Functions of Social Groups

Defining Boundaries

Social groups are defined and separated by boundaries.

Learning Objectives

Explain what tends to happen to individuals when their group boundaries are impermeable, and also when they are permeable

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Cultural sociologists define symbolic boundaries as “conceptual distinctions made by social actors…that separate people into groups and generate feelings of similarity and group membership. ” These boundaries are necessary for the existence of in-groups and out-groups.
  • Where group boundaries are considered permeable (e.g., a group member may pass from a low status group into a high status group), individuals are more likely to engage in individual mobility strategies.
  • Where group boundaries are considered impermeable, and where status relations are considered reasonably stable, individuals are predicted to engage in social creativity behaviors.
  • One important factor in how symbolic boundaries function is how widely they are accepted as valid. Symbolic boundaries are a “necessary but insufficient” condition for social change.
  • According to sociologists, it is “only when symbolic boundaries are widely agreed upon can they take on a constraining character… and become social boundaries. ” Thus, rituals and traditions to define boundaries are extremely influential in determining how groups interact.
  • In the social sciences, the word “clique” is used to describe a group of 2 to 12 “persons who interact with each other more regularly and intensely than others in the same setting. “

Key Terms

  • symbolic boundary: Conceptual distinctions made by social actors that separate people into groups and generate feelings of similarity and group membership.
  • individual mobility: The ability of an individual to move from one social group to another.

Social groups are defined by boundaries. Cultural sociologists define symbolic boundaries as “conceptual distinctions made by social actors…that separate people into groups and generate feelings of similarity and group membership. ” In-groups, or social groups to which an individual feels he or she belongs as a member, and out-groups, or groups with which an individual does not identify, would be impossible without symbolic boundaries.

Permeability of Group Boundaries

The perceived permeability of group boundaries is important in determining how members define their identity. Where group boundaries are considered permeable (e.g., a group member may pass from a low status group into a high status group), individuals are more likely to engage in individual mobility strategies. That is, individuals “disassociate from the group and pursue individual goals designed to improve their personal lot rather than that of their in-group. ”

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Children and Marbles: Early childhood peers engaged in parallel play.

Where group boundaries are considered impermeable, and where status relations are considered reasonably stable, individuals are predicted to engage in social creativity behaviors. Here, without changing necessarily the objective resources of in the in-group or the out-group, low status in-group members are still able to increase their positive distinctiveness. This may be achieved by comparing the in-group to the out-group on some new dimension, changing the values assigned to the attributes of the group, and choosing an alternative out-group by which to compare the in-group.

Defining Boundaries

One important factor in how symbolic boundaries function is how widely they are accepted as valid. Symbolic boundaries are a “necessary but insufficient” condition for social change. According to sociologists, it is “only when symbolic boundaries are widely agreed upon can they take on a constraining character… and become social boundaries. ” Thus, rituals and traditions to define boundaries are extremely influential in determining how groups interact.

Emile Durkheim was interested in this idea. He saw the symbolic boundary between the sacred and the profane as the most profound of all social facts, and the one from which lesser symbolic boundaries were derived. Rituals, whether secular or religious, were for Durkheim the means by which groups maintained their symbolic and moral boundaries. Mary Douglas has subsequently emphasized the role of symbolic boundaries in organizing experience, private and public, even in a secular society.

Choosing Leaders

Leadership is the ability to organize a group of people to achieve a common purpose.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the seven types of leadership (functional, autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, expressive, authoritarian, and toxic) arguing which one is best

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Situational theory states that the times produce the person and not the other way around.
  • Functional leadership theory argues that the leader ‘s main job is to see that whatever is necessary to group needs is taken care of.
  • Under the autocratic leadership style, all decision-making powers are centralized in the leader.
  • The democratic leadership style consists of the leader sharing the decision-making abilities with group members.
  • In the laissez-faire leadership style, a person may be in a leadership position without providing leadership, leaving the group to fend for itself.
  • A toxic leader is someone who leaves the group in a worse-off condition than when he or she first found them.
  • A toxic leader is someone who leaves the group in a worse-off condition than when he or she first found them.

Key Terms

  • Toxic leadership: A toxic leader is someone who has responsibility over a group of people or an organization, and who abuses the leader-follower relationship by leaving the group or organization in a worse-off condition than when he/she first found them.
  • Autocratic leadership: All decision-making powers are centralized in the leader, as with dictators.
  • Trait theory of leadership: It is defined as integrated patterns of personal characteristics that reflect a range of individual differences and foster consistent leader effectiveness across a variety of group and organizational situations
  • leader: one who organizes or directs a group of people

Leadership is the ability to organize a group of people to achieve a common purpose. Although the leader may or may not have any formal authority, students of leadership have produced theories involving traits, situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values, charisma, and intelligence, among others. A leader is somebody who people follow, somebody who guides or directs others.

Theories of Leadership

The trait theory of leadership seeks to find attributes that all leaders possess. According to researchers of leadership, all individuals can and do emerge as leaders across a variety of situations and tasks. Significant relationships exist between leadership and such individual traits as: intelligence, adjustment, extraversion, consciousness, openness to experience, and general self-efficacy.

