Social Behaviour

Social Behaviour

  • Social behaviour is a necessary part of human life, and being social means much more than merely being in the company of others.
  • Social psychology deals with all behaviour that takes place in the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.
  • Social environment influences our thoughts, emotions and behaviour in complex ways.
  • Various forms of social-cognitive processes:
  1. Attitudes

Because of social influences, people form views, or attitudes about people, and about different issues in life, that exist in the form of behavioural tendencies.

  1. Impression Formation

When we meet people, we make inferences about their personal qualities. This is   called impression formation.

  1. Attribution

We are interested in why people behave in the ways they do — that is, we assign causes to the behaviour shown in specific social situations. This process is called attribution.

Very often, impression formation and attributions are influenced by attitudes.

These three processes are examples of mental activities related to the gathering and interpretation of information about the social world, collectively called social cognition.

Social cognition is activated by cognitive units called schemas.

  • Cognitive processes cannot be directly seen; they have to be inferred on the basis of externally shown behaviour.
  • Thus, following are the examples of social influence that are in the form of observable behaviour:
  1. Social facilitation/ inhibition

the improvement/decline in performance in the presence of others

  1. Pro-social behaviour/helping

responding to others who are in need or distress

  • Social context influences on the individual is determined by both social-cognitive processes and social behaviour.
  • Through systematic and objective observations, and by adopting scientific methods, it is possible to establish logical cause-and-effect relationships that explain social behaviour.


Nature and Components of Attitude

  • Attitude is a state of the mind, a set of views, or thoughts, regarding some topic (called the ‘attitude object’), which have an evaluative feature (positive, negative or neutral quality), accompanied by an emotional component, and a tendency to act in a particular way with regard to the attitude object.
  • Components of Attitude (A-B-C Components)
  1. Cognitive Aspect à Thought Component
  2. Affective Aspect à Emotional Component
  3. Behavioural (or conative) Aspect à The tendency to act
  • For example,
  1. An individual has a positive view towards a ‘Green Environment’ and thus supports tree plantation drive. (Cognitive component)
  2. The individual feels very happy when he/she sees greenery and feels sad and angry when trees are cut down. (Affective component)
  3. The individual also actively participate in the tree plantation campaign. (Behavioural component).
  • Attitudes are themselves not behaviour, but they represent a tendency to behave or act in certain ways.
  • Attitudes are different from two other closely related concepts:
  1. Beliefs refer to the cognitive component of attitudes, and form the ground on which attitudes stand, such as belief in God, or belief in democracy as a political ideology.
  2. Values are attitudes or beliefs that contain a ‘should’ or ‘ought’ aspect, such as moral or ethical values. Example “one should work hard”

Values are formed when a particular belief or attitude becomes an inseparable part of the person’s outlook on life.

Consequently, values are difficult to change.

  • Significant Features of Attitudes are:

  • Purpose served by an Attitude

Attitudes provide a background that makes it easier for a person to decide how to act in new situations.

For example, our attitude towards foreigners may indirectly provide a mental ‘layout’ or ‘blueprint’ for the way in which we should behave whenever we meet one.

Attitude Formation

Attitudes are learned through one’s own experiences, and through interaction with others.

  1. Learning attitudes by association
  • For instance, a positive attitude is developed/learned for a particular subject because of the positive association between a teacher and a student.
  1. Learning attitudes by being rewarded or punished
  • If an individual is praised for showing a particular attitude, chances are high that s/he will develop that attitude further.
  • On the other hand, if the individual is punished/scolded, then the person is likely to develop a negative attitude towards the attitude object which was responsible for the individual getting punished.
  1. Learning attitudes through modelling (observing others)
  • We learn attitudes by observing others being rewarded or punished for expressing thoughts, or showing behaviour of a particular kind towards the attitude object.
  1. Learning attitudes through group or cultural norms
  • We learn attitudes through the norms of our group or culture.
  • Norms are unwritten rules about behaviour that everyone is supposed to show under specific circumstances.
  • Over time, these norms may become part of our social cognition, in the form of attitudes.
  • Learning attitudes through group or cultural norms may actually be an example of all three forms of learning described above — learning through association, reward or punishment, and modelling.
  1. Learning through exposure to information
  • Many attitudes are learned in a social context, but not necessarily in the physical presence of others.
  • Today, with the huge amount of information that is being provided through various media, both positive and negative attitudes are being formed.

Factors that Influence Attitude Formation

  1. Family and School Environment
  • In the early years of life, parents and other family members play a significant role in shaping attitude formation.
  • Later, the school environment becomes an important background for attitude formation.
  • Learning of attitudes within the family and school usually takes place by association, through rewards and punishments, and through modelling.
  1. Reference Groups
  • Reference groups indicate to an individual the norms regarding acceptable behaviour and ways of thinking.
  • Thus, they reflect learning of attitudes through group or cultural norms.
  • Attitudes towards various topics, such as political, religious and social groups, occupations, national and other issues are often developed through reference groups.
  • Their influence is noticeable especially during the beginning of adolescence, at which time it is important for the individual to feel that s/he belongs to a group.
  • Therefore, the role of reference groups in attitude formation may also be a case of learning through reward and punishment.
  1. Personal Experiences
  • Many attitudes are formed, not in the family environment or through reference groups, but through direct personal experiences which bring about a drastic change in our attitude towards people and our own life.
  1. Media-related Influences
  • Technological advances in recent times have made audio-visual media and the Internet very powerful sources of information that lead to attitude formation and change.
  • School level textbooks also influence attitude formation.
  • These sources first strengthen the cognitive and affective components of attitudes, and subsequently may also affect the behavioural component.
  • The media can exert both good and bad influences on attitudes.
  • On one hand, the media and Internet make people better informed than other modes of communication.
  • On the other hand, there may be no check on the nature of information being gathered, and therefore no control over the attitudes that are being formed, or the direction of change in the existing attitudes.
  • The media can be used to create consumerist attitudes where none existed, and can also be harnessed to create positive attitudes to facilitate social harmony.

