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How Groups Can Influence People in Positive and Negative Ways

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    People have many different roles in life, these roles serve many different purposes. It is in these roles we find we belong to different groups this makes up our social identity. It is these groups that can have negative or positive effect on ourselves. People can be part of the ‘in-group’ or the ‘out-group’. The ‘in-group’ being people who belong to the group which we consider we also belong to. The ‘out-group’ being people who do not belong to our group. This assignment will consider the positive and negative influences groups can have on people.

    It will explain the influence that can be attributed to groups and how peoples behaviour can be affected. Groups can influence behaviour in many ways. Groups and the roles that people play in them can give an understanding of who we are and how people can influence our personal and social identity. Groups can be family, friends, football clubs even cults. Ideas about ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ form the basis of a psychological theory called social theory. (P. 124) Social identity theory was developed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner (1979, cited in Spoors et al. 2011) Tajfel et al proposed that there are three mental processes involved in evaluating others. The first is social categorization. Categorizing people including ourselves. If you can assign people to a category then that tells us things about those people, for example someone who is a Christian you may automatically think they go to church and read the bible. In the second stage, social identification, adopting the identity of the group you have categorized yourselves as belonging to.

    For example you have categorized yourself as a student, the chances are you will adopt the identity of a student and begin to act in the ways you believe students act. The final stage is social comparison. Once you have categorized yourself as part of a group and have identified with that group you then tend to compare that group with other groups. If our self-esteem is to be maintained our group needs to compare favorably with other groups. This is critical to understanding prejudice because once two groups identity themselves as rivals they are forced to compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem.

    An experiment carried out by Muzafer Sherif et al (1961, cited in Spoors et al. , 2011) titled Robbers Cave is an example of how groups can influence people in both positive and negative ways. A group of boys at a summer camp were divided into two groups. The groups became quite cohesive, involving norms of behaviour, jokes and secret codes (P. 123). A competition was set up in the form of a tournament. Sherif et al found that good sportsmanship led to group hostility in the form of name calling, aggression and prejudice, towards the other team. The groups however were cooperative and loyal within their own groups.

    Further experiments then manipulation the group situation by introducing activities which required both groups to cooperate and positively work together. This proved quite successful. It would appear the boys clearly exhibited the criteria of Tajfel and Turners social identity theory (1979). Positive effects that groups of people can have on us as individuals are for example if you are around a good group of friends as you are growing up going into adulthood, this can play a vital role in shaping your personality and their influences could change you for the better. Groups will often shape who you are.

    It does not have to be a close group of friends it could be just people you are regularly around. An example of how groups can influence us in a positive way is ‘Kondo’s story’. In this extract taken from her own book sited in Spoors et al (2011). Kondo describes what life is like as a Japanese American and how she tried to fit in with both of her cultures. Although at first she was not accustomed to the Japanese way of doing things in time she began to feel a positive feeling for the Japanese family she was staying with and began to want to behave in a Japanese way.

    So by the end of the extract she not only feels like an American woman but a Japanese woman also. Spending time with a positive group of Japanese people made her understand her understand her Japanese roots, traditions and etiquette that are part of their everyday life. As she started to fit in more she described how pleased she felt. Looking at what others do around you can bring about a positive change in your way of thinking and how you live your life.

    Unfortunately group influence is not always positive and could lead a person (by fitting in with group norms and pressures) to be influenced in ways that they would not normally. In March 1997, thirty-nine members of a group, led by Marshell Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, committed suicide in the belief that their souls would be transferred to a spaceship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. ‘Heaven’s Gate’, doomsday cult combined elements of Christianity with belief in existence of UFOs. (P. 19) ‘Heaven’s Gate’ we see that not only can group membership cause negative consequences but also fatal consequences. The Zimbardo experiment, Philip Zimbardo (1971) and his colleagues set up an experiment in a prison environment where a group of males were randomly selected to the role of ‘guard’ or ‘prisoner’. The experiment was scheduled to last 2 weeks, but had to be stopped after 6 days because the participants had taken their roles too seriously, this is because the ‘guards’ had become increasingly brutal and abusive and the ‘prisoners’ were showing signs of emotional disturbance.

    This is an example of how negatively groups can influence us as individuals in that the participants roloe and behaviour was changed according to the group they were assigned to. The ‘guards’ and also the ‘prisoners’ may have been influenced by previous perceptions of the role of a prison guard and prisoner. The ‘guards’ and ‘prisoners’ may have been influenced to the group norms by things such as films and TV. Jail itself is not a positive experience and the general perception is that a person is sent there as a punishment, creating a negative experience.

    In conclusion, groups can powerfully influence a persons thinking and behaviour wether it be in a positive or negative way. Similarities that people share are the main factor that people adhere to each other. Similar characteristics such as race, age , religion, gender, ethnicity, values, work and social class all promote a sense of self belonging and acceptance, which in turn promotes confidence and raises peoples self-esteem. However, the group influences is not always positive and could lead a person to be pressured in ways they would not normally do so and behave in discriminating and prejudiced manner towards others.

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