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What Is Social Cohesion? - Definition & Theory

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  • 0:00 Mob Mentality and…
  • 0:51 Social Cohesion and…
  • 2:24 Groups Sticking Together
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Why do some groups stick together through thick and thin, and other groups fall apart at the first hurdle? Whether a group stays together or not is called group cohesion. Find out more about cohesion below.

Mob Mentality and Practical Performance

The term 'mob mentality' brings to mind a crowd of angry people, often carrying torches and pitchforks, and the violent things this sort of crowd can do. Not every incident of mob mentality is so dramatic, though - often, it's a much quieter event and takes place in board rooms and voting booths. The power of groups to repress originality is well documented; however, groups can also serve important functions. Even if an important scientific discovery can be made by a single person, the task of bringing that discovery to life often falls to a group of engineers and other scientists.

So how do groups form and stay together? What is it that keeps a group of individuals in a coherent relationship without everyone going their separate ways?

Social Cohesion and Key Concepts

Social cohesion is the set of characteristics that keep a group able to function as a unit. What constitutes group cohesion really depends on whom you ask. For instance, psychologists look at individuals' traits and similarities among the group members. Social psychologists treat cohesion as a trait that combines with others in order to influence the way the group does things. Sociologists tend to look at cohesion as a structural issue, measuring how the interlocking parts of the whole group interact to allow the group to function. Beyond all these disciplinary differences, there are some generalizations we can make about how groups function as a unit.

First, there are some terms we should define to get started.

The first concept is that of incentive. An incentive is a reward offered to get a person to do something. Anyone who has worked a job they don't like that much is familiar with incentives. Pay functions as an incentive to keep working. People with incentives to work as a group will do better than those without.

Another important concept is that of social norms. Like other norms, social norms are standards of behavior. These norms apply to the function individuals have in the group. Norms can include a dress code, standards of conduct, or admissions standards. Norms tend to keep a group working better together as long as the norms are uniformly enforced. Selectively ignoring norms tends to result in disciplinary measures for group members. If the group as a whole ignores norms, cohesion could be weakened by a feeling of apathy toward the norms and group as a whole.

Groups Sticking Together

There are many kinds of proverbial 'glue' that can help groups stick together. The three we will discuss here are: purpose, magnetism, and interpersonal factors.

The purpose of a group has much to do with how closely a group sticks together. More accurately, cohesion can be determined by how closely the purpose of the group matches the motivations and talents of its members. A group may have a really lofty goal, like ending world hunger; group members may want to do it and really desire success. However, if the group doesn't have the resources or expertise then their goal will remain out of reach, and people who believe in the goal of the group might find it better to go elsewhere.

Another example of this phenomenon is forced grouping, like a group project in class. Everyone says they intend to do the best they can, but often students find that many of their classmates flake out on their attendance and contributions. This can be caused by a variety of factors, and a lack of commitment to doing well in the course is a big one. Often, people have other priorities, and if group work in this one class isn't as important to them, then cohesion suffers.

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