Akkademia di Psicopolis

Why So Social an Animal?

The Functions of Groups
Donelson R. Forsyth / Virginia Commonwealth University

Man is by nature a social animal, and an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something in nature that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. . . . . . . .. . . . Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.

                  Instinct of Gregariousness 
Aristotle's famous quote suggests that we are, by our vary nature, herd animals: driven by an unrecognized, pervasive, biological predisposition to join together with other members of our species.

William McDougall, in his An Introduction to Social Psychology, 1908, argued that a "herd instinct" drives us to join others.

We are often told that the dullness of the country drives the people to the towns. But that statement inverts the truth. It is the crowd in the towns, the vast human herd, that exerts a baneful attraction on those outside it. (p. 303).

Sociobiology, or evolutionary psychology, is our modern instinct view of groups. It stresses the extraordinary advantages of sociality over isolation. Benifits in terms of reproduction (finding mates), avoiding predation, gathering food, social facilitation, division of labor, and the like. Like ants, termites, babboons, and dogs, we gather in groups because the advantages we accrue.

Psychological Needs and Sociality

Writing in Group psychology and the analysis of ego, in 1922 (actually Massenpsychologie), Freud states that being a member of a group satisfies basic psychological needs and desires. As an aside, he notes that these ties are no longer sexual in nature: "We are concerned here with love instincts which have been diverted from their original aims, though they do not operate with less energy on that account".

Other Need Theories

Henry Murray's (1938) needs approach
Abraham Maslow's (1962) infamous hierarchy of needs includes ones that are relevant to social living

Social Provisions and Functionality

Functional approaches suggest that group life is preferred over solitude because groups supply the resources, or provisions, we need for social existence. Relevant "Functional" Views

Social provisions work of Shaver and Buhrmeister (1973) that draws a distinction between psychological intimacy and integrated involvement.

Bale's (1980) SYMLOG theory that highlights dominance/submission, positive/negative, and socioemotional/task orientation

Weiss's distinctions between social and emotional loneliness

Parsons and Shils (1951) theory of action that stresses adaptation, goal-attainment, integration, and pattern-maintenance.

Fiedler's (1978) distinction between task and socioemotional leadership.

Schutz's FIRO model that stressesthe need for control, inclusion, and affection

Yalom's factors model that examines therapeutic resources that groups provide their members.

