Ideas in depth
The relationship between the individual and the group is one of the core issues of social psychology.
Is group behaviour simply the sum of the characteristics of individual group members? Put a load of aggressive people together and you will have an aggressive group. Raise a generation of authoritarians and you will have an authoritarian society.
Or are individuals transformed in the group so that, say, where two groups are in competition, all members become conflictual and hostile? Or, if the role of the group is to be oppressive, will individual members inevitably become oppressive?
Historically, there has been something of a shift from the first position (individualism) to the second (situationism). The Stanford Prison Experiment is possibly the most powerful expression of the view that situations overwhelm individuals.
The position we advocate (dynamic interactionism) argues for the contribution of both group situation and individual. First, individuals are drawn to groups whose ideologies match their own. Second, individuals are transformed by being members of groups. But, third, individuals can transform groups when they are seen to exemplify group norms and values.
More generally, groups do not turn people into robots or zombies. Rather, they provide a framework for people to make sense of their world and to be effective within it.
- Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. D. (2007). Beyond the banality of evil: Three dynamics of an interactionist social psychology of tyranny. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 615-622.
- Postmes, T. & Jetten, J. (Eds.) (2006). Individuality and the group: Advances in social identity. London: Sage.
- Reynolds, K. J., Turner, J. C., Branscombe, N. R., Mavor, K. I., Bizumic, B., & Subasic, E. (in press). Interactionism in personality and social psychology: An integrated approach to understanding the mind and behaviour. European Journal of Personality.