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Understanding Social Groups

15 February, 2016 - 10:55

Learning Objectives

  1. Define the factors that create social groups and perceptions of entitativity.
  2. Define the concept of social identity, and explain how it applies to social groups.
  3. Review the stages of group development and dissolution.
Figure 10.2 We work together in social groups to help us perform tasks and make decisions. 

Although it might seem that we could easily recognize a social group when we come across one, it is actually not that easy to define what makes a group of people a social group. Imagine, for instance, a half dozen people waiting in a checkout line at a supermarket. You would probably agree that this set of individuals should not be considered a social group because the people are not meaningfully related to each other. And the individuals watching a movie at a theater or those attending a large lecture class might also be considered simply as individuals who are in the same place at the same time but who are not connected as a social group.

Of course, a group of individuals who are currently in the same place may nevertheless easily turn into a social group if something happens that brings them “together.” For instance, if a man in the checkout line of the supermarket suddenly collapsed on the floor, it is likely that the others around him would begin to work together to help him. Someone would call an ambulance, another might give CPR, and another might attempt to contact his family. Similarly, if the movie theater were to catch on fire, a group would form as the individuals attempted to leave the theater. And even the class of students might come to feel like a group if the instructor continually praised it for being the best (or worst) class that he or she has ever had. It has been a challenge to characterize what the “something” is that makes a group a group, but one term that has been used is entitativity (Campbell, 1958; Lickel et al., 2000). Entitativity refers to something like “groupiness”—the perception, either by the group members themselves or by others, that the people together are a group.

The concept of entitativity is an important one, both in relation to how we view our ingroups, and also in terms of our perceptions of and behavior toward our outgroups. For example, strong perceptions of ingroup entitativity can help people to retain their sense of collective self-esteem in the face of difficult circumstances (Bougie, Usborne, de la Sablonniere, & Taylor, 2011). Seeing our ingroups as more entitative can also help us to achieve our individual psychological needs (Crawford & Salaman, 2012). With our outgroups, our perceptions of their entitativity can influence both our prosocial and antisocial behaviors toward them. For instance, although in some situations individuals may feel more xenophobic toward outgroups that they perceive as more entitative (Ommundsen, van der Veer, Yakushko, & Ulleberg, 2013), they may in other contexts choose to donate more money to help more entitative outgroups (Smith, Faro, & Burson, 2013).