Understanding Groups Summary

Man is a social animal. The early origin and development of social life among homo sapiens was within-the context of collectives where the sustained human group was a social invention of critical evolutionary importance. The human group originated presumably through mutual interaction among factors such as partial care, the growth of larger brain, development of language, extended childhood, exchange behavior, and play.

Once the sustainable group emerged, it became a valuable social form. First, it became a means to accomplish tasks and reach goals that were simply impossible for the individual alone, including the care of the young after the death of the mother, hunting large animals, the spanning of wide charms, building complex structures, conducting communal ceremonies, defending effectively against attack and so on.

Second, groups became a source not only of physical sustenance but also of warmth and affection, of tenderness and support, and of a sense of identity and collective security.

Third, the group became both a creator and a transmitter of culture, language and technical know-how beliefs and art forms, games and ceremonies, and in general a set of meanings for interpreting existence including life in the group itself. Fourth, human groups each bound together by. mutual trust, became building blocks to be joined together to form larger social units, ranging from small outfit or band, to the clan, the tribe, the city, the society and eventually to the highly complex political and economic organizations which now span the globe.

Quite naturally in the face of the new possibilities of, and demands on, these suprastructure, the forms and sustenance of the original groups gave way to radically new forms that have led to today’s wide variety of primary and secondary groups. Before proceeding further, let us understand what is meant by primary and secondary groups. According to Dunphy the primary group..is “a group which persists long enough to develop strong emotional attachment between members, at least a set of rudimentary, functionality differentiated roles, and a sub-culture of its own which includes an image of the group as an entity and informal normative system which controls group-relevant action as members”.

To understand the distinctive processes of primary groups, we need to look not only within these groups but outside them. Consequently one may identify the roles these primary groups play in life. Whether life in such groups is easy going and pleasant or turbulent and disturbing, members tend to be attached one another, to be significant” to one another, as it would be indicated by sense of personal loss. When a member is separated from the group like in a family such primary groups are at one end of a scale. At the other, impersonal end of the scale

Group Dynamics

indicated by sense of personal loss. When a member is separated from the group like in a family such primary groups are at one end of a scale. At the other, impersonal end of the scale are secondary groups whose values is largely extrinsic. They are organized chiefly to get a job done, to produce object or services that have exchanged value, usually for outsiders.

Performance according to standard Of effectiveness or excellence taken precedence over personal feelings and attachments. Often members are considered replaceable in the service of high quality group performance, as in surgical team. Beyond their variation in “primaryness” the billions of groups that exist vary in other respects including size, duration or existence, reward to members, usefulness to the community, and the degree to which their structure and activities are governed by custom or law.


Groups may be numerous and various, but why study them?. One reason is curiosity about the human condition. The billions of groups that exist are settings in which the men, women and children of the world pursue their daily activities of work and play. Whatever form they take, one can assume that their structure and internal dynamics make difference not only to the lives of their members but also to the character and history of the communities of which they are a part. As we all know, the new born infant cannot become human without “a mothering group” and reciprocally groups can neither maintain themselves nor accomplish collective goals without having gained commitment from individuals.

This interdependence between group and individual is elemental, both in origin and development of group life among humans and individual lives – elemental enough to raise further questions, such as, how do these groups tend to shape personalities? What part do they play throughout the life cycle of individuals? What do groups give to and require from individuals?

What is actually require from individuals to live, work and play together? What are the dynamics of these small centers of human existence? On another level, how do networks of such groups contribute to the life of communities? What groups influence the course of history and in what ways’? How do these relations among persons and the group, among groups and the community – differ from one region to another, or from one culture to another?

Are there general laws that tend to govern such relations? One can see that the interest in human conditions can lead quite naturally to question about human groups whether one is a historian, psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist or scholar in related fields. One of the most important reasons for’ studying groups, apart from its role in helping individuals in reaching difficult goals, is to better understand the psychology of the individuals.

Cooley wrote, “human nature is developed and expressed in those simple face-to-face groups that some how are alike in all societies, groups of the family, the play ground and the neighbourhood, … in these every where human nature comes into existence”. The humanizing processes that occur between the new born and the” family are often so intricately interwoven that the boundaries between person and group are not clear. Consequently those who are trying to advance our knowledge about personality development are finding it enormously helpful, if not essential, to comprehend the interpersonal dynamics in the formative groups.