Tentative Theoretical Model

The Big Five Functions of Groups

  • Belonging (introverson/extraversion):Groups provide the opportunity for contact and relationships with other individuals in an organized social network; gregariousness, other-oriented, social, belongingness; promotes general communication and social interaction among people; the group might be an organized one. Match to other theories:
    • integrated involvement
    • FIRO inclusion
    • nAffiliation
    • Forming stage of group development
    • social loneliness
  • Do you feel that you belong in the group?
  • Do you feel ignored when you are in the group?
  • Does the group accept you?
  • Do other members make you feel your aren't welcome?
  • Does the group too often exclude you?
  • Do you interact in meaningful ways with the people in the group?
  • Do other members try to ostracize you from the group?
  • Do you feel like an outsider when you are in the group?
  • Does the group help you feel that you belong to it?
  • Intimacy (friendly/unfriendly): Provides the opportunity for warm, supportive, loving relationships with others; friendships, cohesive work groups, families.
    • psychological intimacy
    • affection
    • nIntimacy
    • relationship-oriented
    • Bales' Positive socioemotional actions
    • Norming stage
    • emotional loneliness
  • Do you feel safe and secure in this group?
  • Do the members of the group dislike you?
  • Are the members emotionally distant from you?
  • Do group members behave in a kind-hearted fashion toward you?
  • Do group members distrust you?
  • Do members care about you?
  • Do the members of the group like you?
  • Are the group members emotionally close to you?
  • Are group members sometimes unkind toward you?
  • Would you say that the members of the group are your good friends?
  • Generativity (conscientious/undirected): Provides the opportunity for productivity, achievement, success, control of resources; task-orientation
    • task-oriented
    • control
    • Bales' task actions
    • Performing stage
  • Can you get more done with the group rather than without the group?
  • Do you value the work the group does?
  • Are you more productive as a result of being in the group?
  • Do you focus more on leisure than productivity when in the group?
  • Is it important for the group to get things done?
  • Does your group rarely strive for success?
  • Do you socialize in the group more than try to be productive?
  • Do you get little accomplished when you are in the group?
  • Does the group assist you in getting your tasks accomplished?
  • Stability (neuroticism or stability): Provides the individual with the means to increase stability or decrease anxiety; minimizes self-doubt, tension, vulnerability, insecurity, and self-pity while increasing self-esteem, relaxation, hardiness, safety, and self- satisfaction; tension reduction, a basis for self-esteem and identity.
    • Bales' negative socioemotional behaviors
    • Storming phase of group development
    • Social support
  • Is the group a source of stress for you and the members?
  • Does the group increase your conflicts and tensions?
  • Does the group give you encouragement when you need it?
  • Does the group sometimes threaten your sense of self-worth?
  • Does the group increase your sense of calm?
  • Do group members too often let you down when you need their help?
  • Does the group help you cope with life's stresses?
  • Is membership in this group a source of worry for you?
  • Does the group provide you with emotional support?
  • Adaptability (openness or intelligence): Provides the opportunity for creativity, refinement of ideas, self-improvement, increased understanding of self and others, improved interpersonal relations
    • social learning
    • social skills development
    • member socialization
  • Is this group a source of useful information for you?
  • Does the group generally oppose your new ideas?
  • Does the group inspire you to try and learn new things?
  • Does the group make your future seem brighter?
  • Does the group include role models for you?
  • Does the group encourage you to think creatively?
  • Does the group fail to provide standards for you?
  • Do you think you are more imaginative as a result of being in the group?
  • Do members of your group express a narrow range of interests?
  • Would you say that most people in your group are creative?



  • Are you an influential member of this group?
  • Do you sometimes take charge in the group?
  • Do you feel powerful when you are in this group?
  • Do people in this group look to you for leadership and guidance?
  • Can you exercise control over what happens in the group?
  • Are you relatively uninfluential in this group?
  • Are you a member rather than a leader of the group?
  • Do you watch and respond more than act and direct in the group?
  • Does this group sometimes cause you to change?
  • Functions of groups. The initial goal of the research effort was the identification of the basic functions groups fulfill for their members. Measurement of such functions is made difficult by individuals' lack of awareness of their needs.
  • Structure of groups. The "functions of groups" list (inclusion, intimacy, generativity, stability, and adaptability, power) asks individuals to rate their group's ability to meet basic needs. A "functional structure of groups" list would ask individuals (who may be uninvolved observers) to rate the group on six qualities (inclusiveness, intimacy, generativity, stability, adaptability, power) that will determine its ability to meet the basic nee
  • Personality X Group fit. People join groups to satisfy five basic needs, including the need for inclusion, the need for intimacy, the need for achievement, the need for social support and stability, the need for intellectual and creative development, and the need for power. The magnitude of these needs varies across people.
  • Processes. Six basic processes that operate in groups across time can be identified: inclusion (who is in, who is out, what are the boundaries), intimacy (how cohesive are we, sociometric structure), generativity (task), individual member adjustment and stability (interpersonal dynamics), adaptation (change in individual members), and power (conflict and influence).
  • Phases. Although only heuristic, groups develop through six essential stages: inclusion, growth of intimacy, increasing work orientation, support, individual-member change, and conflict (power). The stages are forming, warming, performing, supporting, transforming, and storming.
  • Types. Groups vary across the dimensions. Some will provide for inclusion only (individuals seated at a bar), others will meet all the functions (extremely cohesive research and development group). Consideration of where the group falls on each characteristic provides the means of typing each group examined.

The question, Why so social an animal? was translated into a new question "What do groups do for their members?". The Answer:

  • They include them
  • They accept them
  • They help them achieve
  • They nurture them
  • They provide them with information
  • They supply them with power.