Group cohesion describes the way individuals are bound together in a group and feel mutual attraction. Pressures and constraints, both external and internal, act on the group and its members to maintain the group’s norms and the group as an entity
Development Of The Concept
Early research in the 1940s and 1950s led to the first theory of group cohesion to explain dynamics in small groups. This theory posited that group cohesion is determined by the level of attraction among group members and the extent to which the group mediates among members and fulfills their needs and goals. When these levels were high, membership continuity and adherence to group norms resulted. Later research tended to focus strongly on intragroup forces and the aspect of mutual attraction of group members, while ignoring external forces.
The understanding of group cohesion was further developed by incorporating theories of social identity (in 1979) and self-categorization (in 1985). Both theories differentiated interpersonal and group processes from one another. Social identity theorists use self-inclusive social categories such as nationalities to show how those categories constitute part of the self-image while impacting the perceptions and behavior of members. The own group, and thus the self, is enhanced. Self-categorization theory emphasizes perceptions of difference from other groups and reduction of differences within the group. Social attraction was determined by the social relationships of an individual, by how much others were seen to be similar, and by whether or not the boundaries or differentiations among various groups were seen as permeable and legitimate.
Research initially focused on the cognitive processes of group members regarding their particular group, but it was expanded to include any collectivity an individual person thought of belonging to. In the early 1990s, new insights included groups being also seen in structural terms (from network theory) and a greater focus on the role of emotions. Research suggested that emotional attachment to the group increases as the individual’s sense of control increases, a dynamic especially present in smaller groups. The concept of relational cohesion as an enforcer of group cohesion entered the analysis. Relational cohesion focuses on exchange patterns within a group that lead to positive emotions, uncertainty reduction, and the creation of behavioral commitment of members. Equal power relations and high group density increase cohesion, solidarity, and the perception of a shared experience within a group. Recent research has focused on the connections of group members and their impact on social consensus in groups.
Work on group cohesion mainly comes from sociology and psychology. Sociologists have focused mostly on the individual’s connection to a group and on emotional reactions, and psychologists have focused on larger social categories and the aspect of cognitive self-categorization. The ecological theory argues that a group is maintained when member characteristics in the group spread by keeping members or recruiting new ones who fit those characteristics. Different groups may also compete for members and affect each other’s development. Research has often neglected the influence of the external environment on group cohesion. Critics also charge that the focus of group cohesiveness has been reduced to interpersonal processes or attraction within a group, which does not achieve theoretical expectations.
The Impact Of Cohesion
The more intense and frequent the connections among group members, the greater group stability and cohesion. The closer the members are to the core of the group, the longer will they remain members. Cohesion is connected with conformity. Processes of conformity in groups develop due to the importance of group membership to individual members, group influence on members, and group size. As the first two factors increase, so does conformity. But size impacts conformity more in smaller groups. The greater the level of cohesion, the more members will seek to recruit similarly thinking people for membership. Cohesion and high performance of a group can also promote one another. However, when good relations among group members are seen as more important, cohesion can also hinder high performance.
Very cohesive groups typically contain members who are more energetic in group activities and more concerned about the well-being of the group, aligning their own state of feeling with that of the group.As cohesiveness impacts the quality and quantity of group interaction, the behavior of group members, and their satisfaction, cohesiveness represents a powerful potential for a group’s development.
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- Hogg, Michael A. The Social Psychology of Group Cohesiveness: From Attraction to Social Identity. New York: New York University Press, 1992.
- McPherson, Miller, and Lynn Smith-Lovin. “Cohesion and Membership Duration: Linking Groups, Relations and Individuals in an Ecology of Affiliation.” In Group Cohesion, Trust and Solidarity, edited by Shane R. Thye and Edward J. Lawler, vol. 19, 1–36. Oxford: Elsevier Science, 2002.
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