Social Psychology- Why Do People Join Groups? (Guide)

According to psychologist Gordon Allport, social psychology is a discipline that uses scientific methods "to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of other human beings." 

Essentially, social psychology is all about understanding how each person's individual behavior is influenced by the social environment in which that behavior takes place. Scientists refers to the empirical investigation using the scientific method. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behavior refer to psychological variables that can be measured in humans. 

The statement that others' presence may be imagined or implied suggests that humans are malleable to social influences even when alone, such as when watching television or following internalized cultural norms. Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as a result of the interaction of mental states and social situations.

The Earliest Social Psychology

The science of social psychology began when scientists first started to systematically and formally measure the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of human beings. Once a relatively speculative, intuitive enterprise, social psychology has become an active form of empirical investigation. The volume of research literature having risen rapidly after about 1925.

Social psychology looks at a wide range of social topics, including:
  • Group Behavior
  • Social Perception
  • Leadership
  • Nonverbal Behavior
  • Conformity
  • Aggression
  • Prejudice

​It is important to note that social psychology is not just about looking at social influences. Social perception and social interaction are also vital to understanding social behavior. The way that we see other people (and the way we think they see us) can play a powerful role in a wide variety of actions and decisions. 

Just think for a moment about how you sometimes act differently in a public setting than you might if you were at home by yourself. At home you might be loud and rambunctious, while in public you might be much more subdued and reserved. Why is this? Because the people around us shape our thoughts, feelings, moods, attitudes, and perceptions. 

The presence of other people can make a difference in the choices we make and the actions we take. For example, you are likely to behave much differently when you are around a group of close friends than you would around a group of colleagues or supervisors from work.

Aristotle believed that humans were naturally sociable, a necessity which allows us to live together (an individual centered approach) the concept that society has inevitable links with the development of the social mind. This led to the idea of a group mind, important in the study of social psychology.

For example, you are likely to behave much differently when you are around a group of close friends than you would around a group of colleagues or supervisors from work.

How Is Social Psychology Different From Other Disciplines?

It is important to differentiate social psychology from a few similar and related subjects. Social psychology is often confused with personality psychology, and sociology. What makes social psychology different? Unlike folk wisdom, which relies on anecdotal observations and subjective interpretation, social psychology employs scientific methods and the empirical study of social phenomena. 

Researchers do not just make guesses or assumptions about how people behave; they devise and carry out experiments that help point out relationships between different variables. While personality psychology focuses on individual traits, characteristics, and thoughts, social psychology is focused on situations.The interest is in the impact that the social environment and group interactions have on attitudes and behaviors.

Understanding social psychology can be useful for many reasons. First, we can better understand how groups impact our choices and actions. Additionally, it also allows us to gain a greater appreciation for how our social perceptions affect our interactions with other people. There are some basic aspects of social behavior that play a large role in our actions and how we see ourselves.

Our interactions serve goals or fulfill needs. Some common goals or needs include the need for social ties, the desire to understand ourselves and others, the wish to gain or maintain status or protection, and the need to attract companions. The way people behave is often driven by the desire to fulfill these needs. 

People seek friends and romantic partners, strive to gain social status, and attempt to understand the motivations that guide other people's behaviors. To fully understand why people do the things that they do, it is essential to look at individual characteristics, the situation and context, and the interaction between these two variables. In many instances, people behave very differently depending upon the situation.

For example, someone who is normally quiet and reserved might become much more outgoing when placed in some type of leadership role. Another example is how people sometimes behavior differently in groups than they would if they were by themselves. Environmental and situational variables play an important role and have a strong influence on our behavior.

Our social interactions help form our self-concept and perception. People spend a great deal of time considering social situations. One method of forming self-concept is through the reflected appraisal process in which we imagine how other people see us. Another method is through the social comparison process whereby we consider how we compare ourselves to other people in our peer group.

Sometimes we engage in upward social comparison where we rate ourselves against people who are better off than us in some way. In other instances, we might engage in downward social comparison where we contrast our own abilities to those of others who are less capable.

Group Behavior In Social Psychology

Individual behavior and decision making can be influenced by the presence of others. There are both positive and negative implications of group influence on individual behavior. For example, group influence can often be useful in the context of work settings, team sports, and political activism.

In social psychology, a group can be defined as two or more humans who interact with one another, accept expectations and obligations as members of the group, and share a common identity. By this definition, society can be viewed as a large group, though most social groups are considerably smaller.

While there are many ways a group can influence behavior, we will focus on three key phenomena: groupthink, groupshift and deindividuation. Groupthink happens when group members, are faced with an important choice, become so focused on making a smooth, quick decision that they overlook other, possibly more fruitful options.

