Group Psychology: definition, functions and main authors
The human being is not born alone and isolated. We come to the world in a concrete context, surrounded by other people that belong to our family, our society and our culture that will greatly influence how we develop, our values and our ways of thinking and acting.
We are gregarious beings, who live with other members of the same species in more or less extensive groups. That is why it is very useful to know the mechanisms that operate within the groups. Such studies on groups is carried out by a part of social psychology called group psychology .
A brief definition of the Psychology of the Groups
The psychology of groups is a sub-discipline within social psychology whose main object of study is the group. This is analyzed from the perspective of the influence that the group has on the individual behavior and the one that the individual has when modulating the behavior of the group.
Thus, from the psychology of groups are explored what they are, how, when and where they are created, their configuration and the types of roles and relationships that are established between their elements or with other groups.
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The group as an object of study
As we have said, the psychology of groups has the group as an object of study. But... What is a group? Although the meaning of this term may seem obvious, the truth is that at the time of defining its object of study the psychology of groups or groups has found it difficult to define the limits between what is and what is not a group.
In general, we can define a group as a set of independent individuals who have a collective and shared perception of their unit and who, being aware of it, are able to act jointly with the environment. This link causes that there are relations of influence and interdependence among its various components, affecting the group the behavior of the individual and vice versa. In addition, the existing relationship with the group is usually observed as positive.
Some of the most important representatives of group psychology are Kurt Lewin and Jacob Levy Moreno . The first, with his Field Theory, tried to give an explanation about the psychosocial processes that take place in the groups, while the second, which was also the creator of the psychodrama, gave great importance to the need to organize in groups to respond to group needs.
Topics in which you work
Within group psychology there are numerous aspects that can be worked on, and these are what make up the functions of this branch of behavioral science. Both structurally and functionally, the group is a complex element in which different variables participate and processes.
Some of the multiple themes in which the group psychology is investigated and participated are the following
1. Types of grouping
Not all groups are the same . In fact, we can find a large number of typologies according to the characteristics of the members or why or for what purpose they are formed.
One of the most important classifications to highlight is the existence of primary groups, in which the subjects interact face to face generating a strong emotional attachment and an intimacy and identification that makes them last in time, and secondary or more directed to a specific objective without needing a continuous contact.
It also highlights the existence of membership groups , of which the subject is involuntarily part by characteristics or circumstances beyond their control or desire. On the other hand, reference groups can also be found, understood as those groups to which the individual chooses to ascribe by preference or coincidence in values, thoughts or beliefs.
Other types We can find them linked to the size , being small groups the smaller ones of twenty components and great those that surpass this number, or to the fact that they are constituted of foreseen or unexpected way and the type of relation that maintain their members among themselves, as it happens with the formal or informal groups.
2. Basic structure
The way in which the group is organized is a fundamental element when it comes to understand how and why it works . That is why from the psychology of the groups various variables are investigated, from the size of the group to the presence of leadership and influence.
3. Group functions
Knowing how the groups work or how they are structured is of great interest for the psychology of the groups. However, we must not forget to analyze the reason why it is formed or that leads to it.
In this way the psychology of the groups also aims to focus on what objectives the groups have as such or what individuals look for when forming part of one, together with how individual and group goals interact. Thus, phenomena such as the attraction to people, ideas or activities proposed by the group, the search for belonging to a group or the individual needs that are intended to be met by joining the collective will be aspects carefully studied by this branch of psychology.
4. Power: leadership
The power relations within the group is another of the elements studied by the psychology of the groups. And is that the power and ability to influence others is a constant in any type of collective.
The presence of a leader or a group of individuals that mark the path that the group should follow is relatively frequent, although not essential, especially the greater the number of group members and when there is an objective to be met. How leadership is achieved and how it is exercised are highly relevant issues in this regard.
Within power relations, the concept of authority and obedience with respect to it are also analyzed.
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5. Influence relationships
Not always that a group is established, the presence of a specific person is necessary to mark what, how or when certain things must be done or thought. However, the fact of belonging to a collective implies in itself that there is going to be an interrelation of some kind among its components. This interrelation will cause the one to have an effect on the other, constituting networks of influence of great relevance in the modification of attitudes and beliefs.
For the psychology of the groups this is an exciting field of investigation, in which they explore aspects such as the conformity with the group, the influence that the opinions of the group have on their own and the reason for this or how some individuals and minorities are capable to change the majority perception. In the same way, the processes by which the group motivates its members are relevant
As well the decision making collective it is an aspect to be taken into account, depending to a large extent on the influence and role of each member and the group as a whole. In this aspect it has been shown that the collective tends to be more extreme than the individual, through the process of group polarization. An extreme form of this is group thinking, which tends to think that all individuals who are part of the group think in the same way and that this is the right one, to a point that can distort reality and actively pursue the dissidence.
- Maybe you're interested: "The Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo"
6. Effects of the group on the individual
Being part of a group has a series of clear consequences for the individual. Going through the acquisition of knowledge and the modification of attitudes and beliefs to increase or reduce through facilitation or social inhibition the performance of their activity , this element has to be taken into account both from the most individual psychology and from the psychology of the groups.
7. Effects of the individual on the group
Just as the group has an effect on the individual, it has an effect on the group. We must not forget that the group is a collective made up of different subjects that are susceptible to modifications, so that the way of proceeding or thinking of one of its members can suppose an alteration of the whole system. This is visible in the aforementioned leadership, or in the increase or decrease in the motivation and polarization that an individual may produce directly or indirectly.
8. Group life cycle
A group does not appear out of nowhere spontaneously, nor is it a whole that remains unchanged over time. The psychology of the groups is aware of these facts, studying the processes that lead to the formation and dissolution of the groups. From affiliation and identification with the group until the presence of a decline, discontent and rupture , these phases suppose a field of investigation that can allow to apply different techniques and strategies on concrete groups
9. Group health
The way in which the components of the group are related is fundamental for a group to remain united, or on the contrary to dissolve. The interpersonal attraction, the coincidence of goals, the cohesion of the group, reciprocity and commitment are some of the elements that contribute to explain the health of the group.
10. The roles
The role of each subject within a group is what is defined as their role. This establishes how you are expected to behave and the type of activities you will perform. The role can be self-imposed or come set by the environment, being able to live in an egosytonic or egodistonic way . Participates in phenomena such as power and level of influence, the ability to follow or obviate norms and the way in which each individual relates to all the members of the group and to the rest of the world.
The way in which the transmission of various stimuli between the different components of a group occurs can explain phenomena such as influence, satisfaction and the level of internal cohesion. Through communication, the vision will be negotiated common with respect to the world, the objectives and the role of each one in community. That is why studying how we communicate is an essential factor for the psychology of groups.
12. Relations with other groups and individuals
As a general rule, a group does not remain isolated from the rest of the world. The group is located in a specific context in which you will meet other people and groups outside their components, and with which one way or another will interact both at the group level and at the level of each of its members.
These interactions are also a very important part of the psychology of the groups, which will focus especially on the type of contact established, the creation of more or less permeable barriers between endogroup and outgroup and collaboration, competition or conflict between groups according to your goals are compatible.
- Rivas, M. & López, M. (2012). Social psychology and organizations. CEDE Manual of Preparation PIR, 11. CEDE. Madrid.
- Morales, J.F. and Huici, C. (2000). Social psychology. Ed. McGraw-Hill. Madrid