After studying this chapter you should be able to:
•understand the reasons why individuals belong to groups, and the different ways in which groups have been defined
•locate the study of groups within the field of social psychology
•identify different types of groups
•understand the features of small groups and some of the small-group processes studied by social psychologists
•demonstrate a basic understanding of phenomena related to social groups, some of the earlier theories of intergroup relations and social identity theory.
Melinda didn’t really enjoy being in groups and tended to avoid them. Before coming to university she had spent much of her time with just a few good friends. Being a bit of a loner, she was also quite used to her own company. She supposed it was shyness mostly that kept her away from big groups. But as she began to think more deeply about the social psychology of groups, Melinda wondered whether she had really managed to steer clear of groups as successfully as she had imagined.
Melinda might not have deliberately chosen to join clubs or teams, but she certainly had been a part of her school whether she liked it or not. She was now a member of her university. If someone saw her walking along the path that led to the campus, as she did each morning, they would naturally assume that she was a university student. It was strange to think that others might see you as part of a group even when you weren’t aware of it yourself.
Sitting in the lecture hall, Melinda looked around her, and she was suddenly aware that she was also a part of the psychology class. She was a member of a group right here and now. She didn’t always feel like she quite fitted in with everybody — but even so, here she was sitting quietly at a desk just like everyone else in the room. There were certainly some very effective group norms operating in the lecture hall, she acknowledged to herself. It was accepted that students would sit and face the lecturer, write notes and not talk amongst themselves. If one of the students had suddenly got up and rushed towards the front of the room taking the lecturer’s place, everyone would be most surprised. By accepting those group norms she was taking her place firmly in the group.
Melinda mostly thought about herself as a separate individual, thinking her own private thoughts and making her own life plans. But it seemed clear to her now that the way she felt and behaved was being influenced far more by group membership than she had realised. Her family was a kind of a group, a small one, but a group nonetheless. She saw herself as South African and that also made her a member of a very large kind of group — the nation. Most of the time she wasn’t even thinking about these group memberships, but it was true that she did identify with at least some elements. Like most of us though, Melinda only became aware of her many group memberships when someone or something reminded her of them.
Humans are social beings and one way in which this social nature is expressed is through groups. We are also influenced by the groups to which we belong. Our participation in, and interaction with, various groups is a fundamental part of our daily lives.
But, in order to truly understand the influence of groups on social life, it is necessary to examine groups more closely by looking at some of their fundamental qualities and dynamics. This chapter focuses on some of the basic concepts associated with the study of groups, and is intended to form an introduction to understanding group behaviour. The chapter outlines general properties, concepts and processes that refer mainly to small social groups, as well as introducing theories that apply to larger social groups.
For almost a century, social scientists have recognised the significance of groups in our lives (Moreland & Levine, 2003). Early experiments and observations from the late 19th century to the early 20th century suggested that groups influenced people and that this influence required further investigation.
However, within the field of psychology, Floyd Allport questioned this view, stating that primacy should be given to the study of individuals, not groups, and that groups were no more than a mixture of the qualities of their individual members (Klein, 2009).
In contrast to this position, Solomon Asch later argued that groups were unique social organisms with unique properties, and could not be fully understood by studying individuals alone (Weiten, 2007). This view suggests that, as gestalt psychology argues, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Over the past century, the study of groups has expanded to such an extent that it is no longer the domain of any single branch of psychology (Moreland & Levine, 2003). Instead, groups are an important area in fields such as organisational psychology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, cross-cultural psychology and community psychology, among others (Moreland & Levine, 2003). In addition, the study of groups is a fundamental part of a number of other disciplines in the social sciences, such as social anthropology, sociology and political science. This chapter introduces some of the basic understandings of groups from the perspective of social psychology.
Reasons for group belonging
In order to understand group properties and dynamics, it is necessary to first look at some of the reasons why people belong to or form groups. Although groups are not always consciously formed, they fulfil many basic and intertwined human needs that cannot be satisfied by individuals alone (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). These include biological, psychological, social, cultural and practical needs. For instance, groups fulfil our need for affiliation (Buunk, 2001), as well as for love and belonging (Maslow, 1954) (see Chapter 16). Groups also play a considerable role in influencing individual self-esteem, and in the development of self-concept (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). Furthermore, groups are an important source of social support, they offer us information about the social world and ourselves, and they satisfy our need for social comparison (Festinger, 1954). Groups also provide a context in which people can pool their resources and solve problems collectively rather than individually in order to live more effectively (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
In everyday life, most people would refer to a group as a collection of people. However, various theorists have attempted to provide definitions of groups based on the presence of certain properties. Moghaddam (1998) distinguishes between definitions of groups that emphasise objective factors, and those that emphasise subjective factors. An objective approach would be to consider a collection of people to be a group based on perceptions of common characteristics by an outsider, while a subjective approach would be to consider people to be a group when they perceive or categorise themselves as such (e.g. Tajfel, 1978). A term for this characteristic of objective groups is entitativity, the extent to which a group is perceived as a coherent whole. According to Baron et al. (2009), groups differ greatly in terms of their entitativity. One kind of objective group could be a common-identity group (Baron, Branscombe & Byrne, 2009). In common-identity groups, members are linked to the overall category (e.g. South Africans). Membership of a common-identity group does not necessarily imply interaction with other members, but membership nevertheless affects behaviour. On the other hand, a subjective group may be seen as a common-bond group (Baron et al., 2009). In this kind of group, members are bonded to each other and there is usually face-to-cafe interaction.