Groupshift is a phenomenon in which the initial positions of individual members of a group are exaggerated toward a more extreme position. Deindividuation happens when a person lets go of self-consciousness and control and does what the group is doing, usually with negative goals or outcomes.

Why Do People Join Groups?

There is no particular reason answering why individuals join groups. Group helps individuals to feel stronger, have fewer self-doubts, and be more contrary to threats.

The following points helps us understand the need of joining a group by individuals.
  • Security mirrors strength in numbers;
  • Status pinpoints a prestige that comes from belonging to a specific group;
  • Inclusion in a group is considered as important as it provides recognition and status;
  • Self-esteem transmits people's feeling of self-worth;
  • Membership can sometimes raise feelings of self-esteem like being accepted into a highly valued group;
  • Affiliation with groups can meet one's social needs;
  • Work groups significantly contribute to meet the need for friendships and social relations;
  • One of the appealing attitudes of groups is that they represent power;
  • What mostly cannot be achieved individually becomes possible with group effort;
  • Power might be aimed to protect themselves from unreasonable demands;
  • Informal groups additionally provide options for individuals to practice power;
  • Finally, people may join a group for goal achievement.

A group is considered effective when it has the following characteristics −
  • Atmosphere is relaxed, comfortable, and friendly.
  • Task to be executed are well understood and accepted.
  • Members listen well and actively participate in given assignments.
  • Assignments are made clear and are accepted.
  • Group is acquainted of its operation and function.
  • People express their feelings and ideas openly.
  • Consensus decision-making process is followed.
  • Conflict & disagreement center regarding ideas or method.

Further, a social group is characterized by a formally organized group of individuals who are not as emotionally involved with each other as those in a primary group. These groups tend to be larger, with shorter memberships compared to primary groups. Social groups also, do not have as stable memberships, since members are able to leave their social group and join new groups. 

The goals of social groups are often task-oriented as opposed to relationship-oriented. Examples of social groups include coworkers, clubs, and sports teams. The social group is a critical source of information about individual identity. An individual’s identity (or self-concept) has two components: personal identity and social identity (or collective self). 

One’s personal identity is defined by more idiosyncratic, individual qualities and attributes. In contrast, one’s social identity is defined by his or her group membership, and the general characteristics (or prototypes) that define the group and differentiate it from others.We naturally make comparisons between our own group and other groups, but we do not necessarily make objective comparisons.

Instead, we make evaluations that are self-enhancing, emphasizing the positive qualities of our own group. In this way, these comparisons give us a distinct and valued social identity that benefits our self-esteem. Our social identity and group membership also satisfies a need to belong. 

Since individuals can belong to multiple groups, one’s social identity can have several, qualitatively distinct parts (for example, one’s ethnic identity, religious identity, and political identity). Beliefs within the ingroup are based on how individuals in the group see their other members. 

Individuals tend to upgrade likeable in-group members and deviate from unlikeable group members, making them a separate outgroup. This is called the black sheep effect. Nevertheless, depending on the self-esteem of an individual, members of the in-group may experience different private beliefs about the group’s activities but will publicly express the opposite—that they actually share these beliefs. 

One member may not personally agree with something the group does, but to avoid the black sheep effect, they will publicly agree with the group and keep the private beliefs to themselves. If the person is privately self-aware, he or she is more likely to comply with the group even if they possibly have their own beliefs about the situation.

Individual behaviour is influenced by the presence of others. For example, studies have found that individuals work harder and faster when others are present and that an individual’s performance is reduced when others in the situation create distraction or conflict. Groups also influence individual’s decision-making processes. These include decisions related to ingroup bias, persuasion, obedience,and groupthink.

There are both positive and negative implications of group influence on individual behaviour. This type of influence is often useful in the context of work settings, team sports, and political activism. However, the influence of groups on the individual can also generate extremely negative behaviours.

Status differentials are the relative differences in status among group members. When a group is first formed, the members may all be on an equal level, but over time certain members may acquire status and authority within the group.

Status can be determined by a variety of factors and characteristics, including specific status characteristics (e.g. task-specific behavioural and personal characteristics, such as experience) or diffuse status characteristics (e.g. age, race, ethnicity).

It is important that other group members perceive an individual's status to be warranted and deserved, as otherwise they may not have authority within the group. Status differentials may affect the relative amount of pay among group members and they may also affect the group's tolerance to violation of group norms (e.g. people with higher status may be given more freedom to violate group norms).

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