The Goths, The Nerds, The Jocks, The Preps…

The Goths, The Nerds ,The Jocks, The Preps, The Hipsters: Identity

Whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we chose to or not we are all part of a group. Being the social creatures that we are humans automatically form and identify themselves with groups, whether it be familial, political, educational, social, orientation, culture, or fashion. We all navigate our days by shifting through our many group identities and interacting with the members of those groups.

It is not even necessary to leave the comfort of your own home to find groups. Households are composed of numerous groups that are constantly interacting with each other and battling for dominance. Whether it be the familial group as a whole, the parental group, the child parent group, the child pet group, the sibling group, the list goes on and on. Groups are everywhere, even when we perceive ourselves to be alone, we are identifying with a group.

At its most basic form grouping boils down to the ‘in’ and the ‘out.’ Consider the following scenario, you and a dozen others are attending a training seminar for a cooperation you hope to work for. Initially everyone may be milling about, inspecting refreshments, some people may stand closer to others, or everyone may have their own personal space. Either way there is a general dissociated feeling of everyone ‘being in this together’ or you may view everyone else as the competition immediately forming a group of 1.

Eventually someone speaks to someone else, this causes an immediate change in social dynamics. There is now an ‘in’ group and an ‘out’ group, if you have yet to speak to anyone and the general feeling of ‘being in this together’ is present you are immediately placed in what you perceive to be the majority ‘in’ group. The two speaking are now the ‘out’ group, you no longer identify with them and become wary of them. In essence they have become ‘the enemy.’

Now look at it from the pairs perspective, they have each made a friend and have become slightly more comfortable with the situation. They now have someone to share their immediate worries, expectations and goals with. Their anxiety has decreased while their confidence and subsequent performance has increased. In their eyes they are the ‘in’ group while everyone else is the ‘out’ group.

Within the larger group of strangers there is a sense of diffusion of responsibility, no one in particular feels as if they should be the one to initiate conversations because “somebody else will do it.” Whereas within the pair there is a heightened sense of responsibility and expectation, the group is small enough that each member can hold the other accountable and they are more likely to seek out and bring others into their group.

The group dynamics will slowly shift until there is a change in perceived power, now the more social pair group with its three or four members is perceived to be superior, while the larger group of strangers is perceived to be inferior. This is the power of group identity,  a very powerful factor in determining group success and persistence. The stronger the feeling of belonging is in a group, the stronger the sense of their being a group, the more empowered each individual becomes in carrying out actions through the name of that group.

Group identity is just one of the many factors that play a role in grouping, and it is arguably the most important one in retaining, recruiting, and enabling members of a group. The perception that someone belongs to something is a powerful motivator as long as that something is clearly defined.

Grouping and group identity can also cause someone to behave in ways that they would never behave in under different circumstances. Someone who is relatively shy and does not strike up conversation with strangers, is much more likely to if they are part of a group that is based around making new friends as long as they act under the identity of the group. Because their identity (locus of control) shifts from being themselves to being the group.

I am no longer John McShyAlot I am now John the PR man for SocialBeings Incorporated.

As you can see successfully identifying with a strongly defined group can have powerful effects on your behavior, thought process, and performance levels. While in the ideal world such a powerful psychology phenomenon would be used for good, it is more often the case that group identity is used to influence others to behave in negative ways, such as murder, robberies, vandalism and other crimes.

Whether its our group at home, our group in traffic, or our group at work we are all part of many groups, and form new ones without so much as a conscious thought. Being aware of these groups and how they can and do influence your behavior is key to gaining a better understanding of yourself and the things you identify with.

So ask yourself, which group are you apart of?