Figure 17.1 An example of a common-identity group would be entrants in a marathon, who do not necessarily know each other, but are linked by a common interest (running) and goal (to finish the course)
While group definitions based on objective and subjective factors do not necessarily indicate a person’s interaction with other members of the group, this interaction is the basis of what is referred to as a social group (Baron et al., 2009). Within social psychology, the most important characteristics of social groups have been defined as:
•interdependence among group members
•interaction between them and
•mutual influence (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
For instance, Baron et al. (2009, p. 380) define a group as ’people who believe they are bonded together in a coherent unit to some degree’. Mutual influence arises out of the verbal or non-verbal information that members exchange (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
Overall, the various definitions highlight some of the complexities of groups, and the variety of perspectives that have been taken to understand them. Examining some of the different types of groups that exist also helps us to understand this social phenomenon.
Types of social groups
There are many different ways of classifying groups. One of the simplest classifications involves the us-and-them typology (the in-group and the out-group). Another useful distinction has been made between primary groups, secondary groups and reference groups (Moghaddam, 1998; Newman, 2012).
In-groups and out-groups
An in-group is a group to which people belong, or think they belong, and feel loyalty towards (Newman, 2012). An out-group is a group to which people do not belong or think they do not belong (Baron et al., 2009). People often feel a certain sense of antagonism toward their out-groups (Newman, 2012). This classification of groups can be used for both small and large social groups.
Primary groups, secondary groups and reference groups
Primary groups generally have a small membership and are characterised by intimate direct interactions, strong levels of group identification, strong affective ties between group members, multifaceted relationships and a long period of existence (Cooley, 1956; Newman, 2012). These groups are referred to as primary because of their role in personality development and primary socialisation (Cooley, 1956). They are characterised by a high emotional attachment (Newman, 2012). The most common example of a primary group is the family.
Figure 17.2 A family is an example of a primary group
By contrast, in secondary groups there are few direct interactions, weak levels of identification with the group, weak affective ties between group members, limited or functional relationships, and a short period of existence (Moghaddam, 1998; Newman, 2012). Secondary groups tend to be ’more formal and impersonal’ (Newman, 2012, p. 29). An example of a secondary group could be a sports team or a university class. In this case, there may be people who have more long-standing relationships or more direct interactions within the group, but the group itself exists for more functional reasons and is relatively short-term in nature. Primary groups may form from within secondary groups (Newman, 2012).
Reference groups are those groups to which a person does not formally belong, but with which they identify (Moghaddam, 1998) or which they use as a frame of reference (Baron et al., 2009). The group is used to guide and inform values, attitudes, self-image and behaviours, but there is no formal membership (Augostinos, Walker & Donaghue, 2006). An example of a reference group could be an association, interest group or political group.
•People are social beings and this is often expressed through membership of groups. We are also influenced by the groups to which we belong.
•Psychology was originally interested in the study of individuals; however, over the past century, the study of groups has expanded considerably.
•People belong to groups for various biological, psychological, social, cultural and practical reasons.
•There are many definitions of groups. There are subjective, objective and combined definitions. In common-identity groups (objective), members are linked to the group as a whole; in common-bond groups (subjective), members are linked to each other.
•Within social psychology, the most important characteristics of social groups have been defined as interdependence, interaction and mutual influence between group members.
•There are different ways of classifying groups: in-groups and out-groups; primary groups (small with direct interaction); secondary groups (weak ties and short duration); and reference groups (groups that inform our values, attitudes, self-image and behaviours).
Characteristics of a small group
Social psychologists have attempted to understand small social groups by examining their characteristics. While social groups vary in many ways, they share a number of common features that affect their functioning (Weiten, 2007). Characteristics that social groups have in common are as follows (Forsyth, 2010; Wilke & Wit, 2001):
•purpose for existing
•norms about appropriate behaviour
•a differential allocation of roles and responsibilities
•a communication structure
•differing levels of status and influence among members
•a level of cohesiveness and attraction between members.
Social groups typically have a purpose for existing, which may be implicit or explicit. According to Forsyth (2010), this purpose is generally instrumental (aimed at performing a task or achieving a goal), or affiliative (aimed at fulfilling members’ needs for support and interpersonal contact).
Members of small social groups usually develop group norms or shared expectations about the kinds of be haviours that are acceptable and those that are required by all group members. According to Bordens and Horowitz (2002, p. 239), a norm is ’an unwritten social rule existing either on a wide cultural level or on a smaller, situation-specific level that suggests what is appropriate behaviour in a situation’. According to Forsyth (2010), there can be both prescriptive group norms, which recommend certain behaviours, and proscriptive group norms, which forbid certain behaviours. The extent to which people perceive themselves to be part of a group will determine the likelihood that the group’s norms will influence their attitudes (Cooper, Kelly & Weaver, 2003). A significant group norm that applies differently across groups is collectivism versus individualism (Baron et al., 2009). In collective groups, harmony is an important norm (even if it means some personal costs to individuals), whereas in individualistic groups, the norm is to stand out from the crowd. Deviation from group norms is better tolerated in individualistic groups.
In examining the different functions of group norms in regulating intergroup behaviour, early theorists suggested that individuals acting in large groups may behave more aggressively or impulsively than when acting individually (Mummendey & Otten, 2001). This was based on the ideas of Gustav le Bon who said that ’people in a crowd may lose their personal identity and [their] ability to judge right from wrong’ (Westen, 2002, p. 646). In contemporary social psychology, this tendency is referred to as a ’process of deindividuation’. Deindividuation is a large-group phenomenon in which rational control and normative behaviour are weakened, resulting in a greater propensity to respond in an extreme manner and violate norms (Mummendey & Otten, 2001). Anonymity, diffusion of responsibility and a shortened time perspective have been identified as contributing towards this phenomenon (Mummendey & Otten, 2001).
