The Political Psychology of Groups
This chapter looks at the Political Being in their environment, that is, in the presence of, and as a member of, groups. Groups have a prominent role in politics. Small groups are often given the responsibility of making important political decisions, creating political policies, and generally conducting political business. Larger groups, such as the Senate, also hold a special place in politics and are responsible for larger-scale decisions and tasks such as passing legislation. Finally, large groups, such as states and countries, carry with them their own dynamics, especially regarding how they view each other and how they get along. Because so much political behavior is performed by groups, it behooves us to learn more about the basic processes that govern groups. Although groups are comprised of individuals, understanding group behavior cannot be attained from an understanding of individual behavior. Obviously, understanding groups involves an understanding of the individuals who comprise a group, but there are dynamics of groups that cannot be observed from examining individuals alone. Many observers (e.g., Durkheim, 1938/1966; LeBon, 1895/1960) note that individuals often behave quite differently when they are together than when they are alone. Consequently, although the workings of the Political Being's mind are still operative, we are interested in the impact of the sociopolitical environment on behavior in this chapter.
The study of groups in social psychology has a short history, with some of the first studies being conducted just before World War II (e.g., Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939; Newcomb, 1943; Sherif, 1936; Whyte, 1943). Nonetheless, a vast amount of information is available about group behavior, and most of it can be applied to the study of groups in political settings. In this chapter, we review a variety of information about groups. The first half of the chapter focuses on the structural characteristics of groups, such as composition, formation, and development. The second half of the chapter focuses on the unique behaviors that take place in groups or because of groups, including influence, performance, decision making, and intergroup conflict.
Imagine all of the different types of collectives that exist in political settings. People work together to solve problems, set political policies and agendas, serve constituents, make legal decisions, run political campaigns, and make decisions about world problems. Do all of these collectives constitute groups? Groups researchers have been unable to answer that question. There is little consensus in the field about what characteristics of a collective make a group. Although most social psychologists would agree that a group is a collection of people who are perceived to belong together and are dependent on one another, there are other