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Group Dynamics
Now we turn from the effects that others have on you personally, to the effects of groups as a whole. Remember the first psychology study done by Triplett? His was also a study on the effects of groups on an individual’s performance. Later research found that not only do children wind a fishing rod more quickly when others are watching them, but people eat more and type faster and rats run mazes faster and even copulate more often when being watched by members of their own species. For humans and animals, the presence of others seemed to facilitate performance.
Other researchers eventually began finding the opposite, however. In some conditions, the presence of others actually caused people to perform more poorly, for example, on complex math problems. Bob Zajonc (rhymes with “science”) proposed social facilitation theory to explain these differences. He found that the presence of others increases arousal when we’re doing something that could be evaluated by them. If we’re doing a simple, well-learned task, such as typing for a secretary or running for an athlete, this arousal will help us perform better. If the task is difficult, however, the arousal will make us do worse. His cockroach study (one of the few you’ll find in social psychology) and many studies using other situations have supported this theory. .
There are other times, however, when having other people around makes us try less hard. When we don’t feel that our individual efforts are going to be evaluated, we are likely to social loaf. Social loafing also came out of research from the 1800’s. Max Ringelmann found that when groups pulled on a rope in a tug-of-war, they each put in less effort than they did when pulling alone. This tendency to slack off in groups was first termed social loafing by Bibb Latané (remember him from social impact theory), Kip Williams, and Steve Harkins. This finding seems counterintuitive; we might think that being in a group makes people work harder, because of group morale and cohesion, but a great many studies in different situations and with different types of people have shown this to be a fairly universal tendency. You may have experienced social loafing first hand if you’ve participated in group projects for classes.
There are some situations in which social loafing is less likely. To decrease the chances of social

loafing in a group, you should:

1. Make individual inputs identifiable.
2. Make the task relevant and interesting.
3. Make sure group members know each other well.
4. Keep the group size small.
5. Give the group a complex task.
6. Use group members who don't trust each other. (If they all know that Person X will come through

for the group in the end, they will be more likely to slack off and let Person X do all the work.)

Social loafing is not the most dangerous group phenomena, however. Groups can also make us feel deindividualized. This occurs when we feel anonymous; we lose our own identity and take on that of the group. Deindividuation often leads people to commit deviant acts that they normally wouldn’t do, such as loot in a riot. Arousal, feelings of anonymity, and diffusion of responsibility (a condition where people lose their individual sense of responsibility to respond; more in Assignment 11) all contribute to deindividuation. Phil Zimbardo has conducted some interesting studies showing this effect. Note in particular what occurred in his famous prison study. People took on roles that were assigned to them to the point that they acted in completely different ways than they normally would have.
Take a moment and write what you would do if you knew that you could never be caught.

What type of activity did you describe? Dodd (1985) asked this question of two groups, a group of undergraduate students and a group of prisoners. The responses of the two groups were remarkably similar. Overall, 36% of people wrote that they would do something antisocial. Nineteen percent of the responses were categorized as nonnormative but not antisocial, 36% were neutral, and only 9% said they would do something prosocial or helpful. When people are deindividuated and feel that they won’t get caught, they are more likely to participate in negative behaviors. The situation is very important in determining the type of nonnormative behaviors people will participate in, however, as Zimbardo’s study suggests. When people in a study dressed in masks resembling KKK hoods, they were more likely to deliver shocks to a co-participant than were others wearing their normal clothes and name tags. People wearing doctor or nurse uniforms were actually less likely to send shocks than those dressed normally.

The section on leadership discusses the importance of the situation in determining who will be a good leader. Fiedler’s contingency theory of leadership describes two types of leaders—task vs. relationship-oriented and the situations in which each will be more effective.
When (if ever) are groups a good thing? When do groups perform better than individuals? Transactive memory, when groups divide up the things they remember (automatically, not consciously), seems to be one examples.
Process loss and failure to share unique information are two pitfalls to effective group performance. At the extreme, these problems, along with cohesion, can lead to groupthink, where maintaining the solidarity of the group becomes more important than processing the facts in an objective manner. We talked about some examples of groupthink, as well as common antecendents and symptoms. Pay attention to the ways groupthink can be minimized. How could you apply these ideas to groups of which you are a member?
Groupthink describes how groups may make poor decisions, but it doesn’t predict what types of decisions will be made. In 1961, James Stoner found that group’s decisions were riskier than the average prediscussion decisions of individuals. Since then, hundreds of studies have shown what was originally referred to as the risky shift—a tendency for people to make riskier decisions in a group than individually. More recently, however, this effect has been qualified by other research. Sometimes groups make more risky decisions, whereas other times they become more cautious after discussion. This is due to the more general phenomenon of group polarization; groups become more extreme in the direction toward which group members were already leaning. If the group initially favored a slightly risky solution, after discussion they’ll tend to become even more risky. Groups that began cautiously become more cautious in their decisions. The text discusses two reason why this shift occurs.


1. Describe social facilitation theory and its predictions for performance on easy vs. difficult tasks. Explain why social facilitation may occur.
2. Define social loafing. Explain factors that may increase or decrease social loafing. Predict when social facilitation vs. social loafing are likely to occur.
3. Identify the concept of deindividuation and what determines whether deindividuation will lead to positive or negative behaviors.
4. Discuss the method, results, and significance of Zimbardo’s prison demonstration. Relate this study to the importance and effects of social roles more broadly.
5. Discuss the effectiveness of personality in predicting leadership.
6. Explain when and if brainstorming is effective. Identify factors that lead to it being less effective and explain why it is popular. What can be done to make it more effective?
7. Explain how process loss and failure to share information can affect group performance.
8. Describe the antecedents, symptoms, and consequences of groupthink and how groupthink can be avoided.
9. Describe what group polarization (when group decisions are more extreme) is and possible reasons for its occurrence.
10. Distinguish between social and nonsocial groups and know which one social facilitation vs. social loafing refers to.
11. Discuss the effects of cohesion and diversity on groups and group decisions.
10. Identify the effects of threats and communication in group conflicts.

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