Deindividuation theory has previously been used to understand phenomena such as necklacing in South Africa’s apartheid history. However, current perspectives on group processes recognise that deindividuation only partially accounts for such phenomena.
Figure 17.3 Group norms dictate the kinds of behaviours that are acceptable and those that are required by all group members
In most groups, diverse roles emerge over time (Forsyth, 2010). Thus, within a small social group, each individual member usually has a particular role — either formal or informal — that specifies the types of behaviour that are expected of him/her. There are many roles in groups, but most theorists draw a distinction between two basic types (Forsyth, 2010):
•Task roles focus on the attainment of group goals.
•Relationship roles focus on the quality of the relationships among group members and include performing supportive, interpersonally accommodative behaviours.
One of the commonly identified group roles is that of the group leader. The role of the leader places a person in a specific position of influence within the group that is separate from his/her role as an individual, and requires that he/she perform specific functions that advance the group towards its goals (Hiller, Day & Vance, 2006). The role of leader can be a task role or a relationship role, or the person may play both roles. Hiller et al. (2006) note that there is a shift from traditional ideas of individual leadership to the notion of collective leadership where leadership functions are shared by members of a team.
Some roles are assigned (e.g. the secretary to the group), while others are taken on informally. Group roles can be important for a person’s self-concept (Baron et al., 2009); some people identify strongly with certain roles (see Box 17.2) and are upset or angry if someone takes the role from them (e.g. losing an election for chairperson of an important group).
Small groups usually have a particular pattern of communication that structures the flow of information between group members. This pattern is referred to as the group’s communication network (Forsyth, 2010). The communication network will determine, for instance, who speaks, how often and to whom, and whether information flows through one person or through many individuals (Forsyth, 2010).
Group members often have differing levels of status within a group (Forsyth, 2010; Hogg, 2003). This status may be ascribed or achieved (Newman, 2012). An ascribed status is one we enter involuntarily (e.g. teenager), while an achieved status is one we take on voluntarily or reach through our own efforts (Newman, 2012). An example of an achieved status is president of a country. When the president of a country enters the room, people stand. He/she is an ’ordinary citizen’, so why does this happen? The answer is that this person is conferred a special status among the country’s citizens.
Figure 17.4 Who do you think has the most status in this group? Why?
Status hierarchies occur in both formally and informally organised groups. Groups frequently confer status on exceptionally skilled people who contribute significantly to the group’s aims (Hogg, 2003). However, qualities that have little relevance to these aims, such as unrecognised prejudices, can also influence a person’s status within a group (Forsyth, 2010). Likewise, in an age of celebrities, some people gain status because of their beauty, wealth or notoriety.
A group’s cohesiveness refers to the strength of the relationships linking the members to one another, and to the group itself (Forsyth, 2010). According to Forsyth (2010), a group’s cohesiveness signals its strength. People in a cohesive group are proud to identify themselves as group members, and will defend the group against outside criticism (Forsyth, 2010). Highly cohesive groups are usually more cooperative and more effective in completing tasks (Baron et al., 2009). Group cohesiveness can be influenced by mutual attraction between group members (Forsyth, 2010) or factors such as closeness, adherence to group norms and goal attainment (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). It can also be influenced by threats to the group; for example, in times of war, levels of cohesiveness rise within national groups.
Stages of group formation
Forsyth (2010) describes a number of stages that groups typically go through in forming. The stages and their tasks and processes are as follows (Forsyth, 2010):
•Forming (orientation). The group forms and the members need to become familiar with each other. Group roles are established. Communication is tentative, with the group leader taking a dominant position.
•Storming (conflict). This stage is characterised by disagreement and tension. There may be hostility, criticism and poor attendance.
•Norming (structure). Here norms and roles develop and there is an increase in cohesiveness. There is a reduction in tension and increased agreement.
•Performing (development). The group ’unit’ is now able to achieve its goals. There is increased cooperation and decision making.
•Adjourning (dissolution). Tasks have been completed, roles end and the group disintegrates. This may be accompanied by sadness and regret.
17.2THE POWERFUL NATURE OF GROUP ROLES
A powerful demonstration of the influence of roles on group behaviour comes from the famous Stanford prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971. In this study, 24 male university student volunteers played the roles of either prisoners or guards in a simulation of a prison situation. The study was set up to be as realistic as possible. Within a short time, the two groups of participants began to show marked differences in behaviour with the ’guards’ becoming increasingly authoritarian and aggressive, and the prisoners more passive and obedient. Some of the prisoners suffered severe anxiety or depressed mood and had to leave the study. In the end, the study was abandoned after only six of the planned 14 days. Zimbardo himself participated in the experiment, taking the role of the prison superintendent. He too seemed to internalise his role, being slow to halt aggressive behaviour by the guards.
The study has been criticised in that it seems likely that the participants acted out what Zimbardo expected — their stereotyped ideas about how prisoners and guards act. In addition, Zimbardo’s instructions contained references to abuse and evoking fear (Gray, 2013). Apart from any other criticisms, there are clearly serious ethical issues with this study.
Dynamics within a small group
Several processes of small-group influence have been identified and studied by social psychologists. Group polarisation and groupthink are two important phenomena related to group decision making, and it is also interesting to understand how the presence of one or more other people affects the functioning of a group.
