How Groups Influence Individuals

Researchers have found that for all animals, including human beings, the mere presence of other members of the same species may enhance performance on individual tasks. This phenomenon is known as social facilitation. With more complex tasks, however, the presence of others may decrease performance. This is known as social inhibition or impairment. It is not clear whether this occurs because the presence of others arouses the individual, leads individuals to expect rewards or punishments based on past experience, makes people self-conscious, creates challenges to self-image, or affects the individual's ability to process information. Most theorists agree that the nature of the task is important in the success of a group. For example, the group is more likely to succeed if the individual members' welfare is closely tied to the task of the group.

Groups provide modeling of behavior deemed appropriate in a given sit uation. The more similar the individuals doing the modeling are to the individual who wants to learn a behavior, the more powerful the models are. Groups reward members for behavior that conforms to group norms or standards and punish behaviors that do not conform. Groups provide a means of social comparison—how one's own behavior compares to others' in a similar situation. Groups are valuable sources of support during times of stress. Some specific factors that enhance the ability of groups to help individuals reduce stress are attachment, guidance, tangible assistance, and embeddedness. Attachment has to do with caring and attention among group members. Guidance may be provision of information, or it may be advice and feedback provided by the group to its members. Tangible assistance may take the form of money or of other kinds of service. Embeddedness refers to the sense the individual has of belonging to the group. Some researchers have shown that a strong support system actually increases the body's immune functioning.

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