Psychology: group influences on behaviour investigation essay Unit 2

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Examining Group Influences on Behaviour



The aim of this investigation is to examine the influence of others on individual behaviour and what happens in group decision-making with different leadership styles.





One class of Year 11 Psychology students from one city engaged in this investigation. There were 2 male and 17 female students who participated.

3 were leaders of the 3 groups. There was 1 group with an autocratic leader, 1 with a democratic leader and 1 with a Laissez-Faire leader.

They were to construct a tower out of straws and tape in 10 minutes under their respective leaders.




The findings were that with democratic leadership people felt their ideas were taken into consideration more than in other groups and felt they had more influence on the final decisions made. In the group with autocratic leadership, members had lower sense of responsibility for the decisions made compared with the democratic group but were more committed and productive and cohesive than the other groups. The group with Laissez Faire leadership experienced lower average scores for every aspect for this investigation. They had lower cohesiveness, productivity, commitment and influence on decision-making, which was reflected by them having the shortest tower.




This experiment focusses on the influence of various leadership styles on the previously established concepts of: group conformity, cooperation, group polarisation, competition, social inhibition/facilitation and the impact of group size.




Competition is when rival groups strive to ‘outdo one another to achieve a goal’ (Fletcher and Garton). Groups with competition between members will have less group solidarity and less likelihood of achieving group goals whereas when there is competition between groups, cohesion and successful achievement of goals are increased. However, a negative of inter-group competition is that hostility and aggression can arise and lead to violence and a dangerous atmosphere in the presence of both groups.


A study that is renowned for tracing the ‘formation and functioning of negative and positive attitudes of members of one group toward another group and its members’(Fletcher and Garton) is the research study of Muzafer Sherif in 1961. The study was at a summer camp for 11-12-year-old American boys. The boys did not know each-other before the camp and were divided into 2 groups. One group called themselves the ‘Rattlers’ and the others the ‘Eagles’. During the camp the two groups ‘came into contact under conditions which were competitive, so that the victory of one group meant loss for the other’ (Sherif 1961 published by After each competition the losing team increased their hatred of the other group because their loss was their fault, thus intergroup conflict increased. ‘Only after an unmistakable state of friction between the two groups was manifested in hostile acts and derogatory stereotypes’ was there intervention from the experimenters in order to discontinue the abuse and violence between members of the rival groups.


The deterioration of conflict into hostility and aggression as seen in the research by Sherif in 1961 can be seen in society when the competition for resources such as, jobs or land can also cause social groups to oppose each other.




In groups people often cooperate with each other in order to achieve common goals. Cooperation is more common than competition within a group when the benefits to the group are increased. ‘Even in competitive teams, cooperation and coordination within the group are seen as being more likely to produce a win rather than individual brilliance’. The productivity of the group far outweighs the effort of an individual and this knowledge causes groups to overcome differences and complete a task in the interests of each other.


The concept of cooperation can be seen in the second stage of Sherif’s the ‘Eagles and the Rattlers’ study from 1961. After the two groups began physically and verbally abusing each other, the groups were disbanded and tasks (called superordinate goals) were undertaken by all of the boys. The cooperation between them to accomplish these various tasks were influenced by the: ‘high appeal value [of achieving these goals] for both groups, which cannot be ignored by the groups in question, but whose attainment is beyond the resources and efforts of any one group alone.’(Sherif 1961 published by


The cooperation of members of a group ultimately leads to increased productivity and cohesion and vice versa.



Group Conformity:

Group conformity is when a person conforms to the behaviour of the majority in order to ‘gain social acceptance’( because of several factors.