Another reason to study the groups is to better understand larger social units, such as organization, institutions, communities and societies. Ordinarily, these larger units are composed of overlapping smaller groups, connected through various types of obligations and responsibilities. Because of the interdependencies in a given network, groups small in themselves may nonetheless have may have important even critical effects on the rest of the system. We are familiar with the general tendencies of decision making to migrate to the top of power network where often a small group of executives and advisors makes the final decisions.

In so far as the internal relations (loyalties, jealousies, coalitions) of the small group a fact its decision, then its dynamics have an impact on the larger system both at the top and at the grass root level, the dynamics of small units can be a major source of variance in determining changes in the larger system. The more important they are at a source of variance, the more essential it becomes for those who want to understand change in the larger systems to study dynamics of the smaller groups. For example, if the top executives are not

well coordinated interpersonally, the entire organization will suffer as most of the important decision will either be shelved due to internal bickering or will be watered down in the name of collective compromise.

Understanding Groups


`a group should be conceived of as a system whose parts interrelate.’ Much has been written about groups, especially over the last thirty years when all the pervading nature of `group’ influence on human behavior has been increasingly recognized. The number of words in the English language that have arisen to number of describe form of collectivity, both in animals and men, is legion This is a fair indication of the need to distinguish these groupings and is also a clear mark of the acceptance of their universal nature. The very general nature of human groupings poses a problem for those who wish to examine group phenomena in more detail.

Manifestly ubiquitous group pressures producing some form of conformity, and therefore acceptable behavior, are as little thought about as breathing. In turn this tends to relegate such group pressures to a level below conscious awareness unless, circumstances change and unfamiliarity break the habitual patterns.

This process allows individuals to assume that they make decisions about the trivia of everyday life in ways that are both personal to them and not subject to outside influence whereas the opposite is more nearly the reality.

Whatever choices the individual makes, these are already circumscribed by group influences; the less awareness there is of these influences, the more circumscribed the choice and the greater the lack of awareness. In a very real sense, then, attempting to describe what actually happens when people are gathered together is an effort to delineate more aspects of human interaction, because even actions that are essentially private can, with little effort, be shown to be influenced by group behavior and, in particular, to be the expected responses of others.

It is not too difficult to present an argument for the `learned’ nature of most of human behavior, nor to argue that it was learned because it produced relatively satisfactory results somewhere in our past experience. In other words, it was behavior that found acceptance by those who were perceived as important, to us in some way and that thereby brought some degree of satisfaction to us as producers of such behavior.

Nothing seems more important in the understanding of group influence than the enormous effort that all human beings seem to make to offset any perception they may have of their essentially isolated state. However such human beings involve themselves with others, each is still basically a self-contained unit with no direct, unimpeded link with any other human being (unless he or she is one of a set of Siamese twins). An individual cannot communicate thoughts and feelings without translating them into some form of arbitrary and systematic code, nor can the feelings and thoughts of another be appreciated without the same translation process taking place at both transmitting and receiving ends.

Furthermore, it would seem that not only is the human being isolated, in this way but in other ways also. For example, there is the problem of identity, and the constant need for stimulation from other similar beings. Both these factors seem essential to. the maintenance of a mentally healthy individual.

Our perception of the kind of people we are rests largely on our recognizing the responses we evoke in others. We cannot evoke such responses if our behavior is so unacceptable that we are excluded from the company of others. Similarly, unless we receive sufficient response from others, we cannot be socially competent individuals. While there are other factors involved, we ate concerned here, to make explicit only the functions of group influence in everyday life. The reasons for so doing are simple enough and reside in the concept of a human being as a thinking animal. By `thinking’ I mean a process of conscious `assessment of the factors involved in any situation and also an assessment of the

Group Dynamics

nature of the equipment we possess for making’ such assessments. Choices can only be made if an awareness of alternatives and their value exists at the moment of decision making. Some choice almost always exists. But in many circumstances the hidden influences that over-or under-value a choice, or even obscure a possible alternative, limit any selection and thus affect the outcome. Such hidden influences, which stem mainly from. group pressures, can be made more explicit by the expedient of acquiring some understanding of the way in which groups operate.

