The Nature and Purpose of Group Living
- Human beings, like all large primates except the orangutan, are group-living animals who influence and must get along with others.
- The presence of other people sometimes improves human performance and sometimes hinders it, but in predictable ways. Research on social facilitation has shown that the presence of others is arousing, and that arousal increases people’s tendencies to do what they are already predisposed to do. On easy tasks, people are predisposed to respond correctly, so increasing this tendency facilitates performance. On novel or difficult tasks, people are not predisposed to respond correctly, so arousal hinders performance by making them more likely to respond incorrectly.
- A number of clever experiments have indicated that the mere presence of others leads to social facilitation effects, although other factors, including evaluation apprehension, can intensify them. Moreover, distraction-conflict theory explains social facilitation by noting that awareness of another person can distract an individual and create a conflict between attending to the other person and to the task at hand, a conflict that is itself arousing.
- Social loafing is the tendency to exert less effort on a group task when individual contributions cannot be monitored.
Group Decision Making
- Groupthink is the tendency for members of cohesive groups to deal with the stress of making highly consequential decisions by pursuing consensus more vigorously than a critical analysis of all available information. Groupthink has been implicated in the faulty decision making that has led to various policy fiascos.
- Group decision making is affected by how cohesive a group is, how directive its leader is, and ingroup pressures that can lead to the rejection of alternative viewpoints and self-censorship, the tendency for people to refrain from expressing their true feelings or reservations in the face of apparent group consensus.
- Exchanging views with fellow group members can lead to more extreme decisions and make people more extreme in their attitudes. The risky shift refers to those cases in which groups make riskier decisions than individuals.
- Group discussion tends to create group polarization: initial leanings in a risky direction tend to be made riskier by group discussion, and initial leanings in a conservative direction tend to be made more conservative.
- Group polarization is created in part because group discussion exposes members to a greater number of persuasive arguments in favor of the consensus opinion than they would have thought of themselves. It is also produced through social comparison, whereby people compare their opinions and arguments with those of others when there are no objective standards of evaluation.
- People from cultures that place a high value on risk are more likely to make risky decisions after group discussion than people from cultures that do not value risk as highly.
- Polarization is a particularly common outcome in homogeneous groups, and it may be a particular problem in the modern world because people are likely to read newspapers and watch news programs that fit their preexisting views. This polarization may be further reinforced through communication on the Internet, which makes it increasingly easy for people to find like-minded others and to exchange information solely with those who share their opinions.
Leadership and Power
- Power involves a sense of control and the freedom to act. It derives from interpersonal sources, such as a person’s position of authority or expertise, as well as individual factors—in particular, the ability to engage with others socially and build strong alliances.
- As an account of how power can lead to excesses and abuses, the approach/inhibition theory of power holds that elevated power makes people look at things more simplistically and act in more disinhibited ways.
Deindividuation and the Psychology
- Large groups of people sometimes transform into unruly mobs. This may happen because the anonymity and diffusion of responsibility that people often feel in large groups can lead to a mental state of deindividuation in which they are less concerned with the future, with -normal societal constraints on behavior, and with the consequences of their actions.
- The deindividuated state of getting lost in the crowd stands in marked contrast to how people normally feel, which is quite individually identifiable. Self-awareness theory maintains that focusing attention on the self leads people to a state of individuation, marked by careful deliberation and concern with how well their actions conform to their internal moral standards.
- Most people overestimate how much they personally stand out and are identifiable to others. This phenomenon is known as the spotlight effect.