Simplifying Group Complexity

People in groups may tend toward a convenient simplification of this inevitable complexity. Scholars have long recognized the tendency for group members to divide other group members into groups of "us" and "them" rather than to perceive each person as a distinct entity. Groups can often be divided into perceptually distinct, smaller groups. For example, a committee might be composed predominantly of elderly members, with only one or a few young members. The general tendency is for people to focus their attention on the smaller group. The reason for this is that the smaller group seems to "stand out" as a perceptual figure against the background of the larger group. Thus, the youthful member of an otherwise elderly committee is likely to attract a disproportionate amount of attention from the committee members.

Not only will the members of the larger group pay more attention to the smaller group, but the members of the smaller group will do so as well. Thus, the members of the smaller group will become more self-attentive, more aware of themselves and their behavior. On the other hand, the members of the larger group become less self-attentive, or, as Ed Diener contends, more deindividuated—less aware of themselves and their behavior. For example, the single woman in a group of mechanical engineers that are otherwise men will quickly stand out. The male mechanical engineers may tend to think of that one distinct individual in terms of her status as a woman. Moreover, the lone woman may become more sensitive than usual about her behavioral transgressions of the norms guiding sexual roles in an all-male working environment.

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