Attitude Change

  • Attitudes may be changed and modified through various influences.
  • Attitudes that are still in the formative stage, and are more like opinions, are much more likely to change compared to attitudes that have become firmly established, and have become a part of the individual’s values.

  1. The concept of balance by Fritz Heider
  • Described in the form of the ‘P-O-X’ triangle, which represents the relationships between three aspects or components of the attitude.
  1. P is the person whose attitude is being studied
  2. O is another person
  3. X is the topic towards which the attitude is being studied (attitude object)

It is also possible that all three are persons.

  • The basic idea is that an attitude changes if there is a state of imbalance between the P-O attitude, O-X attitude, and P-X attitude, because imbalance is logically uncomfortable. Therefore, the attitude changes in the direction of balance.
  • Imbalance is found when:
  1. all three sides of the P-O-X triangle are negative
  2. two sides are positive, and one side is negative.
  • Balance is found when:
  1. all three sides are positive
  2. two sides are negative, and one side is positive

For example-

Therefore, one of the three attitudes will therefore have to change. This change could take place in either of the following:

  1. P-X relationship (P starts disliking dowry as a custom i.e. develop a negative attitude towards X)
  2. O-X relationship (O starts liking dowry as a custom i.e. develop a positive attitude towards X)
  3. O-P relationship (O starts disliking P i.e. develops a negative attitude towards P).

In short, an attitude change will have to take place so that there will be three positive relationships, or two negative and one positive relationship, in the triangle.

  1. The concept of cognitive dissonance by Leon Festinger
  • Emphasises the cognitive component
  • The basic idea is that the cognitive components of an attitude must be ‘consonant’ (opposite of ‘dissonant’), i.e., they should be logically in line with each other.
  • If an individual finds that two cognitions in an attitude are dissonant, then one of them will be changed in the direction of consonance.
  • For example,

Cognition I : Pan masala causes mouth cancer which is fatal.

Cognition II : I eat pan masala.

This shows dissonance in the attitude towards pan masala.

Therefore, one of these ideas will have to be changed, so that consonance can be attained.

Thus, in order to remove or reduce the dissonance, I will stop eating pan masala (change Cognition II). This would be the healthy, logical and sensible way of reducing dissonance.

  • Both balance and cognitive dissonance are examples of cognitive consistency i.e. two components, aspects or elements of the attitude, or attitude system, must be in the same direction or should logically fall in line.
  • If this does not happen, then the person experiences a kind of mental discomfort, i.e. the sense that ‘something is not quite right’ in the attitude system.
  • In such a state, some aspect in the attitude system changes in the direction of consistency, because our cognitive system requires logical consistency.
  1. The two-step concept by S.M. Mohsin
  • According to him, attitude change takes place in the form of two steps:
  1. In the first step, the target of change identifies with the source.
  • The ‘target’ is the person whose attitude is to be changed.
  • The ‘source’ is the person through whose influence the change is to take place.
  • Identification means that the target has liking and regard for the source.
  • S/he puts herself/himself in the place of the target, and tries to feel like her/him.
  • The source must also have a positive attitude towards the target, and the regard and attraction becomes mutual.
  1. In the second step, the source herself/himself shows an attitude change, by actually changing her/him behaviour towards the attitude object.
  • Observing the source’s changed attitude and behaviour, the target also shows an attitude change through behaviour.
  • This is a kind of imitation or observational learning.

Factors that Influence Attitude Change

  1. Characteristics of the existing attitude
  • All four properties of attitudes — valence (positivity or negativity), extremeness, simplicity or complexity (multiplexity), and centrality or significance of the attitude, determine attitude change.
  1. Valence: In general, positive attitudes are easier to change than negative attitudes are.
  2. Extremeness/Centrality: Extreme attitudes, and central attitudes are more difficult to change than the less extreme, and peripheral (less significant) attitudes are.
  3. Complexity: Simple attitudes are easier to change than multiple attitudes are.
  • The direction and extent of attitude change are considered too. An attitude change may be congruent i.e. it may change in the same direction as the existing attitude. For example, a positive attitude may become more positive, or a negative attitude may become more negative.
  • It has been found that, in general, congruent changes are easier to bring about than are the incongruent changes in attitude.
  • Moreover, an attitude may change in the direction of the information that is presented, or in a direction opposite to that of the information presented.
  • Research has found that fear sometimes works well in convincing people but if a message generates too much fear, it turns off the receiver and has little persuasive effect.
  1. Source characteristics
  • Source credibility and attractiveness are two features that affect attitude change.
  • Attitudes are more likely to change when the message comes from a highly credible source rather than from a low-credible source.
  1. Message characteristics
  • Message is the information that is presented in order to bring about an attitude change.
  • Attitudes will change when the amount of information that is given about the topic is just enough, neither too much nor too little.
  • Whether the message contains a rational or an emotional appeal, also makes a difference.
  • The motives activated by the message also determine attitude change.
  • The mode of spreading the message plays a significant role.
  • Face-to-face transmission of the message is usually more effective than indirect transmission, as for instance, through letters and pamphlets, or even through mass media.
  • These days transmission through visual media such as television and the Internet are similar to face-to-face interaction, but not a substitute for the direct face-to-face transmission (physical presence).
  1. Target characteristics
  • Qualities of the target, such as persuasibility, strong prejudices, self-esteem, and intelligence influence the likelihood and extent of attitude change.
  • People, who have a more open and flexible personality, change more easily.
  • People with strong prejudices are less prone to any attitude change than those who do not hold strong prejudices.
  • Persons who have a low self-esteem, and do not have sufficient confidence in themselves, change their attitudes more easily than those who are high on self-esteem.
  • More intelligent people may change their attitudes less easily than those with lower intelligence.
  • However, sometimes more intelligent persons change their attitudes more willingly than less intelligent ones, because they base their attitude on more information and thinking.

