Group Dynamics

Effects of Group Size on Stability and Intimacy

Since it is easier for fewer people to agree on goals and to coordinate their work, smaller groups are more cohesive than larger groups.

Learning Objectives

Relate group size to group cohesiveness

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A group is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the group as a whole.
  • An intimate community is one in which some members recognize and are recognized by all of the others, and most of the members recognize and are recognized by many of the others. Relationships in intimate communities tend to be more stable and the groups more cohesive.
  • Dunbar’s number is the suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It is usually estimated to be around 150, and this serves as an upper bound on the size of intimate communities.

Key Terms

  • dunbar’s number: Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.
  • cohesiveness: The state of being cohesive.

A group is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the group as a whole. According to Festinger, Schachter, and Back (1950), group cohesion develops from a field of binding social forces that act on members to stay in the group. Groups that possess strong unifying forces typically stick together over time, whereas groups that lack such bonds between members usually disintegrate.

The Role of Group Size

Since it is easier for fewer people to agree on goals and to coordinate their work, smaller groups are often more cohesive than larger groups. Group cohesiveness may suffer, though, if the group lacks enough members to perform its tasks well.

An intimate community is one in which some members recognize and are recognized by all of the others, and most of the members recognize and are recognized by many of the others. This is in contrast to (usually larger) communities where members are known and interact mostly within their own subgroup, such as a neighborhood, department, or occupation. The contrast between the two types is illustrated by comparing hamlet with town, military company with battalion, parish church with diocese, or a country school with a huge urban one.

The Limits of Group Size

Intimate communities seldom have more than about 150 members, a number derived from the “Dunbar’s Number” concept. This is the suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. While no precise value has been unanimously agreed upon, it has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. The concept is based on studies of social animals, which have shown a correlation between the typical frontal brain capacity the members of a species has and the maximum size of the groups in which they live. Like animals, the number of relationships the human brain can handle is large but not unlimited.

Dunbar’s Number: Dr. Robin Dunbar explains the concept of Dunbar’s number.

image

Diagram of a Network: Individuals in groups are connected to each other by social relationships.

Effects of Group Size on Attitude and Behavior

Size (number of people involved) is an important characteristic of groups, organizations and communities in which social behavior occurs.

Learning Objectives

Describe Georg Simmel’s view on group size

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A social group has been defined as two or more humans who interact with one another, share similar characteristics and collectively have a sense of unity. Groups can be categorized according to size.
  • Individual behavior has been shown to be influenced by the presence of others. For example, an individual’s performance at work or the individual’s decision-making processes (as in the term “groupthink”).
  • Dyads and triads are the smallest social groups. Social interaction in a dyad is typically more intense because neither member shares the other’s attention with anyone else. A triad is more stable because one member can act as a mediator if the relationship between the other two become strained.
  • As an organization or community grows in size it is apt to experience changes in the way it operates. As the size of a group increases, the need for more organization or leadership also becomes more obvious.
  • German sociologist Georg Simmel argued that as the group becomes greater, the individual becomes separated and grows more alone, isolated and segmented. Simmel’s view was somewhat ambiguous with respect to group size’s affect on the individual.

Key Terms

  • social group: A collection of humans or animals that share certain characteristics, interact with one another, accept expectations and obligations as members of the group, and share a common identity.
  • impersonal: Lacking warmth or emotion; cold.
  • dyad: A pair of things standing in particular relation; dyadic relation.
  • triad: a group of three people

In the social sciences a social group is defined as two or more humans who interact with one another, share similar characteristics and collectively have a sense of unity. Social groups come in a myriad of sizes and varieties. Groups can also be categorized in various ways, one of which is according to the number of people present within the group. This makes sense if the size of the group has consequences for the way group members relate with each other.

Individual behavior deviates substantially in a group setting; therefore, it is difficult to determine group behavior by looking solely at the individuals that comprise the group. Group attitudes and behavior depend upon several variables: size, structure, the purpose that the group serves, group development and various influences upon a group. Group dynamics refers to a system of behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a social group or between social groups. Individual behavior has been shown to be influenced by the presence of others. For example, an individual’s performance at work or the individual’s decision-making processes (as in the term “groupthink”).

Effects of Group Size

Size (the number of people involved) is an important characteristic of groups, organizations and communities in which social behavior occurs.

Dyads and triads are the smallest social groups. Social interaction in a dyad is typically more intense than in larger groups because neither member shares the other’s attention with anyone else. A triad is more stable than a dyad because one member can act as a mediator should the relationship between the other two become strained.

