Return to Group Dynamics Resource Page

History of Group Research
Donelson R. Forsyth, University of Richmond

The first issue of 2000 of the journal Group Dynamics contains a series of articles that review topics that have dominated researchers' efforts over the past century. These papers, many of which were presented as invited addresses at the groups preconference for the Society of Experimental Social Psychology in the Fall of 1998, offer answers to 7 key questions about groups:

  • What forces bind members to their groups?
    Group cohesion: From "field of forces" to multidimensional construct by Kenneth L. Dion.

    Psychological research on cohesion stems from contributions in the 1940s and 1950s by Festinger and his colleagues, who defined cohesion as a "field of forces" acting on individuals to remain in the group. In the 1950s, critics of this definition noted that different cohesion measures often failed to intercorrelate. By the mid-1960s, A. J. Lott and B. E. Lott (1965) conceptualized cohesion as interpersonal attraction because researchers mainly focused on this "force." Multidimensional models of cohesion predominated in the 1980s and 1990s, the debate now focused on defining those dimensions. In addition to A. V. Carron's (1988) hierarchical model, several bidimensional models are summarized, including task and social cohesion, vertical and horizontal cohesion, belongingness and morale, and personal versus social attraction. Cohesion will continue to be a vital construct in research on groups and organizations into the 21st century, with important challenges to be addressed.

  • Who will lead and who will follow?
    Leadership research and theory: A functional integration by Marty Chemers

    This historical overview of leadership theory and research with an eye for commonalities provides an opportunity for integration. Early unproductive research focused on personality traits and behaviors. A recognition of the more complex nature of the phenomenon resulted in the development of contingency theories that examined leader characteristics and behavior in the context of situational parameters. The 1970s brought an awareness that perceptions of leaders by followers and others, and perceptions of followers by leaders, were influenced by cognitive biases arising from prior expectations and information-processing schema. Ironically, attention was belatedly drawn to the study of female leaders, who were often the victim of cognitive biases and negative assumptions. Recent research has reflected on the role of cultural differences in leadership processes and has been drawn again into the search for outstanding leaders with universally effective characteristics. The article concludes with an integration of current knowledge in leadership effectiveness.

  • When do groups excel at the tasks they attempt?
    Work groups: From the Hawthorne studies to work teams of the 1990s and beyond by Eric Sundstrom, Michael McIntyre, Terry Halfhill, & Heather Richards

    This article summarizes the Hawthorne studies related to work groups and their legacy and traces applications of work groups and related empirical research through the 1990s. A selective review of empirical studies of work group effectiveness conducted in work settings and published in the last 20 years addresses 4 questions: (a) What identifying features have field researchers used in operationally defining work groups? (b) What research strategies have been used, and to address what kinds of questions? (c) What criteria of work group effectiveness has the field research measured, using what sources of data? (d) What variables have researchers sought to link with measures of work group effectiveness? On the basis of answers to these questions, an agenda for future research about work groups and work teams is suggested.

  • How do groups influence their members?
    Milestones in the psychological analysis of social influence by Bill Crano

    Social influence research has been, and remains, the defining hallmark of social psychology. The history of this preoccupation is reviewed selectively, and important contributions to social influence and persuasion are discussed. The central thesis of the presentation is that a return to a consideration of the social group, a critical source of identity and individuality, pays major dividends in understanding the processes of social influence. Moscovici's insistence on the importance of minority influence processes is seen as a harbinger of the return of the group to social influence. Finally, the leniency contract is proposed as a model that integrates these insights with important features of social identity, the elaboration likelihood model, and considerations of structural attitude theory in developing a predictive device that accounts for immediate and persistent majority attitude change as well as indirect and delayed focal change attributable to minority persuasion.

  • Do groups influence their members' self-conceptions?
    From I to we: Social identity and the collective self by Mike Hogg and Kip Williams

    Social identity theory is a nonreductionist account of the relationship between collective self and social group. Cognitive-motivational processes affect, and are affected by, group, intergroup, and societal processes, to make people behave and think about themselves and others in ways that are generally characteristics of groups and specifically shaped by the social context. The development and current status of social identity theory is described historically, as part of the debate between collectivistic and individualistic perspectives on social psychology, the social group, and the selfconcept. The authors trace the debate from Wundt through Durkheim, LeBon, McDougall, Mead, and the "crisis in social psychology" and show how the development of European social psychology framed the development of social identity theory. The article concludes with a critical discussion of the collectivistic credentials of social identity theory.

  • How can relationships between groups be improved?
    Reducing intergroup conflict: From superordinate goals to decategorization, recategorization, and mutual differentiation by Sam Gaertner, Jack Dovidio, Brenda Banker, Missy Houlette, Kelly Johnson, and Elizabeth McGlynn

    We examine how cooperation among the groups of summer campers in M. Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. J. White, W. R. Hood, and C. W. Sherif's (1961) classic Robbers Cave study produced intergroup harmony and the implications of this work for contemporary theoretical issues. Our analysis of the descriptions of the events at Robbers Cave and data from our own laboratories converge to support I F. Pettigrew's (1998) proposal that, when viewed over time, decategorization, recategorization, and mutual intergroup differentiation processes each can contribute to the reduction of intergroup bias and conflict. Furthermore, these categorization-based approaches not only can reduce bias individually but also can facilitate each other reciprocally.

  • How can groups be used to enhance psychological adjustment and well-being?
    Therapeutic applications of groups: From Pratt's "thought control classes" to modern group psychotherapy by Sally Barlow, Gary Burlingame, and Addie Fuhriman

    The therapeutic application of groups has a long and nonlinear history. Group psychotherapy, drawing on research and applications from diverse fields, covers an array of topics from psychoeducation to analysis (often blurring the boundary between group psychology and group psychotherapy). The efficacy of group psychotherapy has been established in the empirical literature. The progression of topics or themes in group psychotherapy has moved from concerns about leadership to members, interactions, and the resultant group processes such as therapeutic factors. These topics of interest, assessed throughout the century using methodologies form simple tallies to complex sequential equation modeling, have become increasingly sophisticated to match the complexity of a system that attempts to track member-to-member, leader-to-member, and member-to-leader interactions. A brief look at the past nearly 100 years of group psychotherapy is reviewed here, highlighting history, research, extant theory, and application, all of which illuminate how group therapy acts as a change agent.

    Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice publishes original empirical articles, theoretical analyses, literature reviews, and brief reports dealing with basic and applied topics in the field of group research and application. We construe the phrase group dynamics in the broadest sense - the scientific study of all aspects of groups - and publish work by investigators in such fields as psychology, psychiatry, sociology, education, communication, and business. The journal publishes articles examining groups in a range of contexts, including ad hoc groups in experimental settings, therapy groups, naturally forming friendship groups and cliques, organizational units, self-help groups, and learning groups. Theoretically driven empirical studies of hypotheses that have implications for understanding and improving groups in organizational, educational, and therapeutic settings are particularly encouraged. The journal can be accessed at this link.