Social group

In the social sciences, a social group can be defined as two or more people who interact with one another, share similar characteristics, and collectively have a sense of unity. Other theorists disagree however, and are wary of definitions which stress the importance of interdependence or objective similarity. Instead, researchers within the social identity tradition generally define it as "a group is defined in terms of those who identify themselves as members of the group". Regardless, social groups come in a myriad of sizes and varieties. For example, a society can be viewed as a large social group.

The attention of those who use, participate in, or study groups has focused on functioning groups, on larger organizations, or on the decisions made in these organizations. Much less attention has been paid to the more ubiquitous and universal social behaviors that do not clearly demonstrate one or more of the five necessary elements described by Sherif.

The relevant literature on animal social behaviors, such as work on territory and dominance, has been available since the 1950s. Also, they have been largely neglected by policy makers, sociologists and anthropologists. Indeed, vast literature on organization, property, law enforcement, ownership, religion, warfare, values, conflict resolution, authority, rights, and families have grown and evolved without any reference to any analogous social behaviors in animals. This disconnect may be the result of the belief that social behavior in humankind is radically different from the social behavior in animals because of the human capacity for language use and rationality. Of course, while this is true, it is equally likely that the study of the social (group) behaviors of other animals might shed light on the evolutionary roots of social behavior in people.

Empirical support for the social identity perspective on groups was initially drawn from work using the minimal group paradigm. For example, it has been shown that the mere act of allocating individuals to explicitly random categories is sufficient to lead individuals to act in an ingroup favouring fashion (even where no individual self-interest is possible). Also problematic for the social cohesion account is recent research showing that seemingly meaningless categorization can be an antecedent of perceptions of interdependence with fellow category members.

Group structure involves the emergence or regularities, norms, roles and relations that form within a group over time. Roles involve the expected performance and conduct of people within the group depending on their status or position within the group. Norms are the ideas adopted by the group pertaining to acceptable and unacceptable conduct by members. Group structure is a very important part of a group. If people fail to meet their expectations within to groups, and fulfil their roles, they may not accept the group, or be accepted by other group members.

Social groups are also small groups but are of moderate duration. These groups are often formed due to a common goal. In this type of group, it is possible for outgroup members (i.e., social categories of which one is not a member to become ingroup members (i.e., social categories of which one is a member) with reasonable ease. Social groups, such as study groups or coworkers, interact moderately over a prolonged period of time.

Other factors also influence the formation of a group. Extroverts may seek out groups more, as they find larger and more frequent interpersonal interactions stimulating and enjoyable (more than introverts). Similarly, groups may seek out extroverts more than introverts, perhaps because they find they connect with extroverts more readily. Those higher in relationality (attentiveness to their relations with other people) are also likelier to seek out and prize group membership. Relationality has also been associated with extroversion and agreeableness. Similarly, those with a high need for affiliation are more drawn to join groups, spend more time with groups and accept other group members more readily.

By analogy to animal behavior, sociologists may term these behaviors territorial behaviors and dominance behaviors. Depending on the pressure of the common goal and on the various skills of individuals, differentiations of leadership, dominance, or authority will develop. Once these relationships solidify, with their defined roles, norms, and sanctions, a productive group will have been established.



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