Attitude-Behaviour Relationship

  • Behaviour of an individual is usually expected to follow logically from attitudes.

However, an individual’s attitudes may not always be exhibited through behaviour.

Likewise, one’s actual behaviour may be contrary to one’s attitude towards a particular topic.

In other words, attitudes may not always predict actual pattern of one’s behaviour.

  • Sometimes, it is behaviour that decides the attitude.
  • There would be consistency between attitudes and behaviour when :


Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice and Discrimination

  • Prejudice is a prejudgement, usually negative attitude that is unverified, and is often towards a particular group.

It may be based on stereotypes (the cognitive component) about the specific group.

  • A stereotype is a cluster of ideas regarding the characteristics of a specific group.

All members belonging to this group are assumed to possess these characteristics.

Often, stereotypes consist of undesirable characteristics about the target group, and they lead to negative attitudes or prejudices towards members of specific groups.

  • The cognitive component of prejudice is frequently accompanied by dislike or hatred, the affective component.

Prejudice may also get translated into discrimination (the behavioural component), whereby people behave in a less positive way towards a particular target group compared to another group which they favour.

For example, discrimination based on race and social class or caste. The genocide committed by the Nazis in Germany against Jewish people is an extreme example of how prejudice can lead to hatred, discrimination and mass killing of innocent people.

  • Prejudices can exist without being shown in the form of discrimination. Similarly, discrimination can be shown without prejudice.

Yet, the two i.e prejudice and discrimination, go together very often. Wherever prejudice and discrimination exist, conflicts are very likely to arise between groups within the same society.

  • Discriminatory behaviour can be curbed by law. But, the cognitive and emotional components of prejudice are more difficult to change.

  1. Learning
  • Prejudices can also be learned through association, reward and punishment, observing others, group or cultural norms and exposure to information that encourages prejudice.
  • The family, reference groups, personal experiences and the media may play a role in the learning of prejudices.
  • People who learn prejudiced attitudes may develop a ‘prejudiced personality’, and show low adjusting capacity, anxiety, and feelings of hostility against the outgroup.
  1. A strong social identity and ingroup bias
  • Individuals who have a strong sense of social identity and have a very positive attitude towards their own group boost this attitude by holding negative attitudes towards other groups. These are shown as prejudices.​​​​​​
  1. Scapegoating
  • It is a phenomenon by which the majority group places the blame on a minority outgroup for its own social, economic or political problems.
  • The minority is too weak or too small in number to defend itself against such accusations.
  • Scapegoating is a group-based way of expressing frustration, and it often results in negative attitudes or prejudice against the weaker group.
  1. Kernel of truth concept
  • Sometimes people may continue to hold stereotypes because they think that, after all, there must be some truth, or ‘kernel of truth’ in what everyone says about the other group.
  • Even a few examples are sufficient to support the ‘kernel of truth’ idea.
  1. Self-fulfilling prophecy
  • In some cases, the group that is the target of prejudice is itself responsible for continuing the prejudice as it may behave in ways that justify the prejudice i.e. confirm the negative expectations.
  • For example, if the target group is described as ‘dependent’ and therefore unable to make progress, the members of this target group may actually behave in a way that proves this description to be true.
  • In this way, they strengthen the existing prejudice.

Strategies For Handling Prejudice

  • The strategies for handling prejudice would be effective if they aim at:
  1. minimising opportunities for learning prejudices
  2. changing such attitudes
  3. de-emphasising a narrow social identity based on the ingroup
  4. discouraging the tendency towards self-fulfilling prophecy among the victims of prejudice.
  • These goals can be accomplished through:
  1. Education and information dissemination
  • For correcting stereotypes related to specific target groups, and tackling the problem of a strong ingroup bias.
  1. Increasing intergroup contact
  • It allows for:
  1. direct communication
  2. removal of mistrust between the groups
  3. discovery of positive qualities in the outgroup
  • However, these strategies are successful only if:
  1. the two groups meet in a cooperative rather than competitive context
  2. close interactions between the groups helps them to know each other better
  3. the two groups are not different in power or status
  1. Highlighting individual identity rather than group identity
  • It weakens the importance of group (both ingroup and outgroup) as a basis of evaluating the other person.

Social Cognition, Schema and Stereotypes

Social Cognition, Schemas and Stereotypes

‘Social Cognition’ refers to all those psychological processes that deal with the gathering and processing of information related to social objects (particularly individuals, groups, people, relationships, social issues).

These include all the processes that help in understanding, explaining and interpreting social behaviour.

People as social objects may themselves change as the cognitive process takes place.

For instance,

Conclusions about a student drawn by his/her teacher may differ from the conclusions drawn by student’s mother.

The student may show a difference in her/his behaviour, depending on who is watching her/him — the teacher or the mother.

Social cognition is guided by mental units called schemas.

  • Schema is defined as a mental structure that provides a framework, set of rules or guidelines for processing information about any object.
  • They are the basic units stored in our memory, and function as shorthand ways of processing information, thus reducing the time and mental effort required in cognition.
  • In the case of social cognition, the basic units are social schemas.
  • Most of the schemas are in the form of categories or classes.
  1. Schemas that function in the form of categories are called prototypes, which are the entire set of features or qualities that help us to define an object completely.

