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Rutgers University SOCIOLOGY 319 - Group Cohesion & Conformity

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Sociology 319Sociological Approaches to Social PsychologyApril 7, 2009: Group Cohesion & ConformityEmotions (cont’d)A. What accounts for individual-level variation in emotional reactions?1. Social structural/socialization shapes the display of emotion, where people are socialized to believe that particular emotions are either appropriate or inappropriate for their social group.a. Gender. Women are believed to display (though not necessarily feel) more sadness, happiness, and anxiety than men. In earlier decades, women were believed to experience less anger than men, although more recent evidence suggest that women faced more rigid social constraints to not show anger.b. Ethnicity/culture. The classic People in Pain (1969; Zborowski) study compared the emotional expression and reaction to pain reported by Irish, Italian, Jewish and “Old American” (WASP) subjects. The studies found Italian and Jewish subjects to be highly expressive (e.g., crying complaining), while Irish were less so and WASP even more stoic in the face of pain. Presuming that the actual physical experience was similar across groups, thedifferences were attributed to cultural expectations and socialization.2. Age a. Emotional reactivity declines with age. Older persons report less extreme sadness in the face of adversity, but less extreme joy in the face of positive events, relativeto younger persons.b. Age-related decline reflects life experience, the development of coping skills, and the ability to take things “in one’s stride.” Some argue that there is a biological basis for such declines in emotional reactivity.c. Researchers continue to debate those characteristics of younger persons who havehigh versus low emotional reactivity. Data are not conclusive in support of either hypothesis. Competing hypotheses are:i. Steeling effects. Individuals who experience adversity early in life “toughen” up and can role with difficulties that come their way. They develop pro-active coping skills, and can manage both stress and the emotional consequences thereof. ii. Cumulative disadvantage hypothesis. Individuals who experience multipleadversities over time become worn down emotionally. Their coping abilities and perceived sense of control become compromised, and thus they have a more difficult time emotionally with life stressors. I. What is a Group?A. A group is a social unit that has two or more persons, and has ALL of the following characteristics. 1. Common goals: group members share at least one common goal to be achieved through joint action.2. Interaction: The group members communicate with and influence one another.3. Normative expectations: group members share a set of normative expectations (norms and roles)4. Identification: group members consciously identify with the group and think of themselves as members.II. Majority Influence and ConformityA. Conformity1. This refers to adherence by an individual to group norms or standards. It involves a change in behavior or beliefs as a result of real or imagined group pressure. A norm is a rule or standard that specifies how group members are expected to behave under given circumstances. Groups develop norms regulating a wide array of behaviors by members.2. Conformity in groups should not be taken for granted; group members usually conform, but not always. The amount of influence exerted by the majority on the individual varies widely. There are two main forms of influence that provide conforming behavior in groups: normative influence and informational influence. a. Normative influence. This type of influence occurs when group members conform to expectations held by others (i.e., norms) in order to receive the rewards andor avoid punishments that are contingent on adherence to these expectations. This essentially involves “going along with the crowd” to avoid rejection or stay in people’s good favor.”b. Informational influence. This type of influence occurs when a group member accepts information from others as valid evidence about objective reality. Influence of this type is likely to occur in situations that involve uncertainty or that lack objective standards ofreference. It also occurs on tasks where members attempt to discover a correct answer to a problem. Under these conditions, members will often rely on the group’s majority to gain a senseof what is valid or true. The majority exerts influence on individual members by providing information that defines reality and that serves as a basis for making judgments or decisions.i. Sherif (1936) autokinetic effect study. This is one of the most famous experiments in social psychology. Here, the study focused on a physical phenomenon called the “autokinetic effect.” This means that something can move by itself. The autokinetic. effect occurs when a person starts at a stationary pinpoint of light located at a distance in a completely dark room. Most people will think that the light is moving around. This was the starting point of Sherif’s study. He put subjects in a laboratory setting and asked them (by themselves) to estimate how far the light moved. Subjects really had no way of guessing the correct answer and no frame of reference. From the subjects’ estimates, the researcher was able to determine a range of responses for each subject. [Note, in reality, the light is not moving].Sherif then took three subjects into a room, and had them observe the light. Although these people had widely different estimates of the movement when they were alone, the estimates made in groups converged. The lack of an external set of information and being uncertain about one’s own judgment led individuals to use OTHERS’ estimates for defining reality. When the group of subjects was broken up, and the individuals observed the light by themselves several weeks later, their estimates of the movement distance echoed those made by the group.B. Majority Influence (or “why do we bend to the pressures of others”?)1. Majority influence is the process by which a group’s majority pressures an individual to adopt a position on some issue. A classic study by Asch (1951, 1955, 1957 – 1970sreplication shown in video clip) illustrates this principle. His studies were conducted with a sample of students at Haverford College. Using a laboratory setting, Asch set up a situation where an individual was surrounded by a majority that agreed unanimously on a factual matter (on the topic of size judgments), yet

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