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Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

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Groups: When We Join . . . and When

We Leave

Groups: Their Key Components

The Benefits—and Costs—of Joining



when G e o r g e W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and Federal

Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke became involved in efforts to convince

Effects of the Presence of Others:

From Task Performance to Behavior

in Crowds

Social Facilitation: Performing

in the Presence of Others

members of the U.S. Senate that a $700 billion emergency bailout plan was needed

Social Loafing: Letting Others Do the Work

to deal with the mortgage and banking crisis. But prior to Bernanke’s warning that

Effects of Being in a Crowd

the economy would collapse without a massive bailout and stimulus spending bill,

various decisions going back to the mid-1990s appear to have contributed to this

crisis in the mortgage and banking systems. During this time, there were many players, both groups and individuals—all of whom had a hand in the events leading to

the crisis. One group, the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is the major

government entity that regulates banks when they are involved in investment activities, and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, both quasi-governmental agencies, were

instrumental in facilitating large amounts of subprime mortgage lending.

The BP oil spill, another major crisis, with substantial economic consequences

for Americans, started with an explosion at its Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf

of Mexico on April 20, 2010. Approximately 3 months later, on July 15, the well was

capped, although there remains some doubt as to whether that will stop all oil leaking from the drill pipe under the seabed. Apart from the obvious responsibility of BP

itself, there is ample evidence of long-term ignorance and irresponsibility on the part

of a government agency, the Minerals Management Service, a division of the Interior


In each of these cases, an individual representative has commanded the public’s

attention. For the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tried to defend

his company’s actions, while following the oil spill CEO Tony Hayward as BP’s spokesman attempted to do so as well. Soon after both these respective disasters, with some

Coordination in Groups: Cooperation

or Conflict?


Working with Others via

Computer-Mediated Communication

Cooperation: Working with Others

to Achieve Shared Goals

Responding to and Resolving Conflicts:

Some Useful Techniques

Perceived Fairness in Groups:

Its Nature and Effects

Basic Rules for Judging Fairness:

Distributive, Procedural, and Transactional



When Members of One Group Perceive

Members of Another Group as Rejecting


Decision Making by Groups: How

It Occurs and the Pitfalls It Faces

The Decision-Making Process: How

Groups Attain Consensus

The Downside of Group Decision


The Role of Leadership in Group


of their consequences shown in Figure 1, both these CEOs appeared to generate more

anger from the public than they were able to squash.

As onlookers (and victims), people are prone to blaming individual CEOs when

disasters occur—partly because the CEOs are salient spokespeople—and they

almost certainly played a role. In addition, given the oversized compensation

that CEOs receive currently, this might even seem fair. But many people also

have the idea that groups, compared to individuals, are more likely to make



Gerald Herbert/AP Images

2009 Marilyn Humphries/Newscom

Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging


Individual or Group Decision Making: Which Leads to Disasters?

Was the problem the people at the top of these organization (CEOs), or was it groups and the decisions they made that lead to

the financial and oil spill crises?

disaster-prone decisions. In this chapter, we consider research addressing this question—

do individuals or groups make more risky (or worse) decisions? Probably both individuals

and groups bear responsibility for creating the environments in which both of these crises

were likely (some would say inevitably) to occur. In this chapter we also address the question of whether individuals act differently when in a group compared to when they act

alone. Such a possibility is important because, if it is true that individuals are affected by

processes that occur in groups, then understanding group life is critical to gaining insight

into how these kinds of disasters may be prevented. When things go wrong—catastrophically wrong—as they did in both the financial crisis and oil spill, understanding both the

pitfalls and strengths of group decision making is needed.

Because groups cannot be eliminated from our lives—even if being a member of a

group can sometimes involve negative aspects—we seek to understand both the costs and

benefits of belonging to groups. Let’s first consider a few of the potential hitches that

come with joining a group. If it is a cohesive group—one where there are strong bonds

among the members—it could be difficult to even get admitted, or it might result in some

initiations we would wish to avoid. And what if, after getting in a group, we discover that

there are group norms that we don’t like? When a person is new to a group, one’s status

is likely to be low, which would make it difficult to change the group’s norms. Moreover, as a newcomer, one’s performance in the group may be judged by more established

members, resulting in some evaluation anxiety. Some conflict is likely within almost any

group, and managing such difficult interactions might be quite effortful. For this reason,

people sometimes ask themselves whether they might have to put more effort into a

group than the rewards they’d get from being a member. Realistically, some groups do

require major commitments of time. But it is also the case that some benefits can only

be obtained by belonging to groups. For that reason, we first turn to the question of why

people join and stay in groups. Can we realistically just dispense with them, or might

groups critically shape who we are?