Example of prototype:

  • In social cognition, category-based schemas that are related to groups of people are called stereotypes i.e. overgeneralised, are not directly verified, and do not allow for exceptions.
  • Stereotypes provide fertile ground for the growth of prejudices and biases against specific groups. But prejudices can also develop without stereotypes.

Impression Formation and Explaining Behaviour of Others through Attributions

Impression Formation  (process of coming to know a person)

  • The person who forms the impression is called the perceiver.
  • The individual about whom the impression is formed is called the target.
  • The perceiver gathers information, or responds to a given information, about the qualities of the target, organises this information, and draws inferences about the target. These processes combined together form the basis of impression formation.
  • Impression formation is influenced by :
  1. the nature of information available to the perceiver
  2. social schemas in the perceiver (including stereotypes)
  3. personality characteristics of the perceiver
  4. situational factors
  • Some specific qualities influence impression formation more than other traits do.

Three effects associated with impression formation:

  • The process of impression formation consists of the following three sub-processes:

Attribution of Causality (process of coming to know a person)

  • In attribution, the perceiver goes further from impression formation and explains why the target behaved in a particular way.
  • Attaching or assigning a cause for the target’s behaviour is the main idea in attribution.
  • It is a systematic process.
  • Attribution is influenced by :
  1. the nature of information available to the perceiver
  2. social schemas in the perceiver (including stereotypes)
  3. personality characteristics of the perceiver
  4. situational factors
  • The cause of the target’s behaviour can be broadly classified as being:
  1. Internal (something within the person – personality related cause)
  2. External (something outside the person – situational cause)
  • The causes of success and failure can be classified into (by Bernard Wiener):
  1. Internal and External
  2. Stable (causes that dont change with time) & Unstable (causes that change with time)
Wiener's Classification of Casual Factor

Fundamental Attribution Error

In making attributions, there is an overall tendency for people to give greater weightage to internal or dispositional factors, than to external or situational factors.

This tendency is stronger in some cultures than it is in others. For instance, Indians tend to make more external (situational) attributions than Americans do.

  • There is a difference between the attribution made for success, and the attribution made for failure.

In general, people attribute success to internal factors, such as their ability or hard work.

They attribute failure to external factors, such as bad luck, the difficulty of the task, and so on.

Actor-Observer Effect

There is a distinction between the attribution that a person makes for her/ his own positive and negative experiences (actor-role), and the attribution made for another person’s positive and negative experiences (observer-role).

The basic reason for the difference between the actor and observer roles is that people want to have a nice image of themselves, as compared to others.

For example,

  1. Actor-role, internal attribution for a positive experience

If you yourself get good marks in a test, you will attribute it to your own ability or hard work.

  1. Actor-role, external attribution for a negative experience

If you get bad marks, you will say that this was because you were unlucky or that the test was too difficult.

  1. Observer-role, internal attribution for a negative experience

If your classmate gets bad marks, you are likely to say that her/his failure was because of low ability or lack of effort.

  1. Observer-role, external attribution for a positive experience

If your classmate gets good marks in the test, you will attribute her/his success to good luck or an easy test.

Behaviour in the Presence of Others (Social facilitation and Social Loafing)

Behaviour in the Presence of Others

Social Facilitation/ Social Inhibition

  • Performance of individuals on specific tasks is influenced by the mere presence of others.

There can be two types of influences/effects – positive or negative.

  1. Social Facilitation

The tendency for people’s performance to improve in the presence of others or an audience.

  1. Social Inhibition (social restraint on conduct)

The tendency for people’s performance to decline in the presence of others or an audience.

  • Norman Triplett observed that individuals show better performance in the presence of others, than when they are performing the same task alone.
  • Better performance in the presence of others is because the person experiences arousal, which makes the person react in a more intense manner. This explanation was given by Zajonc.
  • The arousal is because the person feels she or he is being evaluated. Cottrell called this idea evaluation apprehension.
  • The person will be praised if the performance is good (reward), or criticised if it is bad (punishment). We wish to get praise and avoid criticism, therefore we try to perform well and avoid mistakes.
  • The nature of the task to be performed also affects the performance in the presence of others.

For example,

  • In the case of a simple or familiar task, the person is more sure of performing well, and the eagerness to get praise or reward is stronger. So the individual performs better in the presence of others than s/he does when alone.
  • However, in the case of a complex or new task, the person may be afraid of making mistakes. The fear of criticism or punishment is stronger. So the individual performs worse in the presence of others than s/he does when alone.
  • If the others present are also performing the same task, this is called a situation of co-action, in which there is social comparison and competition.

Similarly, when the task is simple or a familiar one, performance is better under co-action than when the person is alone.

  • Therefore, task performance can be facilitated and improved, or inhibited and worsened by the presence of others.

Social Loafing

  • In a group, each additional individual puts in less effort, thinking that others will be putting in their effort.
  • In other words, the larger the group, the less effort each member puts in. This phenomenon is called social loafing.
  • It is based on diffusion of responsibility i.e. the thought that when others are present, one person alone will not be held responsible for doing or not doing something; other members are also responsible and will therefore do the task.

Pro-social Behaviour

Pro-social Behaviour

  • Pro-social behaviour is very similar to ‘altruism’, which means doing something for or thinking about the welfare of others without any self-interest (in Latin ‘alter’ means ‘other’, the opposite of ‘ego’ which means ‘self’).

Example, sharing things, cooperating with others, helping during natural calamities, showing sympathy, doing favours to others, and making charitable donations.

