Ever wonder why group workouts are so successful and popular? Training for marathons, triathlons, CrossFit, and many other physical activities and sports often have a huge group-training component.
At first, it seems obvious. Humans are social creatures. It’s just more fun to workout with friends. But, even if you’re a loner there may be an actual physical benefit to working out in a group. That benefit is called group flow.
By R. Keith Sawyer | January 24, 2012
R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and education at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the country’s leading scientific experts on creativity. He elaborates on the ideas in this essay in his book Group Genius.
Researcher R. Keith Sawyer looks to comedians and jazz groups for 10 keys to more creative, successful teams in the office, on the field, and beyond.
Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe a particular state of heightened consciousness—what some people refer to as being “in the zone.”
Csikszentmihaly discovered that extremely creative people are at their peak when they experience “a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future.” When they enter the flow state, people from a wide range of professions describe feeling a sense of competence and control, a loss of self-consciousness, and they get so absorbed in the task that they lose track of time.
Group behaviour (or group behavior) in sociology refers to the situations where people interact in large or small groups. The field of group dynamics deals with small groups that may reach consensus and act in a coordinated way. Groups of a large number of people in a given area may act simultaneously to achieve a goal that differs from what individuals would do acting alone (herd behaviour). A large group (a crowd or mob) is likely to show examples of group behaviour when people gathered in a given place and time act in a similar way—for example, joining a protest or march, participating in a fight or acting patriotically.
Special forms of large group behaviour are:
- Crowd “hysteria“
- Spectators – when a group of people gathered together on purpose to participate in an event like theatre play, cinema movie, football match, a concert, etc.
- Public – exception to the rule that the group must occupy the same physical place. People watching same channel on television may react in the same way, as they are occupying the same type of place—in front of television—although they may physically be doing this all over the world.
Group behaviour differs from mass actions, which refers to people who behave similarly on a more global scale (for example, shoppers in different shops), while group behaviour refers usually to people in one place. If the group behaviour is coordinated, then it is called group action.
Swarm intelligence is a special case of group behaviour where group members interact to fulfill a specific task. This type of group dynamics has received much attention by the soft computing community in the form of the particle swarm optimization family of algorithms.
Group dynamics is a system of behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a social group (intragroup dynamics), or between social groups (intergroup dynamics). The study of group dynamics can be useful in understanding decision-making behavior, tracking the spread of diseases in society, creating effective therapy techniques, and following the emergence and popularity of new ideas and technologies. Group dynamics are at the core of understanding racism, sexism, and other forms of social prejudice and discrimination. These applications of the field are studied in psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, education, social work, business, andcommunication studies.
A group’s structure is the internal framework that defines members’ relations to one another over time. The most important elements of group structure are roles, norms, values, communication patterns, and status differentials.
A “role” can be defined as a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way. Roles may be assigned formally, but more often are defined through the process of role differentiation. Role differentiation is the degree to which different group members have specialized functions. Functional (task) roles are generally defined in relation to the tasks the team is expected to perform. Other types of roles are the socio-emotional role, which helps maintain the social fabric of the group, the individual role and the leader role.
Group “norms” are the informal rules that groups adopt to regulate members’ behaviour. Norms refer to what should be done and represent value judgments about appropriate behaviour in social situations. Although they are infrequently written down or even discussed, norms have powerful influence on group behaviour.
Group “values” are goals or ideas that serve as guiding principles for the group. Like norms, values may be communicated either explicitly or on an ad hoc basis. Values can serve as a rallying point for the team. However, some values (such as conformity) can also be dysfunction and lead to poor decisions by the team.
Communication patterns describe the flow of information within the group and they are typically described as either centralized or decentralized. With a centralized pattern, communications tend to flow from one source to all group members. Centralized communications allow consistent, standardization information but they may restrict the free flow of information. Decentralized communications make it easy to share information directly between group members. When decentralized, communications tend to flow more freely, but the delivery of information may not be as fast or accurate as with centralized communications. Another potential downside of decentralized communications is the sheer volume of information that can be generated, particularly with electronic media.
Status differentials are the relative differences in status among group members. Status can be determined by a variety of factors, including expertise, occupation, age, gender or ethnic origin. Status differentials may affect the relative amount of pay among group members and they may also affect the group’s tolerance to violation of group norms (i.e., people with higher status are given more freedom to violate group norms).