Is being in groups a fundamental part of our evolutionary history? No one individual

can know all the information necessary—particularly in our technologically complex

world—to always make the best decisions alone on all issues. Perhaps we have to rely

on other people for collective knowledge and information sharing, and perhaps being



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging




connected to groups is essential to our survival as a species. Brewer and Caporael (2006)

argue that interdependence among group members is the primary strategy for survival

among humans, with the group providing a critical buffer between the individual and

the physical habitat. Such social coordination could be therefore central to our survival.

What implications does an evolutionary perspective have for our attitudes toward

groups in the here-and-now? Schachter (1959) concluded that the arousal of any strong

emotion in humans tends to create the need to compare this reaction with others. This

suggests that the complex emotional lives of humans may, in fact, be one of the causes

of the human need for group affiliation. Indeed, it is under the most threatening or

uncertain conditions that we seem to need our groups most. In these instances, for

psychological security, we may increasingly identify with our social groups (Hogg,

2007). In fact, among the best predictors of psychological well-being across people

is degree of connectedness to others (Diener & Oishi, 2005; Lyubomirsky, King, &

Diener, 2005).

Are all groups equally important to us? While we are born into some of our groups,

such as our family or ethnic group, others are self-selected—we choose to join groups

such as fraternities and sororities, work organizations, and sports teams. Some groups

are temporary, coming into existence to accomplish a specific purpose such as completing a team project, while others are longer lasting and less linked to specific goals (e.g.,

being a member of your university student community). Some groups such as a workplace organization are joined explicitly because of the benefits (i.e, a paycheck) that they

provide. Despite this material benefit, people do form occupational identities that are of

considerable importance to them, and many people also come to strongly identify with the

organizations in which they are employed (Ashforth, Harrison, & Corley, 2008; Haslam,

2004). In fact, if you ask people “Who are you?”, many reply in terms of their occupations:

“I’m a student” or “I’m a psychologist, engineer, accountant, etc.” Might you someday

show equal pride in your occupational or organizational group and its accomplishments,

as the people shown in Figure 2?

For other groups, clear material benefits of membership might be hard to see,

although those groups too can have considerable relevance for our identities (e.g.,

a peer or friendship group). In fact, leaving behind our old friendship groups as we

make life transitions such as moving from high school to college can be a stressful

process (Iyer, Jetten, & Tsivrikos, 2008). Thus, we have emotional connectedness to

groups—we like them, like being in them, and often develop strong bonds with the

people in them. Perhaps that is the point: joining groups, and staying in them, feels

Will You Identify Strongly with the Occupation You Join?

These photos illustrate people who appear to be highly attached to their work group and its accomplishments. Research reveals that people

who identify with the organization that employs them exhibit greater commitment to it and show positive organizational citizenship

behavior that goes beyond the “call of duty.”



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

perfectly natural—we really want to belong, and freely choose to join! And, when we

are deprived of a connection to the group, when given an opportunity we often work

hard to re-connect to group members, even if only via Facebook (Sheldon, Abad, &

Hinsch, 2011).

Now, let’s turn to the issues of whether there are different types of groups, when

we join them and why, and what determines when we choose to quit them. Then,

we will examine the impact of what is, in some ways, the most basic group effect: the

mere presence of others. As we’ll see, the presence of others, even if we are not in a

formal group with them, can affect our performance on many tasks, as well as other

important aspects of our behavior. Third, we briefly examine the nature of cooperation and conflict in groups—why these contrasting patterns emerge and the effects

they produce. After that, we address the closely related question of perceived fairness

in groups. Finally, we turn to decision making in groups, and the unexpected dangers

this process can pose.