  • Characteristics of Pro-social behaviour:

It must:

  1. aim to benefit or do good to another person or other persons
  2. be done without expecting anything in return
  3. be done willingly by the person, and not because of any kind of pressure
  4. involve some difficulty or ‘cost’ to the person giving help.

Factors Influencing Pro-social Behaviour

  • Pro-social behaviour is based on an inborn, natural tendency in human beings to help other members of their own species, which facilitates survival of the species.
  • Pro-social behaviour is influenced by learning.

Individuals who are brought up in a family environment that sets examples of (a) helping others, (b) emphasises helping as a value, and (c) praises helpfulness, show more pro-social behaviour than individuals who are brought up in a family environment devoid of these features.

  • Cultural factors influence pro-social behaviour.

Some cultures actively encourage people to help the needy and distressed.

In cultures that encourage independence, individuals will show less pro-social behaviour, because people are expected to take care of themselves, and not to depend on help from others. Individuals in cultures suffering from a shortage of resources may not show a high level of pro-social behaviour.

  • Pro-social behaviour is expressed when the situation activates certain social norms that require helping others.

Three norms have been mentioned in the context of pro-social behaviour :

  1. The norm of social responsibility : We should help anyone who needs help, without considering any other factor.
  2. The norm of reciprocity : We should help those persons who helped us in the past.
  3. The norm of equity : We should help others whenever we find that it is fair to do so.
  • Pro-social behaviour is affected by expected reactions of the person who is being helped.

For example, people might be unwilling to give money to a needy person because they feel that the person might feel insulted, or may become dependent.

  • Individuals who have a high level of empathy are more likely to show pro-social behaviour.

Empathy is the capacity to feel the distress of the person who is to be helped.

Example such as Baba Saheb Amte and Mother Teresa.

Pro-social behaviour is also more likely in situations that arouse empathy, such as the picture of starving children in a famine.

  • Pro-social behaviour may be reduced by factors such as a bad mood, being busy with one’s own problems, or feeling that the person to be helped is responsible for her/his own situation i.e. when an internal attribution is made for the need state of the other person.
  • Pro-social behaviour may be reduced when the number of bystanders is more than one.

For example,

  1. The victim of a road accident sometimes does not get help because there are many people standing around the scene of the accident. Each person thinks that it is not her/his responsibility alone to give help, and that someone else may take the responsibility. This phenomenon is called diffusion of responsibility.
  2. On the other hand, if there is only one bystander, this person is more likely to take the responsibility and actually help the victim.



Nature and Formation of Groups

  • A group may be defined as an organised system of two or more individuals who:
  1. are interacting and interdependent
  2. have common motives
  3. have a set of role relationships among its members
  4. have norms that regulate the behaviour of its members
  • Characteristics of Groups:
  1. A social unit consisting of two or more individuals who perceive themselves as belonging to the group. This characteristic of the group helps in:
  2. distinguishing one group from the other
  3. giving the group its unique identity
  4. A collection of individuals who have common motives and goals. Groups function either working towards a given goal, or away from certain threats facing the group.
  5. A collection of individuals who are interdependent, i.e. what one is doing may have consequences for others.
  6. Individuals who are trying to satisfy a need through their joint association also influence each other.
  7. A gathering of individuals who interact with one another either directly or indirectly.
  8. A collection of individuals whose interactions are structured by a set of roles and norms.
  9. This means that the group members perform the same functions every time the group meets and the group members adhere to group norms.
  10. Norms tell us how we ought to behave in the group and specify the behaviours expected from group members.
  • Characteristics of Crowd:
  1. It is also a collection of people who may be present at a place/situation by chance.
  2. There is neither any structure nor feeling of belongingness in a crowd.
  3. Behaviour of people in crowds is irrational and there is no interdependence among members.
  • Characteristics of Teams:
  1. They are special kinds of groups.
  2. Members of teams often have complementary skills and are committed to a common goal or purpose.
  3. Members are mutually accountable for their activities.
  4. There is a positive synergy attained through the coordinated efforts of the members.
  • Differences between groups and teams:

  • Characteristics of Audience:
  1. It is also a collection of people who have assembled for a special purpose.
  2. Example - to watch a cricket match or a movie.
  3. They are generally passive but sometimes they go into a frenzy and become mobs.
  • Characteristics of Mobs:
  1. There is a definite sense of purpose.
  2. There is polarisation in attention, and actions of persons are in a common direction.
  3. Mob behaviour is characterised by homogeneity of thought and behaviour as well as impulsivity.

Why Do People Join Groups?

Group Formation

Basic to group formation is some contact and some form of interaction between people. This interaction is facilitated by the following conditions:

Stages of Group Formation

Tuckman suggested that groups pass through five developmental sequences:


  1. When group members first meet, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the group, the goal, and how it is to be achieved.
  2. People try to know each other and assess whether they will fit in.
  3. There is excitement as well as apprehensions.


  1. It is a stage of intragroup conflict; there is conflict among members about:
  • how the target of the group is to be achieved
  • who is to control the group and its resources
  • who is to perform what task
  1. When this stage is complete, some sort of hierarchy of leadership in the group develops and a clear vision as to how to achieve the group goal.


  1. Group members by this time develop norms related to group behaviour. This leads to development of a positive group identity.


  1. The structure of the group has evolved and is accepted by group members, by now.
  2. The group moves towards achieving the group goal.
  3. For some groups, this may be the last stage of group development.


  1. In this stage, once the task is successfully completed, the group may be disbanded.
  • However, it must be stated that all groups do not always proceed from one stage to the next in such a systematic manner.
  • Sometimes several stages go on simultaneously, while in other instances groups may go back and forth through the various stages or they may just skip some of the stages.