As an organization or community grows in size it is apt to experience tipping points where the way it operates needs to change. The complexity of large groupings is partly because they are made up of interrelated subgroups. As the size of a group increases, the need for more organization or leadership also often becomes more obvious.

image

Crowds and Large Groups: This large group may share some traits (such as enjoyment of the concert that the crowd just witnessed), but likely vary in many other traits. Large groups introduce diversity of attitudes and behaviors.

German sociologist Georg Simmel argued that as the group becomes greater, the individual becomes separated and grows more alone, isolated and segmented. Simmel’s view was somewhat ambiguous with respect to group size. On one hand, he believed that the bigger the group the better for the individual. In a larger group it would be harder to exert control on an individual, but there is a possibility of the individual becoming distant and impersonal.

image

Studying Group Attitudes and Behaviors: Sociologists study interactions within groups, and between both groups and individuals.

The Asch Experiment: The Power of Peer Pressure

The Asch conformity experiments were a series of studies conducted in the 1950s that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups.

Learning Objectives

Explain how the Asch experiment sought to measure conformity in groups

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Asch conformity experiments consisted of a group “vision test”, where study participants were found to be more likely to conform to obviously wrong answers if first given by other “participants”, who were actually working for the experimenter.
  • The experiment found that over a third of subjects conformed to giving a wrong answer.
  • In terms of gender, males show around half the effect of females (tested in same-sex groups). Conformity is also higher among members of an in-group.

Key Terms

  • conformity: the ideology of adhering to one standard or social uniformity

Conducted by social psychologist Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College, the Asch conformity experiments were a series of studies published in the 1950s that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. They are also known as the Asch paradigm. In the experiment, students were asked to participate in a group “vision test. ” In reality, all but one of the participants were working for Asch (i.e. confederates), and the study was really about how the remaining student would react to their behavior.

Method

The original experiment was conducted with 123 male participants. Each participant was put into a group with five to seven confederates. The participants were shown a card with a line on it (the reference line), followed by another card with three lines on it labeled a, b, and c. The participants were then asked to say out loud which of the three lines matched in length the reference line, as well as other responses such as the length of the reference line to an everyday object, which lines were the same length, and so on.

Each line question was called a “trial. ” The “real” participant answered last or next to last. For the first two trials, the subject would feel at ease in the experiment, as he and the other “participants” gave the obvious, correct answer. On the third trial, all the confederates would start giving the same wrong answer. There were 18 trials in total and the confederates answered incorrectly for 12 of them. These 12 were known as the “critical trials. ”

The aim was to see whether the real participants would conform to the wrong answers of the confederates and change their answer to respond in the same way, despite it being the wrong answer.

Results

Dr. Asch thought that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong, but the results showed that only 24% of the participants did not conform on any trial. Seventy five percent conformed at least once, 5% conformed every time, and when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Overall, there was a 37% conformity rate by subjects averaged across all critical trials. In a control group, with no pressure to conform to an erroneous answer, only one subject out of 35 ever gave an incorrect answer.

Study Variations

Variations of the basic paradigm tested how many cohorts were necessary to induce conformity, examining the influence of just one cohort and as many as fifteen. Results indicated that one cohort has virtually no influence and two cohorts have only a small influence. When three or more cohorts are present, the tendency to conform increases only modestly. The maximum effect occurs with four cohorts. Adding additional cohorts does not produce a stronger effect.

In terms of gender, males show around half the effect of females (tested in same-sex groups). Conformity is also higher among members of an in-group.

The unanimity of the confederates has also been varied. When the confederates are not unanimous in their judgment, even if only one confederate voices a different opinion, participants are much more likely to resist the urge to conform (only 5% to 10% conform) than when the confederates all agree. This result holds whether or not the dissenting confederate gives the correct answer. As long as the dissenting confederate gives an answer that is different from the majority, participants are more likely to give the correct answer.

This finding illuminates the power that even a small dissenting minority can have upon a larger group. This demonstrates the importance of privacy in answering important and life-changing questions, so that people do not feel pressured to conform. For example, anonymous surveys can allow people to fully express how they feel about a particular subject without fear of retribution or retaliation from others in the group or the larger society. Having a witness or ally (someone who agrees with the point of view) also makes it less likely that conformity will occur.

Interpretations

Asch suggested that this reflected poorly on factors such as education, which he thought must over-train conformity. Other researchers have argued that it is rational to use other people’s judgments as evidence. Others have suggested that the high conformity rate was due to social norms regarding politeness, which is consistent with subjects’ own claims that they did not actually believe the others’ judgments and were indeed merely conforming.

image

Asch Experiment: One of the pairs of cards used in the experiment. The card on the left has the reference line and the one on the right shows the three comparison lines.

The Milgram Experiment: The Power of Authority

The Milgram experiment found that most people are willing to obey authority figures over their personal objections.