Groups: When We Join . . . and When

We Leave


A collection of people who are

perceived to be bonded together in a

coherent unit to some degree.

common-bond groups

Groups that tend to involve faceto-face interaction and in which the

individual members are bonded to

each other.

common-identity groups


Michael Weber/imagebroker/Alamy

Face-to-face interaction is often

absent, and the members are linked

together via the category as a whole

rather than each other.

What is a group? Do we know one when we see it? Look at the photos in Figure 3. Which

one would you say shows a group? You would probably identify the photo on the right

as a group, but the one on the left as a mere collection of people waiting in line. Perhaps

that is because you have a definition of the term group that is close to the one adopted by

many social psychologists—a group involves people who perceive themselves to be part of a

coherent unit that they perceive as different from another group (Dasgupta, Banaji, & Abelson,

1999; Haslam, 2004).

The basis of this perceived coherence differs in different types of groups (Prentice,

Miller, & Lightdale, 1994). In common-bond groups, which tend to involve face-to-face

interaction among members, the individuals in the group are bonded to each other. Examples of these kinds of groups include the players on a sports team, friendship groups,

and work teams. In contrast, in common-identity groups the members are linked via the

category as a whole rather than to each other, with face-to-face interaction often being


What Makes a Group a Group?

The photo on the left shows a collection of people who just happen to be in the same place; they are not part of a group. The photo on

the right shows a real group, where the members interact with one another in a coordinated way and have shared goals and outcomes.

Moreover, they feel that they are, in fact, part of a group.



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

entirely absent. Our national, linguistic, university, and gender groups,

TABLE 1 Is the Importance of a Group

where we might not even know personally all or even most of the other

Dependent on Its Entitativity?

group members, are good examples of groups that we might identify

As you can see here, groups clearly vary in their

with strongly, but not because of the bonds we have with specific other

perceived entitativity—the extent to which they

individual members. As you’ll see in this chapter, both of these types of

are perceived to be a distinct group. While some

group memberships can be important to people.

groups are seen as being high in entitativity

Groups can also differ dramatically in terms of their entitativity—

(1 = not a group; 9 = very much a group), others

the extent to which they are perceived as coherent wholes (Campbell,

are not. The perceived importance of a group to

1958). Entitativity can range from, at the low end, a mere collection of

its members was strongly correlated (r = .75) with

individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time and who

how much of an entity it was perceived to be.

have little or no connection with one another, to at the high end, where



members of intimate groups such as families share a name, a history,




and an identity. As shown in Table 1, when people are asked to freely




name different types of groups, there is considerable agreement about


which types of groups are perceived to be high and low in entitativity




(Lickel et al., 2000). Those groups that are rated as high in entitativReligious groups



ity also tend to be groups that people rate as relatively important to

them. Groups high in entitativity are also perceived as persisting across

Music groups



time, although the specific members may change, whereas those low in

Sports groups



entitativity are often not seen as possessing such continuity (Hamilton,





Levine, & Thurston, 2008).

What determines whether, and to what extent, we perceive a group

Ethnic groups



as an entity? Groups high in entitativity tend to have the following

Common interest



characteristics: (1) members interact with one another often, although


not necessarily in a face-to-face setting (it could be over the Internet,

National groups



for example); (2) the group is important in some way to its members;







(3) members share common goals; and (4) they are similar to one

Gender groups



another in important ways. The higher groups are on these dimensions, the more they will be seen by their members and nonmembers

Region of country



alike as forming coherent entities—real groups that can, and often do,

Physical attributes



exert powerful effects upon their members.

Highly entitative groups are more likely to be stereotyped than

Source: Based on data from Lickel et al., 2000.

are groups low in entitativity (Yzerbyt et al., 2001). People even use

different language to describe entitative groups compared to those low

in entitativity (Spencer-Rodgers, Hamilton, & Sherman, 2007). Specifically, abstract language is used to imply that high entitativity groups are enduring

and that they possess distinct characteristics that differentiate them from other groups,

whereas groups low in entitativity are seen as less distinctive and members are less likely

to be characterized as sharing attributes. Perhaps, surprisingly, it is not the size of a

group per se that matters for entitativity—some small and some large groups are perceived to be high in entitativity. It is behavioral features such as sharing of resources,

reciprocating favors among group members, recognition of group authorities, and

adherence to group norms that tend to result in greater entitativity rather than structural features of groups (Lickel, Rutchick, Hamilton, & Sherman, 2006).