Group polarisation refers to the tendency for preexisting individual opinions, ideas or positions to become more extreme or polarised following a group discussion (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002; Cooper et al., 2003; Van Avermaet, 2001). This is seen to result from the process of normative or social comparison, persuasive arguments or informational influence (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
Groupthink was first identified by Irving Janis and is a group process phenomenon that may lead to faulty decision making by group members who are more concerned with reaching consensus than with carefully considering alternative courses of action (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). Symptoms of groupthink are the illusion of invulnerability, rationalisation, an unquestioned belief in the group’s morality, a stereotyped view of the enemy, conformity pressures, self-censorship, the illusion of unanimity, and the emergence of self-appointed ’mind guards’ (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). Groupthink is likely to occur when the group is highly cohesive, isolated from important sources of information, has a biased leader and is under decisional stress (Forsyth, 2010).
Social psychologists have also investigated group processes related to performance. In some instances, groups have a positive influence on performance. A series of studies by Norman Triplett in 1898 verified a positive group-performance phenomenon known as social facilitation, which occurs when there is improved in dividual task performance when working with others or in the presence of an audience (Forsyth, 2010). Zajonc (1965) found that social facilitation is more likely to occur when people perform tasks that are well learned, well rehearsed or instinctive. However, if people are required to perform tasks that are novel, complicated or are based on little prior experience, they are likely to perform better in the absence of others (Forsyth, 2010).
Another negative effect that a group can have on individual performance is that individuals may relax their efforts based on the assumption that others will compensate (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). This performanceinhibiting effect is called social loafing (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). Social loafing is more likely to occur when completing everyday, repetitive tasks, and less likely when there are important tasks to complete (Williams & Karau in Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
•Social psychologists have attempted to understand small social groups by examining their characteristics:
”Groups usually have a purpose for their existence; this may be implicit or explicit.
”Group norms are established to guide members’ behaviour. Norms may be prescriptive or proscriptive.
”Within a group, members play different roles. Roles may be assigned or assumed. There are task roles and socio-emotional roles. Roles may impact on a person’s self-concept and self-esteem.
”Groups have a communication network, through which information flows between members.
”Individual group members may have different levels of status within a group. An elevated position in a status hierarchy may depend on skills or other desirable characteristics.
”Cohesive groups have closer relationships between members and are more effective in completing tasks.
•There are a number of stages in the process of group formation: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.
•Several processes of small-group influence have been identified and studied by social psychologists:
”Group polarisation occurs when existing opinions or positions become more extreme after a group discussion.
”Groupthink is a powerful process of highly cohesive groups leading to faulty decision making by group members.
”Social facilitation occurs when there is improved individual task performance when working with others or in the presence of an audience.
”Social loafing occurs when individuals relax their efforts assuming that others will do the task.
Social influence refers to the change in a person’s judgements, opinions and attitudes that occurs because of exposure to the judgements, opinions and attitudes of other people (Van Avermaet, 2001). For example, people may conform to the opinions of others or they may obey the commands of others. As mentioned in the previous section, within small groups, group polarisation or groupthink are other potential influences on group members’ judgements, opinions and attitudes. Social psychologists explain social behaviour through examining various types of social influence.
Types of social influence
Conformity (or majority influence) is one kind of social influence that involves modifying individual behaviour in response to real or imagined pressure from others. Deutsch and Gerrard (1955) identified two sources of influence that result in the pressure to conform:
•Informational social influence (the ’desire to be right’). This results from a person’s response to information provided by others (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). According to Cooper et al. (2003), in situations where we do not know what to do, we look around to see what others are doing (see Box 17.3). The degree of influence (how much we accept the opinion of others) will depend on whether they are in-group or outgroup members (Cooper et al., 2003).
•Normative social influence (the ’desire to be liked’). This results from a person’s response to pressure to conform to a norm (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
Conformity can have several negative effects (Baron et al., 2009). In Chapter 19, we read about conformity to gender norms and how this may limit career opportunities for women. Men too may be restricted by conformity to gender norms. A common example is that ’boys don’t cry’; many men have stifled their emotional expression for fear of appearing to be ’like a girl’.
While there is compelling evidence of the power of majority influence on individual behaviour (Forsyth, 2010), some theorists such as Serge Moscovici and his colleagues (Moscovici, 1980, 1985; Moscovici, Lage & Naffrechoux, 1969; Moscovici & Lage, 1976; Moscovici & Nemeth, 1974) have been more concerned with investigating minority influence in groups. These studies assert that the processes of social influence should be seen as bilateral — in other words, that social influence does not only flow from the majority to the minority, but vice versa as well (Martin & Hewstone, 2003). This body of work attempts to identify conditions that facilitate minorities being able to influence the majority position in a group (Moghaddam, 1998).
Minorities are more likely to influence the majority if they maintain a firm and clear position on an issue, and are able to withstand pressures to conform (Van Avermaet, 2001). If so, they will be viewed as being confident in their judgements or opinions (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
17.3CLASSIC STUDIES IN CONFORMITY
To demonstrate the powers of social influence, Muzafer Sherif (1935) utilised the autokinetic effect, an optical illusion where a single stationary point of light seems to be moving when viewed in the dark. Participants were placed alone or in small groups in a darkened room and presented with a small stationary light at a distance of five metres. When participants by themselves estimated the amount the light moved, their responses fluctuated around personal norms that differed between individuals. When participants in a group gave their estimates, the responses converged to form a group norm. Once established, adherence to the group norm persisted in subsequent individual trials, indicating that when with others, the individuals had formed a joint frame of reference that continued to affect their judgements in the absence of this form of influence.
