Comfort in a Group

Theories of affiliation explain why the presence of others can be a source of comfort. In Schachter's classic 1959 research on fear and affiliation, university women volunteered to participate in a psychological experiment. After they were assembled, an experimenter in medical attire deceived them by explaining that their participation would involve the administration ofelec-trical shock. Halfthe subjects were told to expect extremely painful shocks, while the others were assured that the shocks would produce a painless, ticklish sensation. In both conditions, the subjects were asked to indicate where they preferred to wait while the electrical equipment was being set up. Each could indicate whether she preferred to wait alone in a private room, preferred to wait in a large room with other subjects, or had no preference.

The cover story about electrical shock was a deception; no shocks were administered. The fear of painful shock, however, influenced the subjects' preferences: Those who expected painful shocks preferred to wait with other subjects, while those who expected painless shocks expressed no preference. Schachter concluded that (as the saying goes) misery loves company. In a later study, subjects were given the choice of waiting with other people who were not research subjects. In this study, subjects who feared shock expressed specific preference for others who also feared shock: Misery loves miserable company.

The social comparison theory of affiliation explains the appeal of group membership. Peoplejoin groups such as clubs, organizations, and churches to support one another in common beliefs or activities and to provide one another with information. Groups can also be a source of pressure to conform. One reason individuals feel pressured to conform with group behavior is that they assume the group has better information than they have. This is termed informational influence. Cohesive groups—groups with strong member loyalty and commitment to membership—can also influence members to agree in the absence of information. When a member conforms with the group because he or she does not want to violate the group's standards or norms, he or she has been subjected to normative influence.

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