Group development focuses on the somewhat unique way groups are formed and the way they may change over time. There are a variety of development theories and some suggest that groups develop through a series of phases culminating in effective performance. The most common of these models is Tuckman’s stages of group developmentmodel (1965). It breaks group development into the following five stages:
- Forming: As the group convenes, conflict is usually low to non-existent as everyone tries to determine their individual role and the personalities of fellow team members. This stage is often marked by agreeable neutrality while the group takes form and begins to navigate the unknown.
- Storming: Storming occurs after the group overcomes the sense of uncertainty and begins to actively explore roles and boundaries. Chaos, pronounced efforts to influence others, and instances of conflict and/or enthusiasm are common.
- Norming: Norming in groups indicate that norms and role ownership are emerging. Generally this means that conflict and chaos is decreasing or has ended.
- Performing: Originally noted as the final stage, performing occurs when the team completes their primary task(s).
- Adjourning: Tuckman (1977) refined the model to include a fifth stage to address how the group begins to disengage and move on to new tasks potentially beyond the team.
While Tuckman’s (1965) model is useful in describing developmental processes, there are instances when groups do not strictly adhere to the exact sequence. Additionally, the storming stage may decrease but not fully dissipate and continue across other stages.
The history of group dynamics (or group processes) has a consistent, underlying premise: ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ A social group is an entity, which has qualities that cannot be understood just by studying the individuals that make up the group. In 1924, Gestalt psychologist, Max Wertheimer identified this fact, stating ‘There are entities where the behavior of the whole cannot be derived from its individual elements nor from the way these elements fit together; rather the opposite is true: the properties of any of the parts are determined by the intrinsic structural laws of the whole’ (Wertheimer 1924, p. 7).
As a field of study, group dynamics has roots in both psychology and sociology. Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920), credited as the founder of experimental psychology, had a particular interest in the psychology of communities, which he believed possessed phenomena (human language, customs, and religion) that could not be described through a study of the individual. On the sociological side, Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), who was influenced by Wundt, also recognized collective phenomena, such as public knowledge. Other key theorists include Gustave Le Bon (1841–1931) who believed that crowds possessed a ‘racial unconscious’ with primitive, aggressive, and antisocial instincts, and William McDougall (psychologist), who believed in a ‘group mind,’ which had a distinct existence born from the interaction of individuals.
Ultimately, it was social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) who coined the term group dynamics to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people. In 1945, he established The Group Dynamics Research Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first institute devoted explicitly to the study of group dynamics.Throughout his career, Lewin was focused on how the study of group dynamics could be applied to real-world, social issues.
An increasing amount of research has applied evolutionary psychology principles to group dynamics. Humans are argued to have evolved in an increasingly complicated social environment and to have many adaptations concerned with group dynamics. Examples includes mechanisms for dealing with status, reciprocity, identifying cheaters, ostracism, altruism, group decision, leadership, and intergroup relations.
Swarm intelligence (SI) is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial. The concept is employed in work on artificial intelligence. The expression was introduced by Gerardo Beni and Jing Wang in 1989, in the context of cellular robotic systems.
SI systems consist typically of a population of simple agents or boids interacting locally with one another and with their environment. The inspiration often comes from nature, especially biological systems. The agents follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of “intelligent” global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. Examples in natural systems of SI include ant colonies, bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, and fish schooling. The definition of swarm intelligence is still not quite clear. In principle, it should be a multi-agent system that has self-organized behaviour that shows some intelligent behaviour.
The application of swarm principles to robots is called swarm robotics, while ‘swarm intelligence’ refers to the more general set of algorithms. ‘Swarm prediction’ has been used in the context of forecasting problems.
Evolutionary psychology (EP) is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such asmemory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations – that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Some evolutionarypsychologists apply the same thinking to psychology, arguing that the mind has a modular structure similar to that of the body, with different modular adaptations serving different functions. Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.
The adaptationist approach is steadily increasing as an influence in the general field of psychology.
Evolutionary psychologists suggest that EP is not simply a subdiscipline of psychology but that evolutionary theory can provide a foundational, metatheoretical framework that integrates the entire field of psychology, in the same way it has for biology.
Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations including the abilities to infer others’ emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, and cooperate with others. They report successful tests of theoretical predictions related to such topics as infanticide, intelligence,marriage patterns, promiscuity, perception of beauty, bride price, and parental investment.
The theories and findings of EP have applications in many fields, including economics, environment, health, law, management,psychiatry, politics, and literature.
Controversies concerning EP involve questions of testability, cognitive and evolutionary assumptions (such as modular functioning of the brain, and large uncertainty about the ancestral environment), importance of non-genetic and non-adaptive explanations, as well as political and ethical issues due to interpretations of research results.