Solomon Asch (1951) investigated whether the presence of others would influence individual judgements when group members held obviously incorrect viewpoints. Asch told groups with seven participants that he was investigating visual discrimination and, over 18 trials, he tasked them with deciding which of three comparison lines were equal in length to a standard line. The experimental groups comprised only one true participant and six confederates. On each trial, the confederates unanimously offered a predetermined response. On six trials, this response was correct. On the remaining trials, they gave unanimous incorrect responses. The results revealed that individuals made errors consistent with the incorrect majority significantly more often when compared to their individual error rate.
Another factor that has been found to affect minority influence is rigidity (Moghaddam, 1998). Minorities who are perceived as being consistent, but rigid in their position are likely to have less group influence, while those that show flexibility are likely to have more influence on the majority (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002).
People have many ways of getting others to comply with their requests. This is particularly true of advertisers, negotiators and politicians. Cialdini (2006) found there were six basic principles that people use to gain compliance:
•Friendship or liking. We respond positively to requests from our friends or from people we like.
•Commitment or consistency. When we commit ourselves to something, we are more open to requests that match or support this.
•Scarcity. People try to obtain scarce items so we respond more positively to requests focusing on scarcity.
•Reciprocity. We pay back favours.
•Social validation. We comply with a request if we think others like us are doing so.
•Authority. We comply if the request comes from someone with (apparent) authority (see next section).
Another important type of social influence studied by social psychologists is the phenomenon of obedience. Obedience is a social influence process in which in dividual behaviour is modified in response to a command from an authority figure (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002) (see Box 17.4 and Chapter 1).
17.4CLASSIC STUDIES IN OBEDIENCE
Source: Milgram (1963)
In Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience, each recruited participant was met by an experimenter and a confederate participant and told that the task they were to perform involved investigating the effects of punishment on learning. The participant was assigned the role of teacher and the confederate that of learner through a rigged selection procedure. They were taken to a room where the learner was strapped into a chair and fixed with electrodes. The experimenter explained that the learner would receive a painful but not permanently damaging electric shock for punishment. The teacher was given a control panel for administering shocks ranging from slight (15 V) to severe (450 V) in 15 V increments. The teacher was instructed to administer increased levels of electrical shock for every learning error. The apparatus appeared genuine and the teacher was given a sample shock to increase its believability.
Once the task commenced, the confederate made numerous deliberate errors to coerce the teacher into administering stronger shocks, and then acted as if shocked. The experimenter insisted that the teacher continue whenever reservations were expressed and assumed all responsibility.
Approximately two-thirds of the participants used the maximum shock level, and none stopped before 300 V.
The findings suggested that, when given orders by a person seen to be a legitimate authority figure who will take responsibility for the actions, people may inflict harm on innocent individuals. Apart from the ethical critiques, Milgram’s studies have also been criticised on other grounds, for example, that they reflect social engineering on Milgram’s part and that they are merely an experimental ’dramatisation of people’s capacity for violence’ (De Vos, 2009, p. 34).
•Social influence is the change in a person’s judgements, opinions and attitudes that occurs because of exposure to the judgements, opinions and attitudes of other people.
•There are several types of social influence:
”Conformity (majority influence) involves modifying individual behaviour in response to real or imagined pressure from others. Informational social influence results from a person’s response to information provided by others; normative social influence results from a person’s response to pressure to conform to a norm.
”Minority influence is social influence that flows from the minority to the majority. It is facilitated by consistency and flexibility.
”Compliance refers to getting others to agree to our requests. There are six basic principles involved: friendship or liking, commitment or consistency, scarcity, reciprocity, social validation and authority.
”Obedience is a social influence process in which individual behaviour is modified in response to a command from an authority figure.
Levels at which social influence can be analysed
Doise (1986) outlines four levels of analysis that assist social psychologists in taking the various dimensions of social influence into consideration:
•At the individual level, social behaviour is explained in terms of internal dispositions or processes, which include personality traits, emotions and cognitive mechanisms.
•At the situational level (interpersonal level), be haviour is understood as resulting from an interaction with other individuals or particular situational contexts.
•At the positional level (group level), behaviour is explained in terms of group membership.
•At the ideological level (intergroup level), the interaction of groups and the power relations between groups are explained in terms of widely shared systems of ideas and social practices.
This framework locates groups within a broader structure of power relations while at the same time recognising the contributing influence of intrapersonal and interpersonal factors.
Explaining intergroup relations by focusing on different levels of analysis
Most of this chapter has focused on group concepts and processes that are usually applied to the understanding of small groups, but can also be identified in broader social groups. However, the field of social psychology has also focused on a larger array of phenomena related to broader social groups. Significant among these has been the development of theories aimed at explaining intergroup behaviour.
According to Hogg and Abrams (2003, p. 407), intergroup behaviour ’refers to how people in groups perceive, think about, feel about, act towards, and relate to people in other groups’. Intergroup behaviour is closely linked to social identity and it occurs when members of one group act towards another group in terms of their group membership, rather than for personal or idiosyncratic reasons.
This section summarises some of the most significant theories of intergroup behaviour, locating each within the framework provided by Doise (1986).
Individual-level explanations of intergroup relations
Freudian theory is one example of an individual-level theory that has been applied to the understanding of intergroup behaviour. This approach is based on the extension of Freud’s individual-level psychological concepts to the group context. According to this individual-level explanation, the unconscious processes that drive individual behaviour are seen as the foundation for any group or intergroup behaviour (Moghaddam, 1998).
