Groups of people, whether small or large, operate in society at different levels, from families and friends, to work colleagues and sports teams, to cults and gangs. Membership of groups can have a major impact on individuals. In this essay I will look at how belonging to a group can have positive effects on the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of an individual, such as a sense of belonging and a sense of identity, and how group pressure can have negative effects on its members, such as influencing them to be hostile to others.
Being in a group increases our sense of belonging, which raises our self esteem. It helps us make sense of a confusing world by finding our place in it. When groups compare themselves to others, they create standards to separate their group – the in-group – from others who are different – the out-group. Hunter (2006, cited in Spoors et al 2011) studied skateboard culture and described how the skateboarders' clothes gave them their sense of identity. The style of skateboarding also determined whether they were punk skaters or hip hop skaters. Relating to an in-group gives us our self-concept – the values and beliefs we hold about ourselves – and a stronger sense of identity.
People in groups tend to form loyalties with their fellow members quickly. Sherif (1961, cited in Spoors et al 2011) carried out a set of experiments, called Robber's Cave, at a boys' summer camp. The boys were split into two groups and asked to compete against each other. In each group, the boys co-operated – this shows how in-group favouritism happens spontaneously and naturally.
When joining a group, it's possible to take on a different identity. Dorinne Kondo, a Japanese/American anthropological researcher born in the US, went to live in Japan for 26 months to see if she could mould herself into a Japanese woman (cited in Spoors et...