Group: When we join and when we leave, benefits of joining

Groups: When We Join . . . and When We Leave.

What is a group ? A group involves people who perceive themselves to be part of a coherent unit that they perceive as different from another group. APA defines Groups as any collection or assemblage, particularly of items or individuals. For example, in social psychology the term refers to two or more interdependent individuals who influence one another through social interactions. That commonly include structures involving roles and norms, a degree of cohesiveness, and shared goals.

The basis of this perceived coherence differs in different types of groups. In common-bond groups, It involves face-to-face interaction among members, the individuals in the group bond with 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 link via category as a whole rather than to each other, without face-to-face interaction. For example, our national, linguistic, university, and gender groups, where we might not even know personally.

Groups can also differ dramatically in terms of their entitativity- the extent to which they are perceived as coherent wholes. Entitativity can range from, at the low end, a mere collection of individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time. And who 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.

Characteristics of group high in entitativity:

  1. Members interact with one another often, although not necessarily in a face to face setting (over internet).
  2. The group is important in some way to its members.
  3. Members share common goals.
  4. They are similar to one another in important ways.

Highly entitative groups are more likely to be stereotyped than are groups low in entitativity. Generally, they use Abstract language to imply that high entitativity groups are enduring and possess distinct characteristics that differentiate them from other groups.

It is not the size of a group per se that matters for entitativity. Some small and some large groups perceived as high in entitativity. It is behavioral features such as sharing of resources, reciprocating favors among group members, recognition of group authorities. They result in greater entitativity rather than structural features of groups.

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. These features are status, roles, norms, and cohesiveness.

Status: Hierarchies in Groups

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.”

Physical attributes such as height may play some role. 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. Height even predicts who wins the American Presidency, within each election year’s set of candidates.

Roles: Differentiation of Functions within Groups.

Think of a group to 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.

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.”

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. There is a possibility that there might be some norms that control our emotions. Sometimes those are explicit feeling rules- expectations about the emotions that are appropriate to express. For example, 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 telling how to “act” emotionally.

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

Collectivist groups, the norm is to maintain harmony among group members, even if doing so might entail some personal costs. In such groups, members avoid disagreement and conflict. In contrast, in individualistic groups, the norm is to value standing out from the group and be different from others. Expected individual variability and disagreeing with the group is often seen as courageous. Therefore, greater tolerance might be expected for those who deviate from group norms in individualist groups than in collectivist groups.

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 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.

Cohesive groups have a sense of solidarity. They see themselves as homogenous, supportive of ingroup members, cooperative with ingroup members. They also aim to achieve group goals rather than individual goals, have high morale, and perform better than non-cohesive groups.

The Benefits of Joining.

  1. What Groups Do For Us:

    • That people sometimes go through a lot to join a specific group is clear. Membership in many groups is by “invitation only,”: Winning that invitation can be difficult!. Perhaps more surprising is that once they gain admission, many people will stick with a group even when it experiences hard times.
    • We often gain self-knowledge from belonging to various groups. Our membership in them tells us what kind of person we are or perhaps, would like to be—so group membership becomes central to our self-concept. The result? Once we belong, we can find it hard to imagine not belonging. Because it makes our life meaningful by defining to some extent who we are. Indeed, to be rejected by a group—even one we have recently joined—can be among the most painful of experiences.
  2. The Costs of Getting Accepted into a Group:

    • Many groups erect barriers to entry: they want only some people to join, and they insist that those who do be highly motivated to enter. Steep initiation fees, substantial efforts to prove one’s credentials as suitable. And long trial or probationary periods are common methods of restricting group membership.
    • Social psychologists have addressed the question. What are the consequences of undergoing severe admission processes in terms of their impact on commitment to the group?
    • To increase our commitment to a group because we have paid a heavy material or psychological price to join it might at first appear to be a rather strange idea.
    • In order to imitate an initiation rite, students in their study were asked to read either very embarrassing material in front of a group, mildly embarrassing material, or they did not read any material aloud. According to cognitive dissonance theory, people feel discomfort when their attitudes and behavior are discrepant. When we have put forth considerable effort to achieve membership in a group. We may change our attitudes toward that group in a positive direction in order to justify our effort.
    • As a result, after going through an initiation in order to admit to a group and then learning that the group is unattractive after all, our commitment toward that group should actually increase.
  3. The Costs of Membership: Why Groups sometimes Splinter

    • While groups can help us to reach our goals, help to boost our status along the way, and form an important part of who we are, they also impose certain costs.
    • First, group membership often restricts personal freedom. Members of various groups are expected to behave in certain ways. And if they don’t, the group may impose sanctions or even expel such violators from membership.
    • Groups often make demands on members’ time, energy, and resources, and they must meet these demands or surrender their membership. Some churches, for instance, require that their members donate 10 percent of their income to the church.
    • People wishing to remain in these groups must comply or face expulsion.
    • Finally, groups can adopt positions or policies of which some members disapprove. Again, the dissenting members either must remain silent, speak out and run the risk of strong sanctions, or withdraw.


  • Baron, R. A. and Byrne, D. (1997). Social Psychology, 8th edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon

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