How big are your social groups? How do you decide who to include in those groups? In this lesson, we discuss how group size can affect group dynamics and relationships. We also discuss group membership and differentiate between in-groups and out-groups.
Social Group Sizes
Social groups come in all shapes and sizes. You may have a small family and a close group of friends, but I'm sure you know others who have a large family and a wide group of friends. In a previous lesson, we discussed the distinction between several types of social groups and how the type of group can determine group dynamics and relationships. However, the size of the group also has a significant effect on these aspects of a group.
Social Group: Dyad
The most basic, fundamental type of social group that consists of only two people is called a dyad. The relationship between the two people can be linked through romantic interest, family relation, work, school, and so on. As you likely know from personal experience, these relationships can be emotionally intense but also unstable and sometimes only temporary. In a dyad, both members of the group must cooperate to make it work. If just one fails to cooperate, the group will fall apart.
Social Group: Triad
If you add another person to a dyad, it becomes a triad. A triad is a social group that consists of three people. This seemingly simple addition of just one person significantly affects the group interactions and dynamics. The relationships in a triad can still be fairly intense, but the group is typically more stable than a dyad. If two people in a triad have a dispute, the third member of the group can act as mediator and help reach a compromise. If push comes to shove, one person can leave a triad, and a group would still exist, unlike the one person who would remain after the breaking of a dyad.
Another group characteristic that is strikingly different between dyads and triads is the allocation of responsibility. Imagine you work in an office with only one other person. You bring a sandwich to work and put it in the fridge. Later, when you go to eat your sandwich, half of it is missing. Because there is only one other person in the office, you immediately deduce the culprit. However, if you add just one more person to this scenario, you could not automatically know which of the two office mates ate your sandwich. By changing the dyad to a triad, the lines of responsibility are blurred.
Larger Social Groups
As a group's size increases beyond three members, there are a number of trends that emerge. The intimacy and loyalty of the members decrease as the group grows larger. Because the relationships are less intimate, group members feel less obligation and responsibility. The contribution of each member in a large group is less than it would be in a small group. A larger group is also less likely to reach a consensus because of the plethora of ideas and opinions. On the positive side, large groups do have more stability because the group exists even with the loss of several members.
In-Groups and Out-Groups
Regardless of the size of our groups, we have boundaries and membership criteria that distinguish members from nonmembers. These can be physical boundaries and criteria, such as demographic location or common physical characteristics. They can also be implied boundaries and criteria, such as personality and personal tastes.
All groups, however, tend to maintain the physical or implied boundaries and membership criteria by developing a strong distinction between 'we' and 'they.' The individuals that are included in 'we' form what is known as the in-group. The in-group is any group that one belongs to or identifies with. Likewise, the individuals that are included in 'they' form the out-group, which is any group that one does not belong to or identify with.
For example, imagine you are a member of a soccer team. When thinking of your team members, you would use the term 'we.' ('We are going to win!') Your team is the in-group. When thinking of the team you'll be competing against, you would use the term 'they.' ('They are going to lose!') That team is the out-group.
Favoritism and Derogation
In-groups and out-groups have no specific size limits. An in-group may be as small as a dyad or as large as the world. The out-group, then, is simply everyone who is not in that dyad or is outside the world. People tend to think of the in-group as being special or unique. The tendency to favor an in-group is called in-group favoritism or in-group bias. On the other hand, people tend to think of the out-group as less worthy or commonplace and may even feel hostile against the members of the out-group. The tendency to feel threatened by or hostile against the out-group is called out-group derogation.
A well-known experiment that illustrates in-group favoritism and out-group derogation was conducted by Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif in 1954. They took a group of young boys for an extended stay at a summer camp, where they were divided into two groups. The boys did not know each other, and at first they felt a sense of camaraderie with all of the campers. However, as time passed, they started to feel a strong loyalty to their assigned group and became increasingly antagonistic and hostile towards the other group. Competition became fierce during games and activities.
But when the experimenters created some emergency situations, both groups were required to cooperate. The water supply was interrupted, and as the two groups worked as a single group to fix the problem, their old hostilities were forgotten. This experiment shows how in-groups are constantly changing and that boundaries of groups can be changed or adapted for the situation. And before the boys came together to problem solve, they exhibited classic signs of in-group favoritism and out-group derogation.
In summary, a social group's size has a significant impact on its members' interactions and relationships. A dyad is a social group that consists of two people and is considered the most basic and fundamental social group. A triad consists of three people and is considered more stable than a dyad because the third group member can act as the mediator during conflict. As a group's size continues to grow, stability increases, but one-on-one relationships deteriorate, and loyalty and individual contributions decrease.
Regardless of a group's size, all of us have ways of differentiating members of the group from nonmembers. Any group that you belong to or identify with is your in-group. Anyone outside of your in-group is considered to be part of the out-group. In-group favoritism is the tendency of people to favor their in-group and think that it is special and unique. Likewise, out-group derogation is the tendency of people to feel threatened by the out-group and think of it as less worthy or commonplace.
Completing this lesson should enable you to:
- Compare and contrast dyads and triads as well as in-groups and out-groups
- Understand how group size affects the dynamics of the group
- Define in-group favoritism and out-group derogation