Elements of Group Structure

  1. Roles
  • They are socially defined expectations that individuals in a given situation are expected to fulfil.
  • Roles refer to the typical behaviour that depicts a person in a given social context.
  • An individual may have the role of a son or a daughter and with this role, there are certain role expectations, i.e. including the behaviour expected of someone in a particular role. For example, as a son or a daughter, one is expected to respect elders, listen to them, etc.
  1. Norms
  • They are expected standards of behaviour and beliefs established, agreed upon, and enforced by group members.
  • They may be considered as a group’s ‘unspoken rules’.
  • Norms represent shared ways of viewing the world.
  1. Status
  • It refers to the relative social position given to group members by others.
  • This relative position or status may be either:
  • ascribed (according to one’s seniority), or
  • achieved (according to one’s expertise or hard work)
  • By being members of the group, we enjoy the status associated with that group. All of us, therefore, strive to be members of such groups which are high in status or are viewed favourably by others.
  • Even within a group, different members have different prestige and status. Although all amay be equally important for the team’s success.
  1. Cohesiveness
  • It refers to togetherness, binding, or mutual attraction among group members.
  • As the group becomes more cohesive, group members start to think, feel and act as a social unit, and less like isolated individuals.
  • Members of a highly cohesive group have a greater desire to remain in the group in comparison to those who belong to low cohesive groups.
  • Cohesiveness refers to the team spirit or ‘we feeling’ or a sense of belongingness to the group.
  • It is difficult to leave a cohesive group or to gain membership of a group which is highly cohesive.
  • Extreme cohesiveness however, may sometimes not be in a group’s interest leading to ‘groupthink’ i.e. a mode of thinking in which the desire to reach unanimous agreement over-rides the wish to adopt proper, rational, decision-making procedures (defined by Irving Janis).

Type of Groups

  1. Primary and Secondary Groups

  2. Formal and Informal Groups

  3. Ingroup and Outgroup (Perceptions of ingroup and outgroup affect our social lives)


Influence of Group on Individual Behaviour

Influence of Group on Individual Behaviour

Impact of the presence of others on one’s performance:

  1. Social Facilitation
  • An individual performing an activity alone in the presence of others.
  • Presence of others leads to arousal and can motivate individuals to enhance their performance if they are already good at solving something.
  • This enhancement occurs when a person’s efforts are individually evaluated.
  1. Social Loafing
  • An individual performing an activity along with the others as part of a larger group.
  • Individuals work less hard in a group than they do when performing alone.
  • Social loafing is a reduction in individual effort when working on a collective task, i.e. one in which outputs are pooled with those of other group members.
  • Example: the game of tug-of-war as it is not possible for us to identify how much force each member of the team has been exerting. Such situations give opportunities to group members to relax and become a free rider.
  • Each participant/member puts in less effort as the group size increases (experiment be Latane).
  • Reasons for social loafing:
  1. Group members feel less responsible for the overall task being performed and therefore exert less effort.
  2. Motivation of members decreases because they realise that their contributions will not be evaluated on individual basis.
  3. The performance of the group is not to be compared with other groups. • There is an improper coordination (or no coordination) among members.
  4. Belonging to the same group is not important for members. It is only an aggregate of individuals.
  • Social loafing may be reduced by:
  1. Making the efforts of each person identifiable.
  2. Increasing the pressure to work hard (making group members committed to successful task performance).
  3. Increasing the apparent importance or value of a task.
  4. Making people feel that their individual contribution is important.
  5. Strengthening group cohesiveness which increases the motivation for successful group outcome.
  6. Group Polarisation
  • Groups are more likely to take extreme decisions than individuals alone.
  • Whatever the initial position in the group, this position becomes much stronger as a result of discussions in the group. This strengthening of the group’s initial position as a result of group interaction and discussion is referred to as group polarisation.
  • A phenomena wherein the decisions and opinions of people in a group setting become more extreme than their actual, privately held beliefs.
  • This may sometimes have dangerous repercussions as groups may take extreme positions, i.e. from very weak to very strong decisions.
  • Example: After a discussion about racism, members of the group who are racist will defend their attitudes far more strongly than they would have beforehand.
  • Reasons for group polarisation:
  1. In the company of like-minded people, you are likely to hear newer arguments favouring your viewpoints. This will make you more favourable towards your own point of view.
  2. When you find others also favouring your opinion, you feel that this view is validated by the public. This is called the bandwagon effect.
  3. When you find people having similar views, you are likely to perceive them as ingroup. You start identifying with the group, begin showing conformity, and as a consequence your views become strengthened.

Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience

Conformity, Compliance and Obedience (group influence processes)

  • Social influence refers to those processes whereby our attitudes and behaviours are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people.
  • Social influence is a part of our life.
  • In some situations, social influence on us is very strong as a result of which we tend to do things which we otherwise would have not done.
  • On other occasions, we are able to defy influence of others and may even influence them to adopt our own viewpoint.
  • Kelman distinguished three forms of social influence:
  1. Compliance
  • In compliance, there are external conditions that force the individual to accept the influence of the significant other.
  • Compliance also refers to behaving in a particular way in response to a request made by someone.
  • Can also be called ‘external/public conformity’.
  • Compliance could take place even without a norm.
  • We sometimes show compliance not because of a group norm or even because we personally believe in the same, but because we see no harm or problem in it. And one finds it easier to say ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to a harmless request.
  1. Identification
  • It refers to influence process based on agreement-seeking or identity-seeking.
  1. Internalisation
  • It is a process based on information-seeking.


