Group Processes

The behavior and perceptions of individuals are strongly influenced by the presence of others. The tendency of the individual to conform to group expectations has been marked in many experimental situations. Even when there is little or no interaction, the mere presence of another person can strongly affect both perceptions and behavior. The individual's performance within a group is influenced by the way the group is organized and the cooperative or competitive circumstances under which the activity is performed.

This section will consider the effects on an individual's behavior and percep- when he finds himself in the company of others. While you read the text, keep the following questions in mind.


What happens to individual performance in group situations? Allport(1924) conducted a study which demonstrated that the mere presence of other individuals has a measurable effect on performance. Subjects were asked to cancel all the vowels on a printed page. When others were in the same room, the speed of performance increased.

In a somewhat later study by Taylor et al. (1937), subjects were required to spend four hours, first alone and then in groups, pushing a machine nut through a series of grooves. The subjects made appreciably better scores when alone than when in a group. One interpretation, however, is that the subjects in the group situation took the opportunity to declare rebellion against a disagreeable task. They developed a group norm specifying a lower level of performance.

Some investigators have found that under certain conditions the individual does not learn as well in a group as he does when alone. Zajonic (1965) came to the conclusion that the presence of others, either as passive spectators or as co-actors, usually facilitates the performance of well- learned responses, but impairs the learning of new responses. This conclusion could mean that if you want to get a high score on a test, you should study alone and then take the test with as many others as possible.

Many investigators have been interested in the performance of the individual in cooperative and competitive group situations. It appears that the individual will work for a group goal when he believes that its achievement will promote his own purposes. One study required psychology students to divide into 10 groups of five students each. Each group was required to solve puzzles and develop solutions to human relations problems. Experimenters told five of the groups that grades would be based on the performance of the group as a whole relative to the performance of four other groups. The other five groups were told that they would receive different course grades depending upon the quality of their individual contributions to the group's solutions.

The cooperatively formed groups solved the puzzles more rapidly and produced better solutions to the human relations problems. The cooperative groups, however, were still operating under conditions of competition, since they were in competition with other groups.

In a more recent study, Julian and Perry (1965) divided psychology students into three groups of four. The task was to develop research designs. In the cooperative situation, the group members were told that they would get an A if they got 90 points, B if they got 80 points, and so on. In the group competition situation, they were told that the top group would receive an A and the next group a B. In the individual competitive situation they were told that the highest student in the group would get an A and the next a B.

The individual and group competition situations produced a high quality and quantity of performance. The pure-cooperation condition resulted in the lowest level of group performance. There is one caution to be kept in mind when considering the results of these experiments. American students have learned to learn in competitive situations. These studies do not lead to the conclusion, therefore, that there is any inherent or necessary superiority of competitive over cooperative situations. It may be that the answer to the question of whether cooperative or competitive situations result in better performance will depend on such factors as the nature of the task, the abilities of the group members, and the arrangements for coordinating activities.

There seems to be a large demonstration effect in social situations. Lefkowitz et al. (1955) observed the behavior of pedestrians at an intersection where there was a sign that flashed "wait" and "walk." Under normal conditions, only one percent of 747 observed pedestrians crossed against the sign. When a male graduate student, dressed in scuffed shoes, patched pants, and a denim shirt, walked across in violation of the sign, the violations of others rose to 4 percent. If the same student now dressed in a well-pressed suit, white shirt and hat, violated the signal, then 14 percent of the pedestrians joined in the violation.

The demonstrataion effect results in limitation of the behavior of others

Blake et al. (1956) reported a similar effect when they asked students to sign a petition. The petition requested lighting for a fountain on campus. Under one condition a stooge signed it in front of 15 students, who were then asked to sign. Fourteen of the 15 students signed. Fifteen others were asked to sign after seeing someone refuse to sign. Only 4 of the 15 signed.

In each of these studies, the behavior of one individual strongly influenced the behavior of a fairly large number of others. The individual appears to modify his own behavior to conform with another's response.