Similarly located on the individual level, the frustration— aggression theory (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mower & Sears, 1939) maintains that intergroup phenomena are based on displaced aggression arising from frustration that emerges when group goals are not attained (Baron et al., 2009). The frustration, which is most likely caused by an in-group member, induces aggression towards an out-group in order to preserve group cohesion (Baron et al., 2009).
Situational-level explanations of intergroup relations
A situational-level explanation of intergroup behaviour perceives behaviour to be a result of an interaction with other individuals or particular situational contexts. Social exchange theory and equity theory are examples of situational-level theories of intergroup behaviour (see also Chapter 16).
Figure 17.5 People evaluate relationships in terms of the rewards they offer and the costs they entail
Social exchange theory (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) provides an economic model of relationships, and suggests that people interact with others and evaluate relationships in terms of the rewards they offer and the costs they entail (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). Outcomes are decided by subtracting the costs from the rewards, and people tend to seek and maintain relationships that have positive and fair outcomes.
Equity theory encompasses the same principles, but they are stated more formally. Within this theory, contributions made to a relationship are referred to as inputs, while any benefits received are called outputs (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2007). Like social exchange theory, equity theory maintains that people assess relationships in terms of rewards and costs, but includes a focus on the perceived equity of the contributions in relationships (Hatfield et al. in Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). Equity occurs when the ratios of inputs and outputs are the same for both participants (Aronson et al., 2007).
Positional-level explanations of intergroup relations
A positional-level explanation of intergroup relations views intergroup behaviour as being a function of in dividuals acting in terms of their group membership.
Sherif’s (1966) realistic conflict theory focuses on the emergence and resolution of intergroup conflict (Hogg & Abrams, 2003). The theory asserts that group conflict results from incompatible goals or interests, or competition between groups over scarce resources. Social harmony is seen to result from cooperative activities and the achievement of goals that both groups desire but which neither can achieve in the absence of assistance from the other group (Moghaddam, 1998) (see Box 17.5).
According to the relative deprivation theory, a sense of relative deprivation emerges when members of a disadvantaged group recognise that they are undervalued, and have fewer social rewards than a preferred group (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). This leads to social discontent and unrest (Walker & Smith, 2002), which motivates attempts at social change (Brown, 2001).
Resource mobilisation theory conceptualises these intergroup dynamics from a materialist perspective. According to this theory, intergroup conflicts arise when those with resources mobilise and take collective action (Moghaddam, 1998).
Social identity theory (SIT) is another positional level approach to the understanding of intergroup behaviour, and is based on the premise that group membership is a fundamental component of identity (Baron et al., 2009). According to SIT, people internalise and integrate group membership as part of the social component of their self-concept (Mokgatle & Schoeman, 1998). Social identity can be defined as either an in dividual’s knowledge of belonging to certain social groups, and the valuing of this membership (Tajfel, 1972, p. 31), or the part of an in dividual’s self-concept that derives from knowing they belong to a social group (Tajfel, 1981a, p. 255). For example, individuals may define their identity in terms of group memberships related to language, race, culture, gender, profession or religious affiliation.
Social identity formation is the process whereby an individual becomes part of a group and the group becomes part of the individual’s self-concept. SIT proposes that people strive to achieve a positive social identity partially though their group memberships, and will take action to remedy the situation if they perceive their social identity to be inadequate (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002; Moghaddam, 1998). People are motivated to evaluate their own groups more favourably than other groups in order to maintain and enhance self-esteem (Bordens & Horowitz, 2002). They also select group memberships based on their perceived success in meeting social challenges (Campbell & Robinson in Campbell, 1995).
17.5REALISTIC CONFLICT THEORY
In a classic study of intergroup conflict, Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif studied a group of 22 twelve-year-old boys at a summer camp. First, the boys were divided into two groups which were kept apart for some days. During this stage, a strong group identity was encouraged in each group through choosing names and the establishment of group hierarchies. Then the groups were brought together for a series of competitive activities. In this process, the relationship between the groups became so hostile that this stage of the experiment had to be halted. In the third stage, Sherif introduced tasks that required the boys to work cooperatively to reach superordinate goals. This process allowed the hostile behaviour to diminish and social harmony to be established. The Sherifs’ study showed how easily in- and out-groups can form and be followed by inter-group hostility.
17.6SOUTH AFRICA BEFORE AND AFTER THE TRANSITION
Source: Duckitt and Mphuthing (2002)
South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 meant that political power was transferred from the white minority to the long suppressed black majority. Duckitt and Mphuthing (2002) studied the perceptions of young South African blacks concerning relative deprivation. Before the 1994 election, they gave selfadministered questionnaires to several classes of black secondary and tertiary students (340 students) and repeated this procedure after the election (240 students; the reduced number was reportedly due to students dropping out from education). The questionnaires measured socio-economic perceptions and relative deprivation as well as group attitudes (ethnic identification, and attitudes towards Afrikaans- and English-speaking white people). The results showed significant decreases in perception of relative deprivation after the election. There was greater cognitive relative deprivation (socio-economic) towards English-speakers, but greater affective relative deprivation (discontent and anger) towards Afrikaans-speakers. The results showed that the wealth of white Afrikaans-speakers was seen as less illegitimate than that of English-speaking white people. There was high ethnic identification, but attitudes towards white people showed little change after the election. These remained more positive for white people than for black people. The study noted that perceptions of relative deprivation seemed to have little effect on group attitudes.