Groups: Their Key Components

Before turning to the specific ways in which groups affect various aspects of our behavior

and thought, it is useful to consider several basic features of groups—ones that are present

in virtually every group. These features are status, roles, norms, and cohesiveness.

When the President of the United States, or

the leader of any other nation for that matter, enters the room, everyone stands; and no

one sits down until the President has taken a seat. Why? Although the President is an



The extent to which a group is

perceived as being a coherent entity.



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

American, like the rest of us, he (or she) occupies a special position within the group.

Many groups have hierarchies like this, with members differing in status—their rank

within the group. Sometimes it is an “official position” as in the case of the President, and

sometimes it is not so explicit and instead is simply the “old-timers” in a group who are

accorded higher status compared to “newcomers.” People are often extremely sensitive

to their status within a group because it is linked to a wide range of desirable outcomes—

everything from respect and deference from other group members to material benefits

such as salary received.

Evolutionary psychologists attach considerable importance to status attainment

within a group, noting that in many different species, including our own, high status

confers important advantages on those who possess it (Buss, 1999). But how, precisely, do

people acquire high status? Physical attributes such as height may play some role—taller

men and women have a consistent edge, especially in the workplace (Judge & Cable,

2004). Those who are taller are held in higher esteem compared to shorter people—they

are literally “looked up to.” Meta-analyses have revealed that taller people earn more in

salary, are perceived as having more skills, and are more likely to be nominated as leader

of groups relative to shorter people (Judge & Cable, 2004). Height even predicts who

wins the American Presidency, within each election year’s set of candidates. In fact, people judge those who have just won an election to be taller than they were before winning,

while the losers of the election are seen as shorter (Higham & Carment, 1992)! And in

fact, the average height of all Presidents is much higher than for the general population.

This may change, of course, when women Presidents are elected, but even they, perhaps,

will be taller than the average woman!

Factors relating to individuals’ behavior also play a critical role in status acquisition.

People who are seen as prototypical—by embodying the group’s central attributes—are

particularly likely to be accorded status and be selected as leader of a group (Haslam &

Platow, 2001). Longevity or seniority in a group too can result in higher status—to the

extent that it is seen as reflective of wisdom or knowledge of ingroup ways (Haslam,


Once status within a group is obtained, people with high status actually behave differently than those with lower status. Guinote, Judd, and Brauer (2002) observed that

high-status group members are more “idiosyncratic and variable” in their behavior than

are lower-status group members. Indeed, there appears to be an awareness of the need

to conform to group norms more strongly among those who are junior in a group and

therefore have lower status (Jetten, Hornsey, & Adarves-Yorno, 2006). Across a number

of different samples from professional to student groups where status varied, people with

high status report conforming less than people with lower status. As shown in Figure 4,

when surveyed about “how susceptible to group influence” they were, social psychologists

who were very senior in terms of number of years in a professional organization reported

being less conforming than those who had few years in the organization or those who

had just recently joined. By portraying themselves as open to group influence, low-status

group members may be helping to ensure they become accepted in the organization. In

fact, newcomers who lack status in a group are more likely to be subjected to punishments if they fail to yield to those with higher status (Levine, Moreland, & Hausmann,

2005). Thus, there can be little doubt that differences in status are an important fact of

life in most groups.


The individual’s position or rank

within the group.


The set of behaviors that individuals

occupying specific positions within a

group are expected to perform.



which you belong or have belonged—anything from a sports team to a sorority or fraternity. Now consider this question: Did everyone in the group perform the same functions?

Your answer is probably no. Different people performed different tasks and were expected

to accomplish different things for the group. In short, they played different roles. Sometimes roles are assigned; for instance, a group may select different individuals to serve as

its leader, treasurer, or secretary. In other cases, individuals gradually acquire certain roles


Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

In each type of group, those with less status perceived

themselves as more conforming than those with higher status























Students vs.


2nd-Year vs. 3rdJunior vs.

