In this essay, I am going to describe how groups can influence people in a positive and in a negative ways. I will be using evidence drawn from Chapter 5 of the study text ‘’Starting with psychology’’ Spoors et al (2011). It is in a human nature to be a part of a social group. Belonging to a group, such as family, clubs, sport teams or group of friends, give us support, it make us feel good about ourselves, give us a sense of social identity. It brings meaning to our life, it make us feel like we belong. However, being a part of a group can also have a negative effect. Group pressure can cause us to behave in a way that we will not normally do. To support my argument I will use as an example evidence from Kondo’s story and as well Zimbardo and Asch experiments (Spoors et al 2011). In our lifetime, we belong to many different social groups. Our social identity is based on the group we belong to, we enhance the status of our group in order to increase our self-image.
We divide the world into people like ‘us’, who belong to our group, called the in-group, and those one who are different ‘them’, the out-group (Spoors et al 2011). Two psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner developed that theory. The theory argues that there are three mental processes involved in evaluating others as ‘them’ and us’ the first one is a social categorisation. We categorize other people and ourselves in order to understand and identify them. The second process is a social identification. When we know which group we belong to, we start behaving by the norms of our group. The last process is social comparison. After we categorize ourselves with a group, we start to compare our group with other groups. To maintain our self-esteem we will compare our group favourably with other groups. An experiment carried out by Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues (1971) Spoors et al (2011) provides evidence how people behaviour can change when they become a part of a group.
They choose randomly a group of male participants and divide them into ‘guards’ and ‘prisoners’ and then located them in a simulated prison. After six days, the experiment had to be stopped, as the ‘guards’ became brutal and abusive towards ‘prisoners’, and the ‘prisoners’ begun suffering from emotional disturbance. This experiment shows how the previous perceptions that the participants have of the role of a prison guards and prisoners, that probably came from watching films and television programs, influenced them to behave in a negative way. Another example of how groups can influence our behaviour is experiment carried out by Solomon Asch (Spoors et al 2011). He asked fifty participants to look at the picture of a straight line, and then showed them another picture with a three more lines of different lengths. Then he asked the participants to identify out loud the line that is the same length as the original one.
Surprisingly 75 per cent of the group give a wrong answer, which was a result of a group pressure. People have the need for conformity that is why they go along with the norms of the groups. They want to be accepted as an in-group person. Conforming to group norms is sending a message to the other members of the group that I am not a thread, I am same like you, and I am following our rules. Asche’s experiment showed that the need for conformity pressured participants to give a wrong answer to a question; they just simply followed the rest of the group. An example of how group can influence us on a positive way is Kondo’s story in Spoors et al (2011). Dorinne Kondo is a Japanese American, raised in the USA. She went to Japan to do an anthropological research. She stays there for 26 months, a few months she stays with a Japanese family to learn how proper Japanese women supposed to behave and present herself. At the same time, she was acting as a scientific observer.
That is a method of research called participant-observation, where the researcher is both an observer and a participant (Spoors et al 2011). The first few months in Japan were very stressful for Knodo; she did not understand the etiquette and traditions that are part of their everyday life. Every time she made a mistake, people trait her like she was retarded or insane. They were confused, as she looked like a Japanese women but she did not act in a Japanese manner. During her visit in Japan, her guarantor introduced her to Mrs Sakamoto who invited her to stay with her family for summer. It was a great opportunity for Kondo to learn about the traditions. During her visit she was trying to conform to their way of life, she wanted to feel their acceptance, so she start learning about her Japanese roots and proper etiquette, she took a part in a tea ceremony class.
At the end of her visit in Japan, she was pleased with herself and all she have learned during her visit. She did not struggle any more to fit in both cultures, the approval of Sakamoto’s family had a good influence on her, it makes her feel like she belong to their world. Kondo’s story demonstrates that in our lifetime ‘’we have multiple social identities, which continue to evolve as we grow older or when we move into new situations’’ Spoors et al (2011).
In those few examples, I was exploring how groups can influence people in a positive and negative ways. Positively, by providing us a sense of belonging to the social world and bringing meaning to our life, as shown on an example of Kondo’s story, and negatively by pressuring us to conform and act out of character, what confirm an Zimbardo’s and Asche’s experiments.