Do individuals behave differently in groups than they would on their own? How do group dynamics affect our decision-making skills? You’ll learn about the benefits and potential pitfalls than can come from belonging to a group. Social psychology is the science of group behavior, which considers the way other people influence our conduct. How do groups affect behavior, and what are our roles in these groups?
First, let’s examine how group dynamics affect productivity. Have you ever noticed that an audience can increase your performance? Fear of evaluation and comparison with others in the group can be motivating.Imagine running a marathon away from home where the level of competition is higher than you’re used to.
You’d probably step up your performance and finish in less time than you expected. This tendency is known as social facilitation, where even the mere presence of other competitors spurs you to perform better than you would if you were running the same course on your own.On the flip side, social loafing can occur when responsibility for failure and success is distributed to the group. This relief of individual accountability leads some members to decrease productivity and not work as hard on group projects as they would on their own.Say you and your co-workers are trying to reach an office-wide sales record. As you work towards this common goal, the daily tallies show that halfway through the month, the target number has almost been reached thanks to your excellent sales team. You’re all going to win a trip to Hawaii for the office party.
Do you slack off, confident in your team’s sure win? Do you think you’d perform at a higher level if individual sales numbers were being assessed and only the top ten salespeople were going to Hawaii?
Social psychologist Robert Zajonc explained social facilitation and social loafing as two different reactions to group influence as variations in an individual’s responses to physiological arousal. Zajonc’s drive theory states that if a task is easy and you already perform it well, the presence of others will tend to boost your performance. However, if a task is difficult and challenges your abilities, it’s more likely that the presence of group competition will lead to social loafing.
When it comes time for the group to determine a plan of action, how do group dynamics affect the decision-making process?Group polarization happens when a dominant view crystallizes as a result of a group discussion. Your attitudes are not only made stronger by group consensus but also by the legitimacy that group support brings. If the group agrees to a risky proposition, the backing of the group may lead to an even riskier decision.Groupthink is the tendency for a cohesive group to move toward consensus and conformity, rather than what may be the best plan of action.Yale psychologist Irving Janis recognized that when close-knit groups try to overcome perceived threats to solidarity, they suffer from certain symptoms, such as a superior sense of morality, the tendency to stereotype outsiders, pressure to toe the line and discourage creative thinking. These symptoms may arise in corporations and government institutions where a false sense of group invulnerability causes a group’s leader to ignore outside opinions and make poor decisions.
It might seem strange that suppression of creativity might be considered a group value. At the same time, changes in the values of a group can threaten the stability of the structure and threaten the status quo. Groups can have both positive and negative effects on individual performance and decision-making abilities.