Year Students Senior Students

Participant Sample


Status Matters for Conformity

As you can see, in every participant sample, those who were relatively high in status or more senior

rated themselves personally as less conforming to the in-group’s norms than did persons who were

lower in status or more junior members of their group. Status would appear to grant freedom on group

members! (Source: Based on data from Jetten, Hornsey, & Adarves-Yorno, 2006).

without being formally assigned to them. Regardless of how roles are acquired, in many

groups, someone often serves as the “good listener,” taking care of members’ emotional

needs, while another person tends to specialize in “getting things done.”

To the extent that people internalize their social roles—those roles are linked to

key aspects of the self-concept—they can have important implications for psychological

well-being. Indeed, enacting a role well can lead people to feel that their behavior reflects

their authentic self. Consider students in one study whose key self-perceptions were first

measured and then they were randomly assigned to fulfill a particular role in a class task

(Bettencourt, Molix, Talley, & Sheldon, 2006). The behaviors called for when assigned to

the “idea generating” role are rather different than the behaviors required when assigned

to the “devil’s advocate” role. The results showed that for those people whose traits were

consistent with whichever role they were assigned, they perceived their behavior during the task as authentically reflecting themselves, exhibited more positive mood, and

enjoyed the class task more than people for whom there was a discrepancy between their

self-perceptions and the role they had enacted.

A simulated prison study obtained new answers concerning the question of when

and why role assignments affect our behavior (Reicher & Haslam, 2006). The adult

participants in this study were first randomly assigned to the role of either prisoner or

guard. Over the course of the study, those assigned to be guards failed to identify with

their role, in part because of their concerns with being liked by the prisoners and how

others might perceive them when the study was over (and was televised). In contrast,

the prisoners showed significant increases over the course of the study in the degree

to which they identified with their role. Did this difference in identification with their

assigned role make a difference for the behavior that was observed? The answer was a

definite yes. Because the guards did not identify with their role, they failed to impose

their authority collectively, and they were eventually overcome by the other group whose



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

members were highly identified with their group. The guards also showed increased

stress responses that the prisoners did not show—both self-reported burnout and greater

cortisol reactivity, which is a physiological indicator of stress (Haslam & Reicher, 2006).

Those assigned to the prisoner role, however, showed increasing identification with the

other prisoners, developed a norm of rebellion, and showed reductions in depression over

the course of the study.

So, while roles are not automatic determinants of behavior, when they are internalized

they can affect how we see ourselves, who we identify with, and our actions. Once people

identify with a role, the norms—or appropriate ways for “people like us” to act—guide

our behavior and, as we’ll see below, even our emotions.

NORMS: THE RULES OF THE GAME Groups powerfully affect the behavior of their

members via norms—implicit rules that inform people about what is expected of them.


Rules or expectations within a group

concerning how its members should

(or should not) behave.

feeling rules

Matthias Schrader/dpa/Landov

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters/Landov

Expectations about the appropriate

emotions to display or express.

We want to consider how different norms can operate in different groups, and what happens when we deviate from what is normatively expected of us.

Have you ever considered the possibility that there might be “norms” that guide

our emotions? Sometimes those are explicit feeling rules—expectations about the emotions that are appropriate to express (Hochschild, 1983). For example, as shown in

Figure 5, many employers demand that service providers (cashiers, restaurant servers,

and flight attendants) “always smile” at customers, no matter how annoying or rude

they may be! In this case, norms for displaying positive feelings are specific to these

kinds of employment settings. If one were employed as a funeral director, there would

be explicit instructions to interact with the bereaved family in a “sincere” way, and to

display only a “serious face” while trying to communicate empathy. But perhaps socialization into groups involves more than being told how to “act” emotionally. Potentially,

learning “how to be a good group member” may be guided by subtle emotional experience norms.

An interesting study of Evangelical Christians that was conducted by Wilkins (2008)

reveals how emotion norms reflect group membership acquisition. She found that initially, new converts did not perceive their participation in church lessons and meetings as


Some Roles or Groups Have Emotion Norms: Happiness on Demand!

Members of some social groups are told, or otherwise learn, how they are supposed to feel. These norms can be in the form of explicit rules:

MacDonald’s employees and flight attendants are told they must always smile at customers. Or, they can be more subtle, where learning to

be a “good” group member means claiming to be “happier than you were before” you joined the group.



