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Critically Evaluate the Contribution of Experiments in helping to Understand what goes on in Groups

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Introduction

Critically Evaluate the Contribution of Experiments in Helping Us To Understand What Goes On In Groups Brown (1996, p44) provides a utilitarian definition of groups which goes to the heart of the experimental perspective on groups: "We define an aggregate of people as a group if we can discern two aspects. First, that individuals think of themselves as group members who experience a sense of belongingness and a common sense of identity. Second, that participants have psychological effects on each other which includes affective, cognitive and behavioural aspects". This definition sets up a position which highlights the focus of experimental work on groups and is indicative of both the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. It is to be expected that the approach is deterministic, with an emphasis on cause and effect. However, the definition is suggestive of a concern that is broader than simple behavioural outcomes, with emotional and cognitive processes being considered. It is clear that groups are perceived as aggregates of individuals and this marks a departure from other approaches where the group is perceived as a de facto entity. But, the requirement for a 'sense of belongingness' does mean that group-level processes cannot be assumed to exist in any particular collection of people or demographic stratum. ...read more.

Middle

As Brown (1996, p19) puts it "[T]here is no universal way in which individuals respond to group pressure...participants will be affected by the meaning a situation has for them which itself may be influenced by cultural variables". This is a theme that was taken up in experiments into minority influence. Mucovici et al. (1969, cited in Brown 1996) showed the effects of different kinds of peer behaviour on the strength of influence. Groups of six including two confederates were required to name the colour of a slide. The confederates called blue slides as green either consistently or consistently. Results showed that the minority influence was only significant where a consistent behavioural style was evident. Mugny (1975, cited in Brown 1996) held group discussions on topics of contemporary concern and found that the influence of a minority required that an appropriate argument style be employed. Where differences in opinion were large a flexible negotiation style was more effective, but with smaller differences a more rigid style was more influential. Such experiments show a tendency towards reductionism, groups are reduced to peers, authorities, majorities and minorities. Group pressures become types of influence and influence becomes behavioural style. The more specific that group experiments become the less that they seem to be talking about groups and the more they refer to individuals and circumstances. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thus it would seem that there are no surprises in what experimental evidence can tell us about what goes on in groups. Scientific positivism is scientific positivism. Whilst it is shown that individuals are complex and do not react in just one way, patterns of influence are described in cause-and-effect terms without recourse to emergent properties. The value that we place on this evidence depends on how we define a group. If it is simply a collection of people with affiliation then we must accept that group experiments are some of the most interesting and telling in psychology. But, if we incorporate the possibility of a 'groupishness' (Bion's word) beyond that collection, then experiments can contribute little to our knowledge of the group so defined. Word count = 2011 R e f e r e n c e s Brown, H. (1996) 'Themes in experimental research on groups from the 1930s to the 1990s' in Wetherell, M. (ed.) Identities, Groups and Social Issues, London, Sage/The Open University. Morgan, H. and Thomas, K. (1996) 'A psychodynamic perspective on group processes' in Wetherell, M. (ed.) Identities, Groups and Social Issues, London, Sage/The Open University. Sapsford, R. (1996) 'Domains of analysis' in Sapsford, R. (ed.) Issues for Social Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University. Wetherell, M. (1996) 'Group conflict and the social psychology of racism' in Wetherell, M. (ed.) Identities, Groups and Social Issues, London, Sage/The Open University. R0749273 1 ...read more.

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