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What Makes People Want to Belong in a Group?
Group Status and Cohesion
Why Is It So Hard to Leave a Group?
Copyright 2008, Jennifer Tyler
Kurt Lewin is one social psychologist who has had a profound effect on the study of group dynamics and the formation of groups (Smith, 2001). It is important to mention, however, that the study of groups has been generally been limited to the field of sociology, where a focus on how people within a group interact. Lewin describes two processes which are said to be crucial to the understanding of the group process. First, it can be said that there is a general interdependence of fate between group members (Smith, 2001). What does this mean? Lewin exclaims that groups come together not because of their similarities with one another (although this can be one reason why some groups form) but more so because of group members perceiving that their fate depends upon the group as a whole (Smith, 2001). Lewin first used this term to describe the assimilation of the Jews in 1939.
Next, Lewin discussed the term of task interdependence. Task interdependence can best be described as the necessity of having all group members are dependent upon one another for the successful completion of a task (Smith, 2001). According to Lewin’s observations it did not matter whether the task was perceived as negative or positive, as long as the group depended on one another for completion. Lewin argued that members of a group could indeed come to a group with different dispositions, yet share a common goal in which they must achieve. If in fact there is a change in group membership this could indeed impact other members of the group achieving their goals (Smith, 2001).
It is also believed that there are certain reasons why people come together aside from what Lewin has suggested. For example, Ward (1996) indicates that groups may form out of the need for belonging. Ward (1996) refers to this as the in group. The in group is described as a group in which members are linked by commonalities (ie the church group or PTA in your child’s school). Members in this group generally share common values and attitudes. Take for example a person’s involvement in their church. Many members of a church tend to express the same values and attitudes about certain moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriages. This being the case, people who join churches tend to do so because the members of that affiliation are similar to them in some way.
What Makes a Group a Cult...An Analysis.
This is one question which could be tricky, yet is something that social psychologists have begun to understand through the study of groups commonly known as cults. When talking about cults (which are a unique type of group) it is important to remember that this type of group has a special control over their members once they gain them. Members in cults typically are driven to believe that there are common goals (gospelassemblyfree.com, 2005).
However, once membership in a cult has been achieved it is at this point that the group leader relies on behavior control techniques. Gospelassemblyfree.com (2005) indicates that cult leaders often use behavior modification techniques to keep their members tied into the group. These ideas were first perpetuated by Leon Festinger’s theory on cognitive dissonance (as cited in gospelassemblyfree.com, 2005). Festinger described three processes that are involved with behavior control over group members.
First, control over a person’s emotions is a critical element in group membership. What this implies is that many people can be overcome by their emotions and will generally tend to act upon emotions. One way this is generally done within a group is through the common emotions of fear and rejection. Powerful cult leaders will use these two types of emotions to elicit continued membership within the group. However, it can also be said that group membership in other types of groups (as mentioned above) is also based on emotions and thoughts, but without control from a leader. If you think about our affiliations with church groups we generally react upon events influenced by emotions (ie.The church family that is experiencing hard times, death in our church, etc.).
Next, Festinger’s theory (as cited in gospelassemblyfree.com, 2005) suggests that cults also rely on mind control and information control techniques to keep their group members. In a cult, information is limited from the outside and typically the group members are only allowed to view and hear information presented by the leaders. Due to this, group members are essentially limited to thinking as they are told to think (we call this brainwashing). Contact with people outside of the group will most likely be limited (and this includes family members, as they may attempt to influence the person).
Although I have mentioned two sources of why groups stay together, it is important to remember that members of non cults generally are not brainwashed and controlled in an attempt to stay together. Smith (2001) indicates that groups stay together because there is a need to belong. This need transfers to group members feeling associated and part of a process. This is especially the case because group members will often go to great lengths to help out their fellow "brothers" as is the case in church affiliations.
Cohesion in a Group....Using It In a Good Way.
Cohesion is described as the process of coming together and the sharing of common goals (2002). So why do people need to be cohesive in a group? Before I explain reasons why cohesion is important in groups, I must first give an example of cohesive groups (well sometimes). Think about the family unit, which is considered a group; after all we all belong to family units and generally speaking we have common goals and shared values. If we are to be a successful family unit then our goal is to come together as a family and help one another out. Children generally have specific roles in the family (ie. Chores) and parents generally should agree on how to raise children (we know this isn’t always the case). With that in mind, cohesion as a family makes for a more successful group and one that is likely to survive. But how about cohesion among non family members? Why is this important? Well, again we can think in terms of the "team". This could be the team in the workplace or the team that is playing a sport. As a member of this "team" it is important that you are responsible for your fair share of making something work. If not, then chances are you are probably ostracized from the group. As said in a previous discussion, members of groups generally share common values (in the workplace this may entail having different levels of workers who need to do their part to keep the organization going strong, whereas in the sports team it may entail all members playing their role).
So, how do we increase cohesion among group/team members? Pponline.com suggests that everyone should be on the same page as to what their goals are; in other words stress the importance of the common vision that is shared. Group members need to remember what it is that they are working towards (this is especially if it is a sports team ro a work team). Additionally, members of the team need to be aware of these goals and reminded of them perhaps through meetings and weekly agendas. In the sports team you will see this as the locker rooms chats at halftime, whereas in the workplace this will be in the form of weekly meetings.
Another strategy to increase cohesion in a group is through the successful pairing of group members (pponline.com, ). This is generally where group members who have common interests and values are linked with one another. Another way this can also be accomplished is through the creation of divisions with the group ( as in the workplace and sports team). By having a leader who is capable of leading the team in times of distress it helps take the responsibility off of all group members. It isalso important for groups not to use members as a scapegoat (2002) as this will indeed lead to hostility within a group. When something goes wrong in a group all members are said to take responsibility for the problem, so as to not place the blame on one person. Finally, decisions must be done collectively as a group and not made by one or two members of the group (2002). When a group relies on decision making processes it should utilize all its members, as this tends to lead to more cohesion in the group. People want to feel as if they are involved and this is one way to increase that cohesion.