Ideological-level explanations of intergroup relations
An ideological-level explanation provides a different perspective on intergroup relations in that it refers to widespread complex belief systems that determine group behaviour. Walker and Smith (2002) emphasise the importance of understanding the relationship between the positional and ideological levels, by arguing that when people identify with a group they may take on the group’s underlying ideology. Thus SIT could be seen to deal with both of these explanatory dimensions. However, like some of the other theories presented in this section, SIT has also been criticised on a number of levels for neglecting the broader social context, and, because it is based primarily on the findings of experimental research, it does not acknowledge the complexity of intergroup relations (Abrams in Bornman & Appelgryn, 1999). Also, it fails to account for ideological processes that create and maintain power relations of dominance and conditions of oppression (Stevens, 2001; Walker & Smith, 2002).
Figure 17.6 How would the individuals in this group define their identity?
•At the individual level, social behaviour is explained in terms of internal dispositions or processes, which include personality traits, emotions and cognitive mechanisms. Examples are Freudian theory and the frustration—aggression hypothesis.
•At the situational level (interpersonal level), behaviour is understood as resulting from an interaction with other individuals or particular situational contexts. Examples are social exchange theory and equity theory.
•At the positional level (group level), behaviour is explained in terms of group membership. Examples are realistic conflict theory, relative deprivation theory and social identity theory.
•At the ideological level (intergroup level), the interaction of groups and the power relations between groups are explained in terms of widely shared systems of ideas and social practices.
17.7THE DILEMMA OVER THE EXTENT OF INDIVIDUAL VERSUS GROUP INFLUENCE IN SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
One of the tensions alluded to in this chapter within the field of social psychology is the extent to which individuals influence group behaviour and groups influence individual behaviour. Certain concepts that have been discussed, such as minority influence, clearly indicate the power of social minorities to exert social influence. The phenomenon of obedience similarly demonstrates both the power and danger of numerical minorities with the authority to exert influence over individuals, often resulting in the individual feeling exempt from taking responsibility. This is particularly evident in the events of South Africa’s apartheid history if we examine the ways in which the apartheid government allowed the massacre of black South Africans in various townships over the decades, and how armed military forces carried out violent attacks.
However, other concepts discussed in the chapter indicate the profound effect of groups on individual behaviour, as is demonstrated through phenomena such as social facilitation, social loafing, deindividuation and conformity. Similarly, with regard to theories of intergroup relations, we see the same tension between those who maintain that individualistic factors determine the ways in which group members behave, and those who maintain that social factors determine the behaviour of individual members. The dilemma arises out of conflicting evidence regarding the importance of each. Social psychologists have attempted to resolve the dilemma by identifying specific contextual or situational features that contribute to the influence of the group over the individual or the individual over the group.
This predicament is related to the more circular philosophical dilemma of whether individuals can exist without groups or groups without individuals. Given this impossibility, it remains a challenge to determine the nature of the relationship between individuals and groups, and the conditions that determine which has a greater influence in a particular social context.
This chapter has attempted to present some of the basic concepts, processes and dynamics in the study of group behaviour through examining both small and broader social groups. Although these concepts are presented as an introduction to a complex area, they nevertheless offer some of the foundations and tools that can be used to understand many historical and current social events, such as the abolition of apartheid in South Africa and the mass killings in Rwanda (Van Avermaet, 2001). Although the field of social psychology has developed over the years to include more complex theories of social influence and group behaviour, the basic concepts presented in this chapter have played an influential role in shaping our understanding of the ways in which individuals influence others and are influenced by others.
17.8THE ROLE OF EMOTION IN NEGOTIATION
Source: Lelieveld, Van Dijk, Van Beest, Steinel and Van Kleef (2011)
The process of negotiation provides a useful illustration of social influence at work. Any kind of negotiation (marital difficulties, buying a house, international trade) involves a variety of emotions, both positive and negative. When these emotions are expressed, they reveal important information about the sender and this then affects the receiver’s behaviour. This research asks about the roles of anger and disappointment in the outcome of the negotiating process.
Anger arises when a person’s goals are frustrated and it is believed to communicate toughness, aggression and strength; disappointment arises when there is insufficient progress towards a goal and it is associated with feelings of weakness and lack of control. Anger typically leads to concessions from the receiver but is this always the case? This study found that anger was indeed effective, but mostly when it was directed at the bargainer’s offer, rather than at the bargainer as a person. This is because people infer higher limits from offer-directed anger. Disappointment, however, works the other way round. It is more effective at gaining a concession when it is directed at the person, rather than his or her offer, because it evokes increased feelings of guilt. The study thus found that the outcome of using these negative emotions in negotiation depended on the nature of the emotion and where it was directed. These effects are also explained by different mechanisms.