What effect does a group have on individual perceptions? In a classic experiment (Sherif, 1936) subjects were placed in a totally dark room with a single spot of light. The light moved autokinetically, that is. it appeared to move, while in fact it remained stationary. First, the subjects were asked to estimate the distance the light moved while they were alone in the room. They were then placed in the room with a group of other subjects. The distance of movement estimated gradually conformed to that of the group. When the individuals were placed in a group initially, they almost immediately arrived at a group norm for the distance moved.

Many investigators have been interested in what happens when the individual feels his perceptions are valid, but the group consensus is against him. Asch (1956) set up an experiment in which subjects were asked to judge the length of a line. Some of the subjects knew about the experiment. The real subject was the last one to respond. The false subjects made purposely erroneous estimates. Asch found that there was strong pressure on the subject to conform to the group. With only one false subject in the room, the pressure was not so significant. However, when the size of the group increased to 3, the pressure toward conformity was marked. However, when the subject had one person who agreed with his own perceptions, he was much less likely to give in to the pressure of the group.

There appears to be only a limited tendency for persons to conform consistently over a variety of situations. More important factors seem to be the individual's perception of the particular group situation, his expectations of the consequences of conforming or not conforming, and the strength of conviction he feels concerning his own perceptions.


People tend to accept judgments pr eviously stated by others

In general there are two types of group influence. One is normative, an influence to conform with the behavioral expectations of the group. This topic was covered in an earlier module. The other is informational, an influence to accept information from other persons as evidence about reality. Hood and Sherif (1962) used the autokinetic phenomenon in an investigation of the informational influence. Before making judgments as to the distance the light moved, the subject was told to sit in a room to allow adjustment to the dark. While waiting, he overheard another subject (a false one) making estimates. One half of the subjects heard estimates within a range from 6 to 10 inches. The median judgment for a control group was 4.0 inches. The median judgment for the experimental group was 6.8 inches. Thus, the estimates tended to stay in the ranges given by the false subjects.

The circular reaction increases the intensity of a given type of behavior

The behavior of individuals in crowds has some special characteristics. Normally, human beings respond to one another by interpreting one another's actions or remarks and reacting on the basis of the interpretation. Responses follow upon interpretation. This process is often called interpretive interaction. Another process is called circular reaction. The behavior of person A is the stimulus for a response by B. B responds directly without interpreting the stimulus. B's behavior then becomes a stimulus which intensifies the response in A, and so forth, in a circular fashion. Circular reaction may be illustrated by a herd of cattle in a state of alarm. One may stamp his hoofs and snort, displaying a state of agitation. This behavior is the stimulus for others to respond in the same manner. If the behavior of the herd continues to intensify in this manner, there may eventually be a stampede.

Circular reaction plays a large role in the behavior of crowds which engage in spontaneous and unexpected behavior. The process usually begins with milling. People walk at random, near and around each other, and circular reaction takes place. Agitation mounts, so that there is a state of collective excitement. The individual's attention is riveted on the excited behavior of others. Finally, social contagion develops: there is a lowering of social resistance and self-consciousness, and an increase in suggestibility. At this point the crowd may begin throwing rocks, rioting, or taking some other violent group action.

Figure 5. Circular reaction




Now test yourself without looking back.

1. Students in group A study alone and take a test in a group. Students in group B study alone and take the test alone. Students in group C study in a group and take the test alone. Which result would you predict?
a. The scores for group A would be lower than those for group B.
b. The scores for group C would be lower than those for group A.
c. The scores for group B would be lower than the scores for group C.

2. Studies with American students indicate that performance is:
a. higher in cooperative situations than in competitive situations.
b. higher in competitive situations than in cooperative situations.
c. the same for both cooperative and competitive situations.

3. One caution in interpreting the results from studies on cooperative and competitive situations is that American students have learned to __________________________________

4. When the individual has an opportunity to observe another's response, he will tend to____________________________

b. Circular reaction takes place when A's behavior
a. is interpreted by B, who then responds.
b. is the direct stimulus for a response by B.
c. elicits a response in B which in turn intensifies the behavior of A.

5. In a crowd, people may begin to walk at random, near and around one another. Circular reaction begins. This stage in crowd behavior is called:
a. milling.
b. collective excitement.
c. social contagion.