  • A type of social influence in which the individuals change their attitudes or behaviour in order to adhere to existing social norms.
  • It also means behaving according to the group norms i.e. the expectations of other group members.
  • People who do not conform are called ‘deviants’ or ‘non-conformists’ and get noticed more than those who do conform.
  • Conformity is the most indirect form of social influence as you are conforming because you do not want to deviate from the norm.
  • The tendency to follow a norm is natural and spontaneous because:
  1. Norms represent a set of unwritten and informal ‘rules’ of behaviour that provide information to members of a group about what is expected of them in specific situations. This makes the whole situation clearer, and allows both the individual and the group to function more smoothly.
  2. In general, people feel uncomfortable if they are considered ‘different’ from others. Behaving in a way that differs from the expected form of behaviour may lead to disapproval or dislike by others, which is a form of social punishment. This is something that most people fear, often in an imagined way.
  3. The norm is seen as reflecting the views and beliefs of the majority. Most people believe that the majority is more likely to be right rather than wrong. Thus, people conform to the norm because they believe that the majority must be right.

Determinants of Conformity:

  1. Size of the group
  • Conformity is greater when the group is small than when the group is large.

Small group -> Greater conformity

Large group ->Lesser conformity

  • This is because it is easier for a deviant member (one who does not conform) to be noticed in a small group.
  • However, in a large group, if there is strong agreement among most of the members, this makes the majority stronger, and therefore, the norm is also stronger. In such a case, the minority member(s) would be more likely to conform because the group pressure would be stronger.
  1. Size of the minority
  • When the dissenting or deviating minority size increases, the likelihood of conformity decreases.
  • In fact, it may increase the number of dissenters or non-conformists in the group.

Increase in size of minority -> Decrease in conformity

Decrease in size of minority -> Increase in conformity

  1. Nature of the task
  • In the task which requires an answer that could be verified and could be correct or incorrect, there would be more conformity than in the task which involves giving an option about some topic where answers can vary widely without any answer being correct or incorrect.
  1. Public or private expression of behaviour
  • When the group members are asked to give their answers publicly, i.e. all members know who has given which response, then the conformity is more.
  • However, there can be other situations (for example, voting by secret ballot) in which the behaviour of members is private (not known to others), then the conformity would be less.
  1. Personality
  • Some individuals have a conforming personality.
  • Such persons have a tendency to change their behaviour according to what others say or do in most situations.
  • By contrast, there are individuals who are independent, and do not look for a norm in order to decide how to behave in a specific situation.
  • Highly intelligent people, those who are confident of themselves, those who are strongly committed and have a high selfesteem are less likely to conform.

Conformity takes place because of:

  1. Informational influence
  • Influence that results from accepting evidence rather than reality
  • This kind of rational conformity can be thought of as learning about the world from the actions of others.
  • For instance, we learn by observing people, who are the best source of information about many social conventions, or new group members learn about the group’s customs by observing the actions of other group members.
  1. Normative influence
  • Influence based on a person’s desire to be accepted or admired by others.
  • In such cases, people conform because deviation from group may lead to rejection or at the least, non-acceptance of some form of punishment.

It is generally observed that the group majority determines the final decision, but in certain conditions, a minority may be more influential. This occurs when the minority takes a firm and uncompromising stand, thereby creating a doubt on the correctness of the majority’s viewpoint.


  • It refers simply to behaving in response to a request from another person or group even in the absence of a norm.
  • It is less direct than obedience because someone has requested and thus we comply (here, the probability of refusal is there).
  • In many situations, people comply because:
  1. it is an easy way out of the situation
  2. it is more polite and the other party is pleased
  • The following techniques have been found to work when someone wants another person to comply:


  • When compliance is shown to an instruction or order from a person in authority, that behaviour is called obedience.
  • Obedience is the most direct and explicit form of social influence.
  • We show obedience because if we disobey, some punishment might follow or we believe that persons in authority must be obeyed.
  • People in authority have effective means for enforcing their orders.
  • Milgram’s study suggests that even ordinary people are willing to harm an innocent person if ordered by someone in authority.
  • Reasons for Obedience even when people know that their behaviour is harming others:
  1. People obey because they feel that they are not responsible for their own actions, they are simply carrying out orders from the authority.
  2. Authority generally possesses symbols of status (e.g., uniform, title) which people find difficult to resist.
  3. Authority gradually increases commands from lesser to greater levels and initial obedience binds the followers for commitment. Once you obey small orders, slowly there is an escalation of commitment for the person who is in authority and one starts obeying bigger orders.
  4. Many times, events are moving at such a fast speed, for example in a riot situation, that one has no time to think, just obey orders from above.

Cooperation & Competition

Cooperation & Competition

  • Behaviours in most social situations are characterised by:

  • Social groups may have both competitive as well as cooperative goals.

  • Determinants of Cooperation and Competition

  • Superordinate goals
  1. A goal to which personal goals were subordinated.
  2. Superordinate goals could be achieved only through cooperation between the groups.

Social Identity

Social Identity

  • It is that aspect of our self-concept which is based on our group membership.
  • Social identity places us, i.e. tells us what and where we are in the larger social context, and thus helps us to locate ourselves in society.
  • Social identity provides members with a shared set of values, beliefs and goals about themselves and about their social world, which helps to coordinate and regulate their attitudes and behaviour.
  • When we develop a strong identity with our own group, the categorisation as ingroup and outgroup becomes salient. The group with which we identify ourselves becomes the ingroup and others become the outgroup.