Considering the criticisms of the trait theory outlined above, several researchers have begun to adopt a different perspective of leader individual differences–the leader attribute pattern approach. In contrast to the traditional approach, the leader attribute pattern approach is based on theorists’ arguments that the influence of individual characteristics on outcomes is best understood by considering the person as an integrated totality rather than a summation of individual variables.

Situational theory also appeared as a reaction to the trait theory of leadership. Social scientists argued that history was more than the result of intervention of great men. Herbert Spencer (1884) said that the times produce the person and not the other way around. This theory assumes that different situations call for different characteristics; according to this group of theories, no single optimal psychographic profile of a leader exists. By contrast, functional leadership theory is a particularly useful theory for addressing specific leader behaviors expected to contribute to organizational or unit effectiveness. This theory argues that the leader’s main job is to see that whatever is necessary to group needs is taken care of; thus, a leader can be said to have done their job well when they have contributed to group effectiveness and cohesion.

Styles of Leaderships

Leadership style refers to a leader’s behavior. It is the result of the philosophy, personality, and experience of the leader. Under the autocratic leadership style, all decision-making powers are centralized in the leader, as with dictators. The democratic leadership style consists of the leader sharing the decision-making abilities with group members by promoting the interests of the group members and by practicing social equality. This style of leadership works well because people feel their voice is being heard, but it can result in fighting and animosity if opinions clash and decisions can not be reached. In the laissez-faire leadership style, a person may be in a leadership position without providing leadership, leaving the group to fend for itself. Subordinates are given a free hand in deciding their own policies and methods. Expressive leaders are concerned about the emotional well-being of the group and want the group to function harmoniously. Authoritarian leaders are dictator-like; they make all the decisions for the group and have the final say, regardless of other’s feelings or opinions. Finally, someone with a toxic leadership style is a person who has responsibility over a group of people or an organization, and who abuses the leader-follower relationship by leaving the group or organization in a condition that’s worse than when he/she originally found it.

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Nelson Mandela: Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, is an example of democratic leadership.

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Autocratic leadership: Benito Mussolini, a fascist dictator who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, is an example of autocratic leadership, where all decision-making powers were centralized on him.

Making Decisions

Decision-making is the mental processes resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios.

Learning Objectives

Describe three examples of voting which can be used to come to a decision

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Groups face unique challenges in decision-making, and as a result there are various decision-making strategies used by groups.
  • Consensus decision-making requires that a majority approve a given course of action, but that the minority agrees to go along with the course of action.
  • When a consensus is impossible or impractical, voting can be used to come to a decision. Range voting, majority voting, and plurality voting are three examples of this type of decision-making.
  • Group polarization refers to the tendency for groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members.
  • Groupthink is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints.
  • Groupthinking is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives.
  • Group polarization refers to the tendency for groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members.

Key Terms

  • Consensus decision-making: It is a group decision making process that seeks the consent, not necessarily the agreement of participants and the resolution of objections.
  • groupthink: A process of reasoning or decision making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to a perceived majority view.
  • Group polarization: It refers to the tendency for groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members.

Decision-making is the mental process resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios. Every decision-making process produces a final choice. Group decision-making is the process used when individuals are brought together in a group to solve problems. According to the idea of synergy, decisions made collectively tend to be more effective than decisions made by a single individual. However, there are situations in which the decisions made by a collection of individuals are riddled with error, or poor judgment. For example, groups high in cohesion have been noted to have a negative effect on group decision making and hence on group effectiveness.

Formal Systems for Making Decisions

Consensus decision-making tries to avoid “winners” and “losers”. Consensus requires that a majority approve a given course of action, but that the minority agrees to go along with the course of action. In other words, if the minority opposes the course of action, consensus requires that the course of action be modified to remove objectionable features.

When a consensus is impossible, impractical, or undesirable, different voting systems can be used for a group to decide on an outcome. Three examples are range voting, majority voting, and plurality voting. Range voting lets each member score one or more of the available options. The option with the highest average is chosen. Majority voting requires support from more than 50% of the members of the group. Plurality voting is where the largest block in a group decides, even if it falls short of a majority.

Social Settings

Decision making in groups is sometimes examined separately as process and outcome. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints.

Similarly, group polarization refers to the tendency for groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members. These more extreme decisions are towards greater risk if the individual’s initial tendency is to be risky and towards greater caution if individual’s initial tendency is to be cautious. In 2009, an interesting occurrence of group polarization was found in a study conducted by Luhan, Kocher, and Sutter, in which subjects played a ‘dictator game’. In this game, both individual and group decision-making was observed to see how individual preferences with respect to the allocation of money between a dictator and a recipient are transformed into a team decision. Their main finding was that team decisions were more selfish and competitive, less trusting and less altruistic than individual decisions. This study therefore offers evidence of group polarization, where the actions of individuals when in a group were more extreme than when the individual acted individually.

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Consensus Decision-Making: This diagram shows how decisions are made by consensus. Consensus requires that a majority approve a given course of action, but that the minority agree to go along with the course of action.