The presence of other people seems to have different effects on the performance of well-learned responses and the learning of new Condition A: responses. Which is correct?
a. The presence of others facilitates the learning of new responses.
b. The presence of others impairs the learning of new responses.
c. The presence of others facilitates the performance of welt-learned responses.
d. The presence of others impairs the performance of well-learned responses.


Which arrangement would result in the highest test score?
a. Study alone and take the test in the presence of others.
b. Study with others and take the test alone.
c. Study and take the test while alone.
d. Study and take the test in the presence of others.

_________________________________________ 3

In studies conducted with American students, results show a higher level of performance in competitive rather than cooperative group situations. One caution in interpreting these results is that American students have_____________________________________________________________1

You are about to conduct an experiment as follows.

Condition A
Four groups of students are told that the members of the highest group will receive an A, the next group a B, and so on.

Condition B:
The members of each group are told that the highest person in the group will receive an A and the next person a B.

Condition C:
The members of the groups are told that if the group solution gets about 90 points, they will all receive an A, 80 points a B. and so on.

Write .`high'' or 'low" next to each condition to indicate the level of performance Produced.





There appears to be a significant demonstration effect in social situatiions. When given an opportunity to observe another's response, the subject will _________________________________________________________2


1 leamed to learn in competitive situations
2 modify his own responses accordingly
3 a
4 A high B high C low
5 b, c


When subjects are placed in a group, perceptions will approach a group norm. The individuals perceptions approach the group norm more quickly when:
a. he makes estimates alone and then joins the group.
b he is initially placed in the group.
c he is never placed in the group.
d. (none of these)


In experiments conducted with one real subject and a number of false subjects. the false subjects purposely make erroneous estimates. The real subject is the last one to respond. There is pressure for the individual to________________________________3

When the real subject has one other person who agrees with his estimates, what happens to his resistance to the pressure to conform?________________________________________________________1

The informational influence of the group is the tendency for the individual to:
a. conform to the behavioral expectations of the group.
b. accept facts communicated by others as evidence about reality.
c. (neither)

________________________________________________7 2 1) b to the pressure to conform. 2) d 3) c __7

In a crowd, the behavior of person A is a direct stimulus for a response by B. B's response is a stimulus which intensifies A's behavior. This process is called:
a. interpretive interaction.
b. classical conditioning.
c. circular reaction.
d. circular interaction.


Individuals in a crowd may behave in spontaneous and unexpected ways. Match the stages of crowd behavior with the description.

1 ) Milling________

2) Collective excitement_______________

3) Social contagion_____________

a. Individuals collect in a group.
b. People walk at random, near and around each other.
c. There is a lowering of sociai resistance and selfconsciousness.
d. The attention of the individual is riveted on the excited behavior of others.


Number in order the stages of crowd behavior.
a. Social contagion
b. Milling
c. Collective excitement




1. There is increased resistance to the pressure to

1) b
2) d
3) c

3. conform to the estimates made by the group

a. 3
b. 1
c. 2

6 c

7 b

8 b



1. You are conducting an experiment to contrast the following conditions.

Condition A:
Subjects are divided into groups. The student who finishes a task first in each group will receive a prize.

Condition B:
Subjects are divided into groups. Any group that finishes the task in 10 minutes will receive a prize.

a. Which condition is cooperative?__________________________

b. Which condition is likely to result in a higher level of performance?_______________________

2. One caution in interpreting the results on cooperative and competitive situations among American students is:
a. the difficulty of setting up cooperative situations.
b. that American students have learned to learn in competitive situations.
c. (neither)

3. A group norm will develop when:
a. subjects are asked to respond while alone.
b. subjects make estimates while in the same room.
c. subjects are required to make secret responses.

4. Person A begins to wave his arms, shout, and show other signs of agitation. Person B responds by raising his voice level and increasing his body movement. The actions of person B intensify the behavior of A.

This process is called ________________________________

5. Social contagion occurs when:
a. individuals walk at random, near and around one another.
b. the attention of individuals is riveted on the excited behavior of others.
c. there is a lowering of social resistance and self-consciousness.

6. Number the stages in spontaneous crowd behavior.
a. Milling
b. Social contagion
c. Collective excitement

7. When an individual has an opportunity to observe another's response, he will tend to______________________




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