Social Psychology

How Do Groups Change Individuals?

Did you ever wonder why people who are accused of serious crimes such as murder are entitled to be tried by a jury rather than by a judge? The word “entitled” implies that a group decision might be more advantageous for the defendant than a decision made by one individual, even if that individual happens to be a judge who is an expert on the law. Jury members are ordinary citizens who might have more in common with the defendant than would a judge.

Beyond mere similarity to the defendant, however, citizens of the Western countries have an almost mystical faith in collective wisdom. Hundreds of movies such as Twelve Angry Men depict jury deliberation as essential to “getting at the truth” and arriving at a just verdict. Popular movies and novels imply that something magical happens when jurors from themselves into a group. In such fictitious accounts, people who are ignorant and prejudiced are somehow transformed into paragons of wisdom and virtue merely by being part of a group that is charged with a momentous decision. In other words, being part of a group somehow changes individuals so that they become “better than themselves.” ..

Groups are “social aggregates that involve awareness and potential mutual interaction.” .. Natural groups differ in the scope of their activities and in how long they interact. Some groups engage in a limited set of activities, where as others engage in a broad range of activities. Similarly, some groups dissolve as soon as they have accomplished the group goal, whereas other stay together indefinitely, because their goals are never completely accomplished.

– Charles G. Lord

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