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How Groups Can Influence People in Positive and Negative Ways Essay

Groups influence people in positive and negative ways. Looking at research and studies we will see how the roles we play in groups can influence our behaviour. We will see how groups we gravitate to help raise our self-esteem and give us a sense of belonging but at the same time how conflict is created with other groups. Groups we belong to help to give us a sense of identity but we will see how we can lose this as we conform to group behaviour and the impact this can have. Finally, we will look at Kondo’s research and how changing cultures slowly changed her identity and how this affected her on her journey emphasising her positive and negative influences.

As we grow we will have many social identities which influence the groups we belong to. These groups can range from friends to family and further out to groups like nationality and ethnicity. Within these groups we have different roles to play which influence our behaviour.

A controversial experiment by Zimbardo (1971) (Spoors et al.) shows how a groups of males were separated into two groups of guards and prisoners in a make shift prison. After six days of a two week experiment it was stopped. The guards became abusive while the prisoners showed signs of emotional disturbance.

Lots of factors could have influenced the participant’s behaviour but this experiment shows us the effect that roles have on us in a group and how quick we are to adapt to them. We see how an individual can turn abusive and also how individuals can be walked over an abused.

Regarding Zimbardo’s experiment we can identify two groups. Psychologists call these our ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups. Evidence suggests our ‘in group’ raises our self-esteem, we gain a sense of belonging, identification and a sense of status. Our ‘in group’ also gives us an opportunity to compare with our ‘out group’ this can create conflict as an us and them divide is formed.

Positively we show favour to our ‘in group’ and negatively we discriminate against our ‘out group’. Tajfel et al. (1971) (Spoors et al.) showed this when he assigned teenage boys to a ‘virtual group’ that did not exist. The boys still showed favouritism to their ‘in group’.

We see this behaviour in an experiment conducted by Sherif et al. (1961) (Spoors et al.). He set two sets of boys in a summer camp into groups. Separately the groups interacted, group norms were followed, they joked and had secret codes. The groups were set against each other in competition and within their own groups co-operation and loyalty were heightened but hostility, aggression and prejudiced was seen between the groups.

Observing Sherif’s study we see positively how group members found a sense of belonging in their own group and how loyalty and co-operation were heightened by competition. Negatively we see their behaviour changing when clashing against their ‘out group’ becoming hostile, aggressive and prejudiced. Prejudism against our ‘out group’ bolsters self-esteem as it allows us to see other groups as inferior.

We feel safe and part of our ‘in group’ but through group pressure we may conform to the rest of the group and the sense of identity we gained we could start to lose as we become more influenced by the rest of the group. Asch (1951) (Spoors et al.) looked at this and conducted an experiment on conformity. Participants had to match two lines out of a group of four that were similar in length with a group of other people. Participants conformed with the group who deliberately gave wrong answers. This was repeated and seventy five per cent of participants gave a wrong answer at least once.

Asch’s experiment shows the influence of group pressure. Negatively this influence can have disastrous implications. Spoors et al. (2011) use the example of the ‘Heavens Gate’ cult. Thirty nine of their members committed suicide believing their souls would be transported to a spaceship behind Hale Bop comet. Psychological factors need to be recognised but would they have acted this way left to their own devices? Positively Asch’s experiment shows us how we like to feel part of a group and not left out. Society would be chaos if people did not conform to some degree. Just going to the cinema and being quiet we are conforming to the silence so others are not offended.

Cultures will have an influence on conformity as Collectivist cultures emphasise groups more than Individualist cultures so all depending where we live in the world cultures influence our behaviour in groups. As our behaviour changes so will our own social identities and this can finally lead us onto research by Dorinne Kondo (1990) (Spoors et al.)

Dorinne Kondo was a Japanese American raised in the U.S.A. She moved to Japan to take part in research involving participant-observational study moving in with a Japanese family. Over time she found her American identity diminishing and her new identity flourishing encountering both positive and negative influences on her journey.

Negatively she describes being confronted with bewilderment, embarrassment even anger on her linguistical mistakes and when conforming wrongly to Japanese customs also when ‘proper’ behaviour meant she had to behave subserviently. She describes her conflicts surrounding expectations of gender especially her role as a young woman. Positively she describes being left with a warm positive feeling to her live in family when being affirmed for behaving with proper Japanese etiquette. After time she found herself losing her American identity. In her tea ceremony class she explains her awkward, exaggerated western movements had been replaced with Japanese grace. Kondo’s research demonstrates the positive and negative influences we encounter in different cultures and how they can change us as a person as our identities evolve.

We have seen how groups can influence people in both positive and negative ways. Zimbardo’s prison experiment shows us how quick we take up roles in a group and the extent to which we act out these roles. Sherif’s summer camp study shows how we look for a sense of belonging and to raise our self-esteem in a group but how we discriminate when conflict is created. These same groups who we look to for affirmation can influence us so greatly we will make the wrong decisions. We have also seen from research how different cultures can influence our positive and negative behaviour in groups and the impact this has on us as our identities evolve.

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