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging

Liking for Dissenter

pleasant. But over time, and through interactions with other community members, new

members learned to model their emotions on others. A new emotional vocabulary was

acquired; new members were encouraged to publicly talk about their old, pre-Christian

self as unhappy and anxiety-ridden and to present their new Christian self as happy. Most

participants in this study reported initially having to be pushed to devote the time to

learning the new faith practices but, after doing so, they came to perceive themselves as

having acquired an “authentic Christian self,” in which negative emotions are disallowed.

According to this research, to maintain this new identity and be fully accepted within

this community, feeling happy appears to be necessary. For these participants, because

happiness is equated with moral goodness, feeling happy with one’s life is necessary to

be perceived as a good group member.

An important norm that varies considerably across cultures, but can also apply differentially to groups within a culture, is collectivism versus individualism. In collectivist

groups, the norm is to maintain harmony among group members, even if doing so might


entail some personal costs; in such groups, disagreement and conflict among members

Groups in which the norm is to

are to be avoided. In contrast, in individualistic groups, the norm is to value standing out

maintain harmony among group

from the group and be different from others; individual variability is to be expected and

members, even if doing so might

disagreeing with the group is often seen as courageous. Therefore, greater tolerance might

entail some personal costs.

be expected for those who deviate from group norms in individualist groups than in colindividualism

lectivist groups. Of course, people do differ in how much they value being a member of

Groups where the norm is to stand

any particular group. Considerable research has illustrated that when being a member of a

out and be different from others;

particular group is important to our self-concept (we highly identify with it), we are more

individual variability is expected and

likely to be guided by its norms, but ignore or even act contrary to its norms when we are

disagreement among members is

not identified with that group (Jetten et al., 1997; Moreland & Levine, 2001). How then


do people who are high or low in identification with an

individualist or a collectivist group respond to someone

Among those who highly identify with the group,

who deviates from their group?

the nature of the norm mattered—when the norm

was individualist, the dissenter was liked but when the

This question was addressed in a series of studnorm was collectivist, the dissenter was not liked

ies by Hornsey, Jetten, McAuliffe, and Hogg (2006).

First, participants were selected who were either high

or low in identification with their university. Then,

the norm of their “student culture” was described as


being “collectivist,” with an emphasis on members



achieving goals that will benefit the group as a whole

rather than the students’ personal goals, or as “individ5.0

ualist,” where meeting personal goals is emphasized by


members over achieving the goals of the student group



as a whole. Responses to a student who was described


as dissenting from the position of most students on an


issue were then measured. As can be seen in Figure 6,


among those who highly identify with their student

Individualist Norm


group, a dissenter was liked when the norm was indi2.5

vidualist, but that same dissenter was disliked when the

Collectivist Norm


norm was collectivist. Among those low in identificaLow Identifiers

High Identifiers

tion with their student group, the norm did not affect

evaluations of the dissenting student. This research

Level of Identification

illustrates the potential costs of violating a group’s

FIGURE 6 Responses to a Dissenting Group Member:

norms—at least in the eyes of those who highly value

It Depends on the Group Norm

that group.

COHESIVENESS: THE FORCE THAT BINDS Consider two groups. In the first, members like one

another very much, strongly concur with the goals

their group is seeking, and feel that they could not possibly find another group that would better satisfy their

Dissent, or disagreeing with other group members, can result in negative

evaluations by those who highly identify with the group when the

group’s norm is collectivist and conflict is to be avoided. In contrast,

when the group’s norm is individualist, those who highly identify with the

group are tolerant of dissenting group members. The norm of the group

does not affect how low identifiers evaluate a dissenting fellow group

member. (Source: Based on data from Hornsey et al., 2006).



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging


Peter Steiner/The New Yorker Collection/Cartoonbank

All forces (factors) that cause group

members to remain in the group.

needs. They have formed a group identity, and as a result are likely to perform their tasks

well together. In the second, the opposite is true: members don’t like one another very

much, don’t share common goals, and are actively seeking other groups that might offer

them a better deal. They lack a shared identity and are less likely to successfully perform

tasks together. The reason for this difference in the experience and performance of these

two groups is what social psychologists refer to as cohesiveness—all the forces that cause

members to remain in the group (Ellemers, de Gilder, & Haslam, 2004).