cohesiveness: the strength of the relationships linking group members to one another, and to the group itself
communication network: a particular pattern of communication that structures the flow of information between group members
compliance: action in accordance with a request
conformity (majority influence): one kind of social influence that involves modifying individual be haviour in response to real or imagined pressure from others
deindividuation: a large-group phenomenon in which rational control and normative behaviour are weakened, resulting in a greater propensity to respond in an extreme manner and violate norms
entitativity: the extent to which a group is perceived as a coherent whole
equity theory: a situational-level explanation of intergroup relations that maintains that people assess relationships in terms of rewards and costs, but which includes a focus on the perceived equity of the contributions in relationships
frustration—aggression theory: an individual-level explanation of intergroup relations that maintains that intergroup phenomena are based on displaced aggression arising from frustration that emerges when group goals are not attained
group norms: expectations about the kinds of behaviours that are acceptable and are required by all group members
group polarisation: the tendency for pre-existing individual opinions, ideas or positions to become more extreme or polarised following a group discussion
groupthink: a group-process phenomenon that may lead to faulty decision making by group members who are more concerned with reaching consensus than with carefully considering alternative courses of action
ideological-level explanation: an explanation of intergroup relations that refers to widespread complex belief systems that determine group behaviour
individual-level explanation: an explanation of intergroup relations that refers to internal dispositions or processes
informational social influence: that type of social influence that results from a person’s response to information provided by others
in-group: a group to which people belong, or think they belong
intergroup behaviour: actions by members of one group towards members of another group, motivated by their group membership rather than their personal views
minority influence: social influence whereby minorities are able to influence the majority position in a group
norm: an implicit social rule regarding appropriate behaviour in a certain situation
normative social influence: social influence that results from a person’s response to pressure to conform to a norm
obedience: a social influence process in which individual behaviour is modified in response to a command from an authority figure
out-group: a group to which people do not belong or think they do not belong
positional-level explanation: an explanation of intergroup relations that views intergroup behaviour as being a function of individuals acting in terms of their group membership
prescriptive group norms: group norms that recommend certain behaviours for group members
primary groups: groups that have small memberships and are characterised by intimate direct interactions, strong levels of group identification, strong affective ties between members, multifaceted relationships, and a long period of existence
proscriptive group norms: group norms that forbid members to behave in certain ways
purpose: aim or reason
realistic conflict theory: a positional-level explanation of intergroup relations that asserts that group conflict results from incompatible goals and interests, or competition between groups over scarce resources
reference groups: groups to which a person does not formally belong, but with which that person identifies or which that person uses as a frame of reference
relationship roles: focus on the quality of the relationships among group members and includes performing supportive, interpersonally accommodative behaviours (Forsyth, 2010)
relative deprivation theory: a positional-level explanation of intergroup relations that suggests that a sense of relative deprivation emerges when members of a disadvantaged group recognise that they are undervalued, and have fewer social rewards than a preferred group
role: the specific behaviour that a particular member within a small social group must exhibit
secondary groups: groups where there are few direct interactions, weak levels of identification with the group, weak affective ties between members, limited or functional relationships, and a short period of existence
situational-level explanation: an explanation of intergroup behaviour that perceives behaviour to be a result of an interaction with other individuals or particular situational contexts
social exchange theory: an interpersonal level explanation of intergroup relations that suggests that people interact with others and evaluate relationships in terms of the rewards they offer and the costs they entail
social facilitation: a positive influence on group performance, which occurs when there is improved individual task performance when working with others or in the presence of an audience
social group: a group where members may or may not interact with each other, but which can be objectively and subjectively viewed as a group (see also societal group and statistical group)
social harmony: a positional-level explanation of intergroup relations that is seen to result from cooperative activities and the achievement of goals that both groups desire, but neither can achieve in the absence of assistance from the other group
social identity: an individual’s knowledge of belonging to certain social groups, and the valuing of this membership, or the part of an individual’s selfconcept that derives from knowing they belong to a social group
social identity formation: a process whereby the individual becomes part of a group and the group becomes part of the individual’s self-concept
social identity theory (SIT): a positional level explanation of intergroup relations that states that people internalise and integrate group membership as part of the social component of their self-concepts
social influence: the change in a person’s judgements, opinions and attitudes that occurs because of exposure to the judgements, opinions and attitudes of other people
social loafing: a performance-inhibiting effect where individuals relax their efforts based on the assumption that others will compensate for their lack of action
socio-economic roles: roles within groups that focus on the quality of the relationships among group members and include performing supportive, interpersonally accommodative behaviours
task roles: roles within groups that focus on the attainment of group goals
Multiple choice questions
1.Which type of group represents an objective approach to defining groups?
2.The social influence process in which a person behaves in accordance with a request is called:
3.Which of the following terms is used to refer to majority influence?
4.Which of the following is not one of the levels of understanding social behaviour described by Doise (1986)?
a)the social level
b)the positional level
c)the individual level
d)the ideological level.
5.Minorities are more likely to influence the majority if they are:
b)consistent and flexible
c)consistent and rigid
6.Social facilitation refers to:
a)a group-process phenomenon that occurs when an individual facilitates social interaction
b)a form of majority social influence
c)a group phenomenon that occurs when an in dividual’s task performance improves when working with others or in the presence of an audience
d)a group-process phenomenon that occurs when an individual’s task performance improves group decision making.
7.Freudian theory and frustration—aggression theory are theories used to understand intergroup behaviour at the:
8.Social identity theory has been criticised for:
a)neglecting the broader social context and the complexity of intergroup relations
b)being based primarily on the findings of experimental research
c)failing to account for ideological processes that create and maintain power relations of dominance and conditions of oppression
d)all of the above are correct.
9.Roles and norms are typical characteristics of:
10.The social influence process in which individual behaviour is modified in response to a command from an authority figure is called:
1.Describe your own social identity by indicating those components of your identity that represent the internalisation of various types of group membership discussed in the chapter.
2.In a courtroom scenario using a jury system, where a person’s guilt or innocence is determined by a group of their peers, identify the types of group processes and social influence that may impact on decisions taken by a jury and explain the factors that contribute to the likelihood of each occurring.
3.Select two theories of intergroup relations that are located in different levels of Doise’s (1986) model. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.