Learning Objectives

Discuss two interpretations of the results of the Milgram experiment

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of notable social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s.
  • The Milgram experiment investigated whether study participants would obey commands to administer increasingly painful “shocks” to other particpants who were actually actors only pretending to be shocked.
  • The original experiment found that 65 percent of participants deferred to the authority of the experimenter and administered the final 450 volt “shock”.

Key Terms

  • authority figures: A person that displays a form or a symbol of authority.
  • milgram experiment: It was a series of notable social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. It measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

The Milgram experiment—based on obedience to authority figures—was a series of notable social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. It measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question of whether the millions participating in the Holocaust actually consciously shared the intent of its genocidal goals. Milgram’s experiments suggested that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their moral beliefs.

The Milgram Experiment was also quite controversial, and considered by many scientists to be unethical and physically or psychologically abusive, motivating more thorough review boards and committee reviews for research with human subjects.

The Experiment

The volunteer subject used a list of word pairs to play the role of “teacher” with another participant, the “learner”. In reality, the learner was a confederate working for the experimenter and only acting as a participant. The naïve participants drew slips of paper to determine their roles, but unknown to them, both slips said “teacher,” and the confederate always claimed to have the slip that read “learner. ” At this point, the “teacher” and “learner” were separated into different rooms where they could communicate but not see each other.

The teacher began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. They would read the first word of each pair and four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response. If the answer was incorrect, the teacher was instructed administer an electric shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.

The teacher was given an electric shock from the electro-shock generator as a sample of the shock that the “learner” would supposedly receive during the experiment. The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level.

In one version of the experiment, the confederate told the participant that he had a heart condition. After a number of voltage level increases, the confederate started to bang on the wall that separated them from the participant. After several times banging on the wall and complaining about their heart condition, all responses by the learner would cease.

At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible.

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession.

image

The Milgram Experiment Setup: The experimenter (E) orders the teacher (T), the subject of the experiment, to give what the latter believes are painful electric shocks to a learner (L), who is actually an actor and confederate. The subject believes that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual electric shocks, though in reality there were no such punishments. Being separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level.

Results

Before conducting the experiment, Milgram polled fourteen Yale University senior-year psychology majors to predict the behavior of 100 hypothetical teachers. All of the poll respondents believed that only a very small fraction of teachers would be prepared to inflict the maximum voltage.

In Milgram’s first set of experiments, 65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants administered the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so. At some point, every participant paused and questioned the experiment, some saying they would refund the money they were paid for participating in the experiment.

Interpretations

Professor Milgram elaborated two theories explaining his results:

  • The first is the theory of conformism, based on the Solomon Asch conformity experiments, describing the fundamental relationship between the group of reference and the individual person. It states that a subject who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy.
  • The second is the agentic state theory, where, according to Milgram, “the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions…”
image

Milgram Experiment Advertisement: Image of the original advertisement posted to solicit study participants for the Milgram experiment.

Groupthink

In groupthink, each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what he or she believes is the consensus of the group.

Learning Objectives

Explain why groupthink occurs and how it can be minimized

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • ” Groupthink ” is a term coined by Yale research psychologist Irving Janis.
  • Groupthink describes a process by which a group can make poor or irrational decisions.
  • Groupthink tends to occur on committees and in large organizations.

Key Terms

  • consensus: A process of decision making that seeks widespread agreement among group 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.

“Groupthink” is a term coined by Yale research psychologist Irving Janis to describe a process by which a group can make poor or irrational decisions.

In a groupthink situation, each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group. While this may seem like a rational approach to decision making, it can result in the group ultimately agreeing upon an action that each member individually might consider to be unwise.

Janis originally defined the term as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. ” The word “groupthink” was intended to be reminiscent of George Orwell’s coinages in his novel, 1984, from the fictional language Newspeak, such as “doublethink” and “duckspeak. ”

Groupthink tends to occur on committees and in large organizations, and Janis originally studied the groupthink phenomena in historical cases, such as the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Vietnam War, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Managing Groupthink

Management consultants often recommend putting in place a variety of mechamisms to minimize groupthink. One common method is to place responsibility and authority for a decision in the hands of a single person who can turn to others for advice. Another mechanism is to pre-select an individual to take the role of disagreeing with any suggestion presented. This makes other individuals more likely to present their own ideas and point out flaws in others and reduces the stigma associated with being the first to take negative stances.

Anonymous feedback via a suggestion box or online chat has also been found to be a useful remedy for groupthink. Negative or dissenting views of proposals can be raised without any individual being identifiable by others as having lodged a critique. In this way, group solidarity is preserved, as all members have plausible deniability that they raised a dissenting point.

image

Schematic of the Groupthink Model: A schematic of the groupthink model based on Irving Janis’s research