By increasing understanding of the function of group influence, erstwhile hidden influences become manifest and any decision can be more widely and accurately based. Definitions of dynamic entities such as groups present many difficulties but it is hoped that the description offered here will provide a reasonable basis for the widening of understanding about groups in general. THE ARBITRARY NATURE OF THE `GROUP’ CONCEPT ‘A group is … the largest set of two or more individuals who are jointly characterized by a network of relevant communications, a shared sense of collective identity and one or more shared goal dispositions with associated normative strengths. ‘ (Smith -1967)

In one clear sense a group is a purely arbitrary distinction, the nature of which maybe very important when certain kinds of groups are studied. All groups are collections of human beings. What determines the degree of ‘groupness’ must be at a very basic level, for example, the amount of time they spend in each Other’s company. Thus, if people congregate for noticeable periods of time then they lose some of the fluidity of a haphazard gathering. The observer can say they are an elementary or rudimentary group. Social life is composed of just such groups.

The arbitrary nature of such a definition is marked by the fluctuations of perception of observers. For example, observers may disagree about the sufficient minimum time needed for a rudimentary group to be established. Thus, some researchers set purely arbitrary levels about how much of any given defining factor (e.g. time spent in each other’s presence) constitutes an acceptable criterion. Other defining factors such as awareness of the presence of others and interaction, are equally important, but allure dependent for their existence upon the factor of time.

One zoologist (Jones 1967) has even suggested that the group state may be the real existence of which individuals are no more than parts, as cells are constituents of a body. Jones was in fact -writing about social insects such as bees, but his argument is applicable to human beings, too. Thus, it is possible to argue that all social life is group life and that the individual is a more or less responsive constituent part. Whyte (1960) proposes that we tend to be confusing an abstraction with reality.

He goes on to say that because a collection of individuals can be called `a group’ it does not imply that they function as `a group’. (This is an interesting example of the arbitrary way in which the term `group’ is used.) By saying that a collection of people does not function as a group, Whyte is suggesting that in his definition certain clear conditions must be present before the collection becomes a group.

In his terms those conditions are those that facilitate a collection’s ability to function as a group, that is, to act as an integrated unit with some cognizance of the interdependence of the constituent parts. In general, one would not quarrel with this outlook. However, one do question the assumption that there is a qualitative difference between the `collective’ and the `group’. As one see it, the difference is quantitative, the two systems are the same system at different stages in its development.

All the factors that eventually create the group are in existence in the collectivity. They are less intensively and extensively developed but they are there intensively and extensively developed, but they are there. Even this concept has an element of arbitrariness about it but I think it begs fewer questions, and is broader and more elegant than approaches that insist that the obvious differences between groups, crowds, and

collectivities are differences of kind. No one would suggest that eggs, caterpillars, pupae, and moths are not part of the same life cycle despite -heir apparent differences. Golembiewski (1962) asserts that he can find no evidence for the assumption that all human aggregates are groups. But it is equally clear from the definition he gives of a `group’ that once more he has made an arbitrary choice about what he will accept as falling within his criteria.

This leads to a search for the factors that distinguish what one will and will not accept under the rubric of `group’. Hence all the concern with the awareness of purpose on the part of the members, the sense of belonging, and the myriad of focusing factors. In turn, this has led to semantic problems and to problems of infinite consequence in terms of the impossibility of comparing research projects ostensibly concerned with the same social situation, i.e. a group.

Ultimately this has led to a hardening of the differences and possessive claims that only the writer is talking about `real’ groups. Most particular and precise formulations about actual occurrences can be embedded in larger concepts and this stochastic process may be infinite. But there must be some stage at which the apparently separate theoretical entities can be embedded without harm or loss in the next larger stage of concept.

If this is not done with the concept of group then the arbitrary nature remains paramount and conflict prevents maximum use being made of the available data. WHAT ARE GROUPS? `Our aim, therefore, is to enunciate general principles of the following form:, “If any device is to perfonrt function X, then that device is subject to or limited by the principles l’ which must hold for all possible devices performing this function “. ‘ (Miller 1969a: 107) George Miller was writing about a way of comparing computers and human beings, machines and organisms, that sees them `insofar as they performed the same function … as particular instances of theoretical systems of far greater generality’ (Miller 1969a: 106).

The obvious difficulty of comparing groups which arises from the apparent widely different uses to which they are put, has always tended towards a differentiation of groups.. The functions have been seen to be different. Therefore Miller’s general principle would not apply. But it seems that `function’ in these instances is often confused with `outcome’. For example, if a group is used as a method of treating people with particular kinds of emotional problems, then its outcome is therapeutic.

