Because everyone seemed to agree aloud, the group felt there was no way the invasion could be stopped, which led to a disastrous failure. A cure for the groupthink phenomenon might be to bring in outside opinions or have a single member of the group act as the devil’s advocate. By bringing in ideas contrary to the ones being mentioned by the rest of the group, more critical attention is paid to all aspects of the decision and the potential problems.

Minority Influence

The lone dissenter shows that minority influence can also have an effect. This is classically seen in the movie Twelve Angry Men. One member of the jury held unswervingly to his opinion that the defendant was innocent and finally convinced all the other members to shift their opinion. Anxious to get on with their lives and overwhelmed by the circumstantial evidence provided by the prosecution, the other jurors had quickly concluded that the innocent man must be guilty. Initially, all the other jurors were inclined to agree, so as each juror supported conviction, members of the group became even more sure it must be right.

Bystander Intervention

The tragic murder of Kitty Genovese outside a New York apartment complex in 1964 stimulated social psychological research on bystander intervention. Experimenters Bibb Latané and John Darley set up lab conditions in which participants, thinking either that they were alone or that they were with others, heard an emergency cry for help. Those who thought they were alone were much more likely to give assistance than those who thought others were present. The diffusion of responsibility phenomenon seems to reduce the sense of personal responsibility that any one person feels to help another in need and increases in proportion to the size of the group present. According to newspaper articles, a group of nearly 40 people watched Genovese being stabbed from their apartment windows. Not a single onlooker offered any assistance to her, and the attacker, who had initially run away, returned to murder her when no police arrived.

Spectators do not always take on passive roles of noninvolvement. There are also occasions when people emerge from a group and act in prosocial ways. In the AirFlorida crash into the Potomac River years ago, one “hero” emerged from the crowd of people watching. He jumped into the icy waters to help rescue survivors while an emergency rescue crew worked from a helicopter above. Theorists debate whether there is an inborn trait of altruism that prompts individuals to engage in acts of selfless sacrifice for others or whether these acts are a learned response for the reward of heroism or some other egoistic intent.