Cohesive groups have a sense of solidarity; they see themselves as homogenous, supportive of ingroup members, cooperative with ingroup members, aim to achieve group

goals rather than individual goals, have high morale, and perform better than noncohesive

groups (Hogg, 2007; Mullen & Cooper, 1994). As shown in Figure 7, outgroup members

may find it difficult to gain acceptance in cohesive groups—they may not “fit” the norms

all that well!

The presence of an outgroup or other form of competitive threat tends to increase

cohesion and commitment to local community groups (Putnam, 2000). It fact, within

nations during times of war, support for ingroup leaders dramatically increases (Landau

et al., 2004). What might be less obvious is the effect that perceiving one’s group to be

potentially indistinguishable from another group has on emotions and actions aimed

at protecting the ingroup’s distinctiveness. Recent studies have revealed that French

Canadians who worry about not being able to maintain their culture as distinct from

English Canadians favor the separation of Quebec from Canada (Wohl, Giguère, Branscombe, & McVicar, 2011). Likewise, English Canadians who are threatened with the

possibility of a ficticious “North American Union” in which their distinctive Canadian

identity might be lost by such a merger with their “superpower neighbor”—the United

States—favor putting limits on the amount of American media shown in Canada and

indicate they intend to vote for candidates who see Canada as too closely involved

with the United States (Wohl et al., 2011). As shown in Figure 8, the more general

threat that your group’s future might be in jeopardy can encourage all sorts of groups

to advocate actions aimed at creating greater ingroup cohesion (Wohl, Branscombe,

& Reysen, 2010).


Cohesive Groups Can Be Hard to Enter!

As this dog is learning, fitting into a cohesive “cat-run” organization may be difficult, if not

impossible—at least for a dog! (Source: The New Yorker, December 18, 2000).



Groups and Individuals: The Consequences of Belonging


the Ingroup’s


to Be in




Take Action






If Your Group’s Future Might Be in Jeopardy, Actions That Will Make the InGroup More Cohesive

Imagining how the future of your group might be in jeopardy—either by a union with another nation, your university is destroyed by

a tornado, or merely thinking about a historical attempt to eliminate your group—can result in actions aimed at strengthening the

ingroup. Such perceived jeopardy induces feelings of collective anxiety, which in turn can affect preferences that will create greater

cohesion (e.g., marrying other ingroup members, educating children in schools for ingroup members only, voting for politicians who

will protect the ingroup). (Source: Based on Wohl et al., 2010; Wohl et al., in press).


● Groups are an indispensible part of our lives; evolution-

ary theorists suggest that groups are necessary for

human survival.

● There are different kinds of groups: common-bond

groups where the individual members have bonds with

each other and common-identity groups where the

members are linked via the category as a whole.

● Groups are composed of people who perceive them-

selves and are perceived by others as forming a coherent unit to some degree. The extent to which the group

is perceived to form a coherent entity is known as


● Basic features of groups include status, roles, norms,

and cohesiveness.

● People gain status in a group for many reasons, rang-

ing from physical characteristics (e.g., height) to various

aspects of their behavior (e.g., conforming to group

norms). Status tends to be higher for those who are

prototypical of the group, or those who have seniority

within the group.

● The effects of roles on our behavior are often very pow-

erful, primarily when we have internalized the role as

part of our identity.

● In some groups there are norms or explicit feeling rules

about the emotions we should express.

● Deviating from group norms can affect how other

group members, especially those who highly identify

with their group, evaluate us. Norms can be collectivist

or individualist.

● Another important feature of groups is their level of

cohesiveness—the sum of all the factors that cause

people to want to remain members. Perceiving a threat

to one’s group can encourage actions that increase

group cohesiveness.

The Benefits—and Costs—of Joining

If you consider how many different groups you belong to, you may be surprised at the

length of the list—especially if you consider both common-bond (face-to-face) and

common-identity (social categories) groups. While some people belong to more groups

than others, most of us put forth effort to gain admittance to and maintain membership

in at least some groups. Why, then, if we work hard to get in and the benefits of group

membership can be great, do we sometimes choose to leave groups? Withdrawing from

a group to which we have belonged for months, years, or even decades can be a stressful

experience. Here’s what social psychologists have found out about why we join groups

and the processes involved in leaving them.


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