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Week 2

2. Basics of Group Psychology

Here we’ll look upon some universal basics from a science of group psychology, which you shall be aware of as a director. In the next week, we’ll look more on applying it in the rehearsal studio.


A. Psychology is the science of the mind and behavior.

B. The goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict, and control mental events and behavior.

C. Psychology can best be understood by studying events at different levels of analysis: the levels of the brain, the person, and the group.

D. The level of the brain is where we examine the activity of brain systems, structural differences in people’s brains, and effects of genes and chemicals (such as hormones)

on the mind and behavior.

E. The level of the person is where we study mental events: the function (mental processes) and content (mental content) of the mind. Mental contents include knowledge, beliefs, desires, and feelings; mental processes include operations that interpret, transform, and store mental contents.

F. The level of the group includes all our social interactions, past and present.

G. Events at the different levels are interdependent and are always interacting. They are also influenced by the physical environment.

INDIVIDUALS INTERACT AND RELATE to others in a group in many ways.

We normally think of face-to-face interaction and verbal communication as the most common and normal mode of individual interaction in groups. However, it is well known that groups bring something to a task or problem which is superior to the contribution of any one individual. The focus of this chapter is on how individuals behave and perform in small groups. This will be looked at from two main perspectives. First, when individuals perform in front of an audience where there is little or no communication with the observing group or audience. Second, how individuals perform in small groups where face-to-face interaction and communication takes place. There are assumptions that individual performance is enhanced in a group setting and that groups perform better than individuals are both considered and questioned.

Activity 1

Firstly, we’ll look into group development. Watch this short 4-minutes video to get a quick understanding of the group development phases:

After watching the video, answer this question:

1. From your point of view, what the group was missing?

2. What would create cohesion in a group faster?

3. What is the role of a leader in the group? Did the leader in the video do a good job?

Figure 1 summarizes these five stages and indicates the key features likely to be present at each stage. Research has provided considerable support for this five-stage model of group development. The stage to which a group has developed can be assessed through a questionnaire which focuses on two broad areas: the task in hand and evaluation of the group by the individual members. Task areas include: how well individuals understand the goals of the group; how well the group is organized to achieve the goals; and how well problem-solving takes place. Group evaluation areas include: how much conflict is present; the degree of interdependence between the group members; and how much individuals enjoy being part of the group.

FIGURE 1: Five stages of group development. Notice the dotted lines indicate that if the group adjourns because members leave, the group may need to return to a storming or norming stage

Social facilitation

Imagine you have been playing the flute for over ten years and that you are soon to play in front of a large audience. Do you think your performance will be enhanced or worsened compared to when you have played alone when practicing the music? Now imagine that you have been asked to play tennis in front of a large group of people and that you have hardly played tennis before, let alone received any coaching. You decide to have a short practice with a friend. Do you think your performance at tennis will be better or worse in front of an audience than when you practiced without an audience present? These are questions that the area of social facilitation in social psychology has been investigating for over 100 years.

Performance in the presence of others

The first psychologist formally to investigate social facilitation was Triplett (1898), who noticed that racing cyclists traveled faster on a racing circuit when in competition with another cyclist compared with when cycling alone. Triplett (1898) conducted an experiment with young children who were asked to wind fishing line using a reel as fast as they could. In one of the experimental conditions each child wound the line alone, and in the other condition a child wound a line with another child present performing the same task. Triplett did not instruct the children in the latter condition to compete with each other. As predicted, children doing this task alone were slower than when together.

Drive theory of social facilitation

Zajonc (1965) suggested that we find the mere presence of other people emotionally arousing. He then went on to make a fundamentally important distinction between dominant or accessible responses and non-dominant or inaccessible responses. Dominant or accessible responses are those we have learned, rehearsed or had considerable past experience of. In the examples given earlier, playing the flute would be regarded as a dominant response – you are practised, experienced and skilled at the task. Non-dominant or inaccessible responses are those that are not well learned and we have little experience of, such as the example of playing tennis.

Zajonc’s drive theory claims that the mere presence of an audience is arousing, and that this increases the tendency to produce dominant responses. If the dominant responses are appropriate or correct in relation to the task, performance will be enhanced, but if inappropriate, performance will be impaired compared to when the person performs the task alone.

Student actors shall get used to tell the stories, first to each other and then to the audience. Example of exercise to help them on this path:

Exercise example if you work with a play: Telling the Plot

Guidelines: Divide your group into pairs, and let them  tell the plot of the play in terms of key characters and events to each other. It is suggested for each student actor to have at least three partner changes. Each actor may have already analyzed the main events of the plot or this may be the first time you have to consider the important points of the plot. Speaking the plot points out loud allows a collective understanding of what is important and helps everyone to see the progression of the unfolding story in their imaginations.


When telling the plot, answer the questions: “What happens first?” “And then what?... And then what?... And then what?” This gives you a quick, clear snapshot of the entire play. This is vital even if you are only working on one scene from the play, because you must understand what has happened to the characters before your scene begins, and also what your scene sets in motion for the events that follow. When you tell the plot, feel free to fill in the blanks of the story with your imagination, but be sure to have all the given facts first. Later on, we will go back over what is called Telling the Novel. At that time you will have an opportunity to really embellish the story with great imaginative details.

If you do not have a particular play that you work on with the group, you can use this exercise as an example and develop it in a style of your approach.

Exercise: Investigating Other People’s Perspectives

(requires some research outside of class)

Purpose: generate empathy for others and an ability to step into their shoes; to be able to tell someone a story; to look at the beginnings of developing theatre through devised, collaborative means; this also develops listening and observation skills.


This time pick an issue in your local community. For example, if you are a student at university you