Some would say that this was also its `function’ and that this function would be different from that of a group- set up to enhance learning. The point is that the functions of all groups, defined as the way they operate, are identical and that it is not so much the absolute difference of function that creates apparent difference in groups, but the intensity, duration, and selective use of the recognizably limited number of functions that produce different outcomes.

In terms of Miller’s general principles, all groups fit into a theoretical system of greater generality and are governed by the same general principles. In other words, these can be defined as a Stochastic theory of groups that points to the similarities of groups rather than their differences. Given a stochastic theory in which the different `kinds’ of groups (I would prefer to use the word `manifestations’ than kinds’) can be embedded, we are immediately presented with the possibility of direct comparison of identifiable components.

We are in fact faced with the possibility of examining the interactive behavior of human beings in certain set pieces. The use of the word `set’ here indicates that the element of time has to be considered as one of the most important factors involved. Human beings are separate entities but in their movements through space and time they gather together to produce groupings that last for different spans of time.

Some like families and friendships exist over long periods of time; others, like acquaintanceships or crowds, last only a short time. People also move: from one of these gatherings to others in relatively short periods of time. All this is very obvious but it has to be said because the collectivities themselves, especially if they are not particularly transient, have come to be regarded as entities so much in their own

Understanding Groups

Group Dynamics right that the obvious fact that they are collecting points in a never-ending stream of interaction tends to get lost, and with it the essential similarities that exist among them. Shaw (1974) argues that group behavior is the behavior of the individuals who compose the group. Their behavior in one group will be different from their solitary behavior because the’ stimuli they receive from the presence of others are significantly different in different social situations. This is another way of asserting the same point I made earlier.

The constellations of individuals that a person enters are composed of different individuals and occur at different stages of the life cycle both of the individual members and of the gatherings they compose. Thus, the stimuli to which any one member is exposed are different-not in kind but in intensity and duration – and indeed perception of those stimuli also changes with experience and the degree of familiarity.

Once more, we are forced back to the fact that group behavior is behavior in the presence of others, the response to, the ordinary stimuli of human social meeting. How long the gatherings stay together and thus increase the chance of adding to the experience of their members (which in turn modifies their perceptions not only of this collectivity but of all others of which they are a member) is crucial.

Thus, although the terms ‘natural’ and `created’ groups are in widespread use to distinguish between what are often seen as the two major categories of grouping; it will be shown that the distinction relates only to the nature of their origin and not to the ‘behavior patterns of which they are composed. So-called ‘natural’ groups If it were possible for the overworked hypothetical man from Mars to take a fresh view of the people of Earth, he would probably be impressed by the amount of time they spend doing things in groups. (Cartwright and Zander 1953) `Natural’ groups tend to be those that were in existence long before the person who so describes them saw them as such.

`Natural’, in this sense, has little or nothing to do with nature but with a sense of rightness, a feeling that such groups are `real’, that they grew out of ordinary human needs and that there is no immediate evidence that they were consciously and deliberately brought into existence by one or more human beings as an act of policy. `Natural’ also implies acceptance. The ‘normal’ state of affairs has not been interfered with.

People may not like families, particularly their own, but a family is described as a `natural’ group. It grow’s out of several very basic needs of all human beings, all of which can only be met by some long-term contact with, and support from, other people. It is real; it is accepted.

Employing the, dichotomy of `natural’ / `created’ forms of groups leads to the difficulty of actually seeing `natural’ groups as groups. To many people the word `group’ means a collection of individuals gathered together in one place at the same time often for at least one common purpose. It is quite acceptable that a study could be made of how such groups form, function, and die; but it is quite another matter to want to apply similar techniques to `natural’ groups such as families, friendship groups, and gangs.

This is one of the major reasons why information about the ways in which groups behave is so heavily weighted in favour of that obtained from `artificial’ groups (Argyle 1969). There are other reasons, of course. For instance, the invasion of an investigator into a `natural’ group throws into sharp relief the fact that his or her reason for being there is significantly different from that of all the other members.

What the investigator sees may well be biased by the fact of his or her presence. He or she can hardly ever become a true member of the group unless their motives for being’ there change or are never made explicit. Using Whyte’s (1960) terminology, `natural groups would be called `incidental’ in contradistinction to ‘created’ groups, would be called, `functional’. So Whyte’s distinction lies in whether a group form arose to meet or accommodate the exigencies of an ‘in-process’ situation and in that sense is a spontaneous growth from that situation, or whether a conscious effort, is directed to the establishment of a group form `deigned’ to cope with a situation and to facilitate a predicated outcome.