The negative aspect of this own group and outgroup categorisation is that we start showing favouritism towards our ingroup by rating it more favourably in comparison to the outgroup, and begin devaluating the outgroup. This devaluation of the outgroup is the basis of a number of intergroup conflicts

Intergroup Conflict : Nature and Causes

Intergroup Conflict: Nature and Causes

  • Conflict is a process in which either an individual or a group perceives that others (individual or group) have opposing interests, and both try to contradict each other.
  • There is this intense feeling of ‘we’ and ‘other’/‘they’.
  • There is also a belief by both parties that the other will protect only its own interests; their (the other side’s) interests will, therefore, not be protected.
  • There is not only opposition of each other, but they also try to exert power on each other.
  • Groups have been found to be more aggressive than individuals.
  • This often leads to escalation of conflict.
  • All conflicts are costly as there is a human price for them.
  • Reasons for group conflicts:
  1. Lack of communication and faulty communication by both parties.

This kind of communication leads to suspicion, i.e. there is a lack of trust. Hence, conflict results.

  1. Relative deprivation

When members of a group compare themselves with members of another group, and perceive that they do not have what they desire to have, which the other group has.

They feel that they are not doing well in comparison to other groups. This may lead to feelings of deprivation and discontentment, which may trigger off conflict.

  1. One party’s belief that it is better than the other, and what it is saying should be done.

When this does not happen, both parties start accusing each other.

One may often witness a tendency to magnify even smaller differences, thereby conflict gets escalated because every member wants to respect the norms of her/his group.

  1. A feeling that the other group does not respect the norms of my group, and actually violates those norms because of a malevolent intent.
  2. Desire for retaliation for some harm done in the past
  3. Biased perceptions are at the root of most conflicts. As already mentioned earlier, feelings of ‘they’ and ‘we’ lead to biased perceptions.
  4. When acting in groups, people are more competitive as well as more aggressive than when they are on their own.

Groups compete over scarce resources, both material resources, e.g. territory, and money as well as social resources, e.g. respect and esteem.

  1. Perceived Inequity

Equity refers to distribution of rewards in proportion to an individual’s contributions.

But if you contribute more and get less, one may feel irritated and exploited.

  • Conflicts between groups give impetus to a series of social and cognitive processes.

These processes harden the stand of each side leading to ingroup polarisation.

This may result in coalition formation of like-minded parties, thereby increasing the apprehensions of both parties resulting in misperceptions, and biased interpretations and attributions.

The result is increased conflict.

  • Gardner Murphy wrote a book entitled ‘In the Minds of Men’.

According to it, most conflicts begin in the minds of men and then go to the field.

Explanations of such conflicts can be at:

  1. Structural level

Structural conditions include:

  • high rates of poverty
  • economic and social stratification
  • inequality
  • limited political and social opportunity
  1. Group Level

Following group level factors lead to escalation of conflict:

  • social identit
  • realistic conflict between groups over resources
  • unequal power relations between groups
  1. Individual Levels

Following are the important determinants of conflict:

  • beliefs
  • biased attitudes
  • personality characteristics

At the individual level, there is a progression along a continuum of violence.

Small acts that initially may have no significance, like calling the other group a name, may lead to psychological changes that make further destructive actions possible.

Deutsch identified the following consequences of intergroup conflict:

  1. Communication between the groups becomes poor. The groups do not trust each other, thereby leading to a breakdown in communication and this generates suspicion for each other.
  2. Groups start magnifying their differences and start perceiving their behaviour as fair and the other’s behaviour as unfair.
  3. Each side tries to increase its own power and legitimacy. As a consequence, the conflict gets escalated shifting from few specific issues to much larger issues.
  4. Once conflict starts, several other factors lead to escalation of conflict which are:
  • Hardening of ingroup opinion
  • Explicit threats directed at the outgroup
  • Each group retaliating more and more
  • Other parties also choosing to take sides

Conflict Resolution Strategies

Conflict Resolution Strategies

  • Conflicts can be reduced if we know about their causes.
  • The processes that increase conflict can be turned around to reduce it also.

Conflict Resolution Strategies:

Introduction of superordinate goals

By introducing superordinate goals, intergroup conflict can be reduced.

A superordinate goal is mutually beneficial to both parties, hence both groups work cooperatively.

Altering perceptions

Conflicts can also be reduced by altering perceptions and reactions through:

  • Persuasion
  • Educational and media appeals
  • Portrayal of groups differently in society

Promoting empathy for others should be taught to everyone right from the beginning.

Increasing intergroup contacts

Conflict can also be reduced by increasing contacts between the groups which can be done by involving groups in conflict on neutral grounds through community projects and events.

The idea is to bring them together so that they become more appreciative of each other’s stand.

However, for contacts to be successful, they need to be maintained, which means that they should be supported over a period of time.

Redrawing group boundaries

This can be done by creating conditions where groups boundaries are redefined and groups come to perceive themselves as belonging to a common group.


Conflict can also be resolved through negotiations and third party interventions. Warring groups can resolve conflict by trying to find mutually acceptable solutions. This requires understanding and trust.

Negotiation refers to reciprocal communications so as to reach an agreement in situations in which there is a conflict.

Sometimes it is difficult to dissipate conflict through negotiations; at that time mediation and arbitration by a third party is needed.

Mediators help both parties to focus their discussions on the relevant issues and reach a voluntary agreement.

In arbitration, the third party has the authority to give a decision after hearing both parties.

Structural solutions

Conflict can be reduced by redistributing the societal resources according to principles based on justice.

Some of the principles of justice are :

  • equality (allocating equally to every one)
  • need (allocating on the basis of needs)
  • equity (allocating on the basis of contributions of members).

Respect for other group’s norms

In a pluralist society like India, it is necessary to respect and be sensitive to the strong norms of various social and ethnic groups.

Aa number of communal riots between different groups have taken place because of such insensitivity.

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