Roles, norms, and cohesiveness (Part 2)   no comments

Posted at 2:30 pm in Psychology,Sociology

This post builds on what was discovered in last blog, and will be last using material from Social Psychology 5th edition, S. Brehm. It was a worthy texbook that contained plenty of background theory on groups but I have exhausted all material relevant to my review. I would like to thank Cathy Pope for taking the time to comment on my posts as it helped me perceive my reading and work from another point of view, and refocused me to task at hand. Reading the comments on others work helped me understand the nature of the IDR assignment, and its starting to make a lot more sense.

This is a longer post than usual as I wont be blogging over next week. If you only have time for quick read, you can skip right on down to the end to a nice paragraph titled “summary and conclusions” which sums up the blog posting and has some evaluation. For all others with time and some interest you will gain more by reading the whole blog posting.

On to main part of my reading for this week:

Joining a group and group development: Newcomers usually go through a period of assimilation and model their behaviour on established members, while the group accommodates the newcomer. Bruce Tuckman (1965, 1977) proposed five stages of group development:

1. Forming – group members orient themselves towards the group.

2. Storming – members try to influence the group according to their needs.

3. Norming – members try to reconcile the conflicts produced by storming.

4. Performing – members perform and maximise group’s performance

5. Adjourning – members disengage from the group.

Other theories of group development do exist however. Connie Gersick (1988, 1994) observed that groups tend to operate in series of starts and stops rather than through uniform stages. Perhaps online groups could help provide primary research material to revisit group development theories as the cost of recording group activities and developments is lower than in offline groups, and theories of Tuckman or Gersick could be given more authority or challenged.

According to Forsyth 1990, all groups can be described in terms of three components: roles, norms and cohesiveness. Robert Bales, 1958 proposed two fundamental roles that have yet to be disproved. An instrumental role is one that helps a group achieve its tasks, and an expressive role gives emotional support and keeps moral high. Roles can be formal or informal and the same person can fill each role, however roles that are ambiguous or cause conflict can lead to stress and loss of productivity.

In online groups there are often a number of different formal roles, that could be those of users, administrators and moderators. Although the title of each may imply a different role, keeping Roberts Bales idea of fundamental roles in mind it can be argued that membership doesn’t define the role. Moderators, administrators or users can each perform instrumental or expressive roles, or a combination of the two, within a group. (My own social categorisation here is open to comments – perhaps others see different roles in online groups other than my simple ‘mods, admins and users’, if you do have a different view please leave a comment at end.)

Norms establish rules and code of conduct group members should conform to. Rules can be informal or formal.

Cohesiveness refers to the forces on a group that push its members closer together. They can be internal such as group pride, number and intensity of interaction or external such as an unusual environment or threats from other groups. Cohesiveness and group performance are causally related and either can influence the other. Positive norms can improve cohesiveness and lead to increased group performance, however negative norms coupled with high cohesiveness can lead to decreased group performance. Both offline and online groups should strive to promote positive norms and improved cohesiveness if better group performance is to be realised.

In prior blog postings it was noted that a group was two or more persons perceived as related because of their interactions over time, membership within a social category or a shared fate. Using that definition, we know that humans perceive and sort objects in the world around them into groups. The process of people sorting each other into groups is known as social categorization. People often use their perceived groupings to make inferences about all group members. This is one of the formative causes for stereotyping. People tend to overestimate the differences between groups and underestimated the differences within groups.

The groups that a person identifies with are called ingroups, and a group outside of these are called outgroups. The consequence of perceiving the world as “us” and “them” leads to the phenomenon of the outgroup homogeneity effect. This effect describes how perceivers assume greater similarity between members of outgroups than between members their own groups, to the extent that members of outgroups are perceived as homogenous. One of the reasons for this is that people do not often notice subtle differences in outgroups as there is little contact with them. The media plays a big role in how we categorize social groups and people learn stereotypes through group norms, role models and their peers.

Culture can play a part in ingroupoutgroup distinctions. People from collectivist cultures often perceive ingroup homogeneity more strongly than those from individualistic cultures. Online groups are not limited by geographical boundaries and can have large numbers of members from both collectivist cultures and individual. An open question could ask how this situation affects group dynamics where some group members perceive homogeneity and others value the differences? It may be the case that endurance of online groups with members of different cultures depends heavily on conformity and rules, as otherwise different perceptions would affect cohesion and group performance adversely.

Summary and conclusions

I particularly liked the terminology of ingroups and outgroups and the definitions from the book I read last week. It put into words things myself and probably others perceive and know but never give it a name. If you have ever read or seen, Lord of the Flies or even the popular American series ‘Lost’, or at very least supported a football club, you will be familiar with the idea of “us” and “them”. Now you know it is about ingroups and outgroups, the reasons behind this categorisation, and that probably everyone makes social categorisations everyday.

Written by cm7e09 on March 19th, 2010

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