1: Introduction to Social Psychology
2: Our View of Self and Others
3: Obedience and Power
4: The Role of Groups
Role of Groups
you think you act differently when alone than when other people are around?
The answer to this question is typically a resounding 'yes.' We are
concerned with our social image or how other people see us; some more than
others, but very few people see no difference in their behavior.
This section will discuss various theories relating to our behavior in group
settings or when others are present.
start with one of the most simple theory related to social psychology.
When alone, we tend to be more relaxed, less concerned with the outward
expression of our behavior, and are basically 'ourselves.' Add just
one other person, even if we don't know that person, our behavior tends to
change, and not always for the better. Research has found that when
others are present, our level of arousal is increased (Zajonc, 1965). In other words,
we are suddenly more aware of what's going on around us. Because of
this, we tend to perform better at tasks that are well learned or simple (Guerin,
When completing a difficult or new task, however, our performance level
decreases and we tend to do more poorly.
phenomenon is called Social Facilitation (Guerin, 1993) , and as we try harder due to the
presence of others, our performance actually decreases for difficult or
unlearned tasks. Think about learning to play basketball for the first
time. If you are alone, you will likely be more relaxed, and better
able to concentrate. When others are watching you, however, you are
more likely to be self-conscious, and therefore make more mistakes.
Professional basketball players, however, because the task is so well
learned, perform better when others are watching and they are able
demonstrate their confidence and ability.
Think and Group Polarization
you've ever been involved in a group decision making process, you've
probably seen one of two things happen: either the group agrees on all
of the major issues, or there is significant dissent that splits the group.
If the group is cohesive; if they agree on most issues, they tend to stifle
dissent because group harmony is the anticipated outcome (Janis,
1972). When we all agree, and are happy with that agreement, we
typically do not want to hear opposing arguments. This phenomenon
is referred to as
Think. It can lead to impulsive decisions and a failure
to identify and/or consider all sides of an argument. Some classic
examples of group decisions going bad include lynch mobs, actions of the Ku
Klux Klan, discrimination among hate groups, and mass riots.
Polarization refers to a groups tendency to talk itself into
extreme positions. In this case, a group gets so focused and energized
about a decision that it creates an internal fuel, so to speak, which pushes
itself forward faster than originally intended. Imagine a group of
protesters, all agreeing and deciding to picket. You can see how this
could get out of hand because opposing views (Group Think) are not
considered and the push to move forward for the cause is fueled internally
phenomenon that occurs in groups is referred to as Social Loafing.
This theory states that as a group gets larger, the individual contribution
decreases disproportionate to the group size (Everett, Smith, &
Williams, 1992; Hardy & Latane, 1986; Ingham et al., 1974) . This is due to the
diffusion of responsibility created as the size of the group increases.
Imagine being assigned a project to complete by yourself. Most likely
you would complete 100% of it. Now if two people are involved, the
percentage will typically not be 50/50. As more people are added to
the group, you will end up with a small percentage doing a large portion of
the work and a large percentage doing a much smaller proportion.
last phenomenon is an unfortunate reality which has been observed far to
many times in groups and in larger cities. We've all heard stories of
people getting mugged, or beaten, or raped in broad daylight while people
around offered no assistance. We have found that the internal push to
help a person in need decreases as the group gets larger, very similar to
Social Loafing. In this instance, however, people tend to be followers
and will only get involved if they witness another person getting involved.
What results is a group of people witnessing a crime and wondering why
nobody is helping. This does not occur if you are the only person
witnessing the crime. If nobody else is around, a person will tend to
help the victim. The more people, however, the less likely someone
will offer assistance.
Here to Take the Chapter Quiz