Setting Goals

Goal setting involves establishing specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-targeted (S.M.A.R.T. ) goals.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of the ways in which improving choice, effort, persistence, and cognition affect outcomes in goal-setting

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Setting goals affects outcomes in four ways: choice, effort, persistence, and cognition. Individuals tend to exhibit more of these positive qualities when they are working toward a goal.
  • The enhancement of performance through goals requires feedback. Without feedback, goal setting is unlikely to work.
  • Edwin A Locke concluded that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than did easy goals or no goals at all.

Key Terms

  • feedback: Critical assessment on information produced.
  • goal: A desired result that one works to achieve.

Setting goals involves establishing specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-targeted (S.M.A.R.T. ) benchmarks for results. Work on the theory of goal-setting suggests that it’s an effective tool for making progress because participants in a group with a common goal are clearly aware of what is expected from them. On a personal level, setting goals helps people work toward their own objectives, which are most commonly financial or career-based goals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKKwOdi1VhU

Setting Goals – A Story Time Running Journey: This video shows how setting goals can be used for sports – in this case, for running.

Elements of Goal-Setting

Setting goals affects outcomes in four ways: by improving choice, effort, persistence, and cognition. By choice, we mean that goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities, and away from perceived undesirable and goal-irrelevant actions. Secondly, goals can lead to more effort. For example, if a person typically produces four widgets an hour, and sets the goal of producing six, he may work more intensely toward the goal. Third, through improved persistence, someone becomes more prone to work through setbacks when pursuing a goal. Finally, by cognition, we mean that goals can lead individuals to develop and change their behavior.

Five Great Reasons Why You Should Set Goals: Goal-setting is used in business for sustainability, progress, and continued success.

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Goal setting and achievement: Athletes set goals during the training process. Through choice, effort, persistence, and cognition, they can prepare to compete.

The enhancement of performance through goals requires feedback. Goal setting and feedback go hand in hand, for without feedback, goal setting is unlikely to work. Providing feedback on short-term objectives helps to sustain motivation and commitment to a goal. Feedback should also be provided on the strategies followed to achieve the goals and the final outcomes achieved as well. Goal-setting may have little effect if individuals can’t see the results of their performance in relation to the goal.

Studies in Goal-Setting

The first empirical studies were performed by Cecil Alec Mace in 1935. Later in the mid-1960s, Edwin A. Locke began to examine goal setting, a topic he continued to explore for thirty years. He concluded that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than did easy goals or no goals at all.

Controlling the Behaviors of Group Members

The behavior of group members can be controlled indirectly through group polarization, groupthink, and herd behavior.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of group polarization, groupthink and herd behavior in real life

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Group polarization is the phenomenon that when placed in group situations, people will make decisions and form opinions that are more extreme than when they are in individual situations.
  • Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives.
  • Herd behavior describes how individuals in a group can act together without planned direction.
  • All of these phenomena show how membership in a group can overcome individual behavior.

Key Terms

  • herd behavior: The behavior exhibited by individuals in a group who act together without planned direction.
  • Group polarization: It refers to the tendency for groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members.
  • groupthink: A process of reasoning or decision making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to a perceived majority view.

Group polarization is the phenomenon that when placed in group situations, people will make decisions and form opinions that are more extreme than when they are in individual situations. The phenomenon has shown that after participating in a discussion group, members tend to advocate more extreme positions and call for riskier courses of action than individuals who did not participate in any such discussion.

The importance of group polarization is significant as it helps explain group behavior in a variety of real-life situations. Examples of these situations include public policy, terrorism, college life, and violence. For instance, group polarization can largely be seen at political conventions that are broadcasted nation wide before a large election. Generally, a political party holds the same ideals and fundamentals. At times, however, individual members of the party may waver on where they stand on smaller subjects. During a political convention, the political party as a group is strongly united in one location and is exposed to many persuasive speakers. As a result, each individual in the political party leaves more energized and steadfast on where the party as a whole stands with regards to all subjects and behind all candidates, even if they were wavering on where they stood before hand.

Groupthink

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. Irving Janis led the initial research on the groupthink theory. The United States Bay of Pigs Invasion was one of the primary political case studies that Janis used in explaining the theory of groupthink. The invasion plan was initiated by the Eisenhower administration, but when the Kennedy White House took over, it “uncritically accepted” the CIA’s plan. When some people attempted to present their objections to the plan, the Kennedy team as a whole ignored these objections and kept believing in the morality of their plan. Janis claimed the fiasco that ensued could have been prevented if the Kennedy administration had followed the same methods of preventing groupthink that it later followed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Herd Behavior

Herd behavior describes how individuals in a group can act together without planned direction. The term pertains to the behavior of animals in herds, flocks and schools, and to human conduct during activities such as stock market bubbles and crashes, street demonstrations, sporting events, religious gatherings, episodes of mob violence and everyday decision-making, judgment and opinion-forming.

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Groupthink in the Kennedy Administration: The United States Bay of Pigs Invasion, implemented by President John F. Kennedy, was one of the primary political case studies that Irving Janis used in explaining the theory of groupthink.