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Group Dynamics

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Group Dynamics

The study of group dynamics is strongly influenced by the field of social psychology. Social psychologists try to understand human behavior in its broader social context, in contrast to most subfields of psychology which focus on the individual. In essence, social psychologists are interested in the ways that individuals, groups, and larger social aggregates influence people behaviorally, cognitively, affectively, and physiologically. Human behavior is thus viewed as a function of the social environment. The term dynamics pertains to the scientific study of motions produced by specific forces; in the study of group dynamics the focus is on social forces operating on individuals as members of human groups.

Social processes operating in human groups may be examined at three levels of analysis: within individuals (intrapersonal), between individuals (interpersonal), and at the group level. Because social psychologists are psychologists, they tend to have an individualistic (intrapersonal) or interpersonal orientation, in contrast to the group-oriented approach of sociology. This has at times created a conceptual rift between psychologists and sociologists. As pointed out by group dynamicists have attempted to close (or at least bridge) the gap between individual- and group-level analyses.

The Nature of Groups

In examining the nature of groups the focus is on defining the term group and identifying the typical characteristics of groups.


An adequate definition of the term group should strike a balance between being sufficiently broad to include most social aggregates that are true groups and being sufficiently narrow to exclude most social aggregates that are not true groups.

The following formal definition meets these criteria: A group is (a) two or more individuals (b) who influence each other (c) through social interaction.

Some theorists add a fourth element, namely that the aggregate should have common goals. This makes the definition unnecessarily narrow in that it would define groups without common goals out of existence.


Group dynamicists need a coherent framework for studying groups. There are six key features of groups that provide a basis for discussing their dynamics: interaction, structure, size, goals, cohesiveness, and temporal change.

1. Interaction

Interaction refers to the ways in which group members influence one another's behavior. Common varieties of interaction are physical, verbal, nonverbal, and emotional interaction. Interaction is a core group characteristic in that it serves as a definitional feature for the concept of group.

2. Structure

Structure refers to the underlying patterns of stable relationships among group members in group interaction. Important components of group structure are roles, status (authority), attraction relations, and communication networks.

3. Size

Size is an intervening variable, which is to say it has an indirect effect on group dynamics. Hence, size in and of itself is not the critical quality; it indirectly influences other aspects of the group. Dyads (two-member groups), for example, cannot be reduced in size without dissolving. In mobs, on the other hand, the size of the social aggregate is so large that there is not much opportunity for face-to-face interaction among all individuals. Despite its indirect influence on group dynamics, size is nonetheless a core group characteristic, indeed serving as a definitional feature: a group cannot exist with fewer than two members! Most groups have from two to seven members; a general principle of group dynamics is that groups tend to gravitate toward the smallest size. An important group dynamics principle with regard to group size is that the larger the group, the more complex and formal its structure tends to be. There is thus an interaction between group size and group structure.



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