People are more likely to conform because of:

-       Group size: a person in a larger group will be more likely to conform

-       Unanimity: when the rest of the group has come to a collective decision

-       Cohesion: when there is unity amongst the group

-       Status: the degree to which a person conforms to a group increases in high-status groups

-       Culture: in cultures where priority is given to the group over each individual in it people are more likely to conform than in cultures that operate in the opposite way

-       Gender: there are norms that society has that influence how men and women conform to social influence

-       Age: younger members of a group are more likely to conform than older members


A study that includes this concept is of Solomon Asch’s experiment in 1951. In his study the participant entered a room and sat at a table with several other people. Unbeknown to them, the other people were confederates of the study and had previously agreed to give a particular response. The group was shown ‘a series of cards that had a reference line and three comparison lines. Over the course of several trials, subjects were required to select the comparison line that corresponded in length to the reference line’( below figure 1 for example cards). For some of the cards the confederates had all been asked to give a correct answer, and for some, an incorrect answer. When the confederates gave an incorrect answer when the line obviously matched to a different line, 37% of the time participants would conform to this decision and also choose the wrong line.


Figure 1:


The Impact of Group Size:

A key factor in determining the dynamics of a group is communication, which is heavily dependent on the size of the group. In a small group, the flow of conversation is more organised, members are discouraged from social loafing by stronger members, division of the group is less likely and there are sufficient resources to allow for people to be included in the task.


In 1956 Asch studied to influence of group size on whether members of that group would conform. He found that the larger the group, the more people conformed. The results were that with one other person the participant’s rate of conformity was 3%. With two others it was 13% and with 3 or more other members it was 32% ( This reinforces the above statement and means people are less confident in staying true to their ideas in the presence of a larger group.



Leadership styles:

‘Autocratic: Tight control over the group and its activities; decisions made by the leader Democratic: Group participation and majority rule.

Laissez-faire: Low levels of any kind of activity by the leader.’ (Kavanagh, E citing Lewin 2010)



Autocratic Leadership:

Autocratic leaders are less egalitarian and are more focussed on having a rigid structure and maintaining power and control over group members. They are more concerned about the task at hand and because of their ‘social distance’ (Kavanagh, E citing Bass 1990) from the rest of the group they are less considerate of the social interactions.



Democratic Leadership:

A democratic leader is one that does not ‘impose goals’ (Kavanagh, E citing Lewin 2010) upon its members but rather allows them to have responsibility for their individual decisions and voluntary participation. Democratic leaders are often ‘socially close’ (Kavanagh, E citing Bass 1990) to followers and participate in the tasks with the group members. By sharing power and investing attention to group members democratic leaders create positive relationships with their group and in turn successfully complete the task.



Laissez-Faire Leadership:

A Laissez-Faire leader is one that is isolated and withdrawn from the group and has a more passive approach to leadership. Because they are uninvolved and unconcerned in the actions of the group, the group is less organised and less productive.




The aim of this investigation is to examine the influence of others on individual behaviour and what happens in group decision-making with different leadership styles.




It is hypothesised that the groups with autocratic and laissez-faire leaders would record themselves as having on average lower productivity, cohesion and inclusivity compared with that of the democratic group.



The Dependent Variable:

The average ranking of:

-       Whether members felt like they were being listened to

-       The influence they had on decision making

-       Their commitment to the decisions of the group

-       The responsibility they had for making the decisions work

-       Their quality of participation in the group’s decision making

-       The cohesion of the group, out of 5.



The Independent Variable:

The leadership style adopted by 1 member of each of the 3 groups.

(Autocratic, Laissez-Faire and Democratic)






Figure 2


Figure 3*refer to appendix 5




Fletcher, J and Garton, A. 2017 Psychology WA ATAR Self and Others 3rd edition. Nelson Cengage Learning Australia, Melbourne.


Kavanagh, E. no year. Three Leadership Models: Kurt Lewin, Hershey and Blanchard, and Edwin Friedman. University Canada West Business School, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Retrieved from:


McLeod, S. A. (2008). Asch experiment. Retrieved from


no author, no year. Social influence. Lumen Candela: Lumen Learning. Washington DC. Retrieved from:


Sherif. M, Harvey. O, White. J, Hood. W, Sherif. W. 1961. Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment. Classics in the History of Psychology. York University, Toronto, Canada. Retrieved from:




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