Would You Jump Off A Bridge If……

…..All your friends were doing it?

Yes, when I was seven.

Welcome to the power of the group, one of the most useful tools and weapons at humankind’s disposal. Virtually all of our major decision-making occurs in a group setting, from the government to party attire it comes down to one thing, the group.

Why groups are powerful:

Groups pull their power from four major areas, responsibility, acceptance, thought, and polarization. In group settings it’s easy to think someone else will do it, or to feel so empowered (by the support of other members) that you’re able to ask for that number or accept that death.

Diffusion of Responsibility-This is the sense we feel when acting out at a bar with our group of friends. It’s the feeling of anonymity provided to us by a group, outsiders won’t know which one of us in the group shouted that obscenity, or pulled that prank just that it occurred. It’s also the sense we feel when walking down the street with friends and ignoring the homeless asking for change. Someone else will give it to him. When we’re in a group there is always someone else.

Social Acceptance-Whether we are in a group of criminals or a group of church-goers being accepted by the group, particularly the influential members is a powerful motivator. If we believe our actions will garner approval we become extremely more likely to do it, even if it’s out of our comfort zone. An ambitious new getaway driver will still participate in the high stakes bank heist if he believes it will get him an ‘in’ with the boss. A struggling middle class family in a strong church community will still donate money they might not have, if they believe they will appear more pious for doing so.

Group Think-How is it that ants or termites are able to build such massive complex structures to live in without a floor plan, or a head insect directing them to their tasks? While the exact reason remains a mystery to me, it is still an excellent example of group think. A cognitive phenomenon that occurs when decisions that are believed to influence the group as a whole need to be made. This is something that large organizations of any kind excel at; when something grows too large for one person to manage more managers are created. As the managerial group increases so does the likelihood of group think. While group think is something that occurs in a state of deindividualization it is powered and maintained by the individual.

Group Polarization-In today’s society this event is portrayed as extremist. This brings with it all the negative connotations of a rioting populace, terrorist, displeasing politicians, or religious groups that are even rejected by their non-extremist counterparts. This is only the stereotype of group polarization it does occur in less publicly known circumstances. Imagine yourself going out with a group of friends; all of your friends swear that the restaurant you all are going to is amazing, while you on the other hand are on the fence. By the end of the night you may not think the restaurant is amazing, but you’ll at least think it’s better than most.

All of these components combine to act as the fuel the gives groups their power, and each one is fueled by its own set of components, ranging from the individual to the environment, to the voice of the weakest minority or powerful majority. While groups are capable of unspeakable evil they are also capable of unheard of good and in the end it is up to the individuals in that group to determine what and where they’ll be known for. In the end, it is up to you.

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