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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 behaviour, tracking the spread of diseases in society, creating effective therapy techniques, and following the emergence and popularity of new ideas and technologies.[1] 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 and managerial studies, as well as communication studies.

History

The history of group dynamics (or group processes)[2] has a consistent, underlying premise: 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.' A social group is an entity that has qualities which cannot be understood just by studying the individuals that make up the group. In 1924, Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer proposed ‘There are entities where the behaviour 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).[3] (The proposition remains questionable[[2] has a consistent, underlying premise: 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.' A social group is an entity that has qualities which cannot be understood just by studying the individuals that make up the group. In 1924, Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer proposed ‘There are entities where the behaviour 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).[3] (The proposition remains questionable[by whom?], since modern biologists and game theorists do look to explain the 'structural laws of the whole' in terms of 'the way the elements fit together'.[citation needed])

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.[2] 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.[2] (The concept of a collective consciousness is not essential to group dynamics.[citation needed])

Eventually, the social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) coined the term group dynamics to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people.[4] 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.[5] Throughout his career, Lewin was focused on how the study of group dynamics could be applied to real-world, social issues.

Increasingly, research has applied evolutionary psychology principles to group dynamics. As humans social environments became more complex, they acquired adaptations by way of group dynamics that enhance survival. Examples include mechanisms for dealing with status, reciprocity, identifying cheaters, ostracism, altruism, group decision, leadership, and intergroup relations.[6] Also, a combination of evolution and game theory has been[when?] used to explain the development and maintenance of cooperative behavior between individuals in a group.[citation needed]

Key theorists

Gustave Le Bon

Gustave Le Bon was a French social psychologist whose seminal study, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1896) led to the development of group psychology.

William McDougall

The British psychologist William McDougall in his work The Group Mind (1920) researched the dynamics of groups of various sizes and degrees of organization.

Sigmund Freud

In 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.[2] 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.[2] (The concept of a collective consciousness is not essential to group dynamics.[citation needed])

Eventually, the social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) coined the term group dynamics to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people.[4] 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.[5] Throughout his career, Lewin was focused on how the study of group dynamics could be applied to real-world, social issues.

Increasingly, research has applied evolutionary psychology principles to group dynamics. As humans social environments became more complex, they acquired adaptations by way of group dynamics that enhance survival. Examples include mechanisms for dealing with status, reciprocity, identifying cheaters, ostracism, altruism, group decision, leadership, and intergroup relations.[6] Also, a combination of evolution and game theory has been[when?] used to explain the development and maintenance of cooperative behavior between individuals in a group.[citation needed]

Gustave Le Bon was a French social psychologist whose seminal study, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1896) led to the development of group psychology.

William McDougall

The British psychologist William McDougall in his work The Group Mind (1920) researched the dynamics of groups of various sizes and degrees of organization.

Sigmund Freud

In In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, (1922), Sigmund Freud based his preliminary description of group psychology on Le Bon's work, but went on to develop his own, original theory, related to what he had begun to elaborate in Totem and Taboo. Theodor Adorno reprised Freud's essay in 1951 with his Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda, and said that "It is not an overstatement if we say that Freud, though he was hardly interested in the political phase of the problem, clearly foresaw the rise and nature of fascist mass movements in purely psychological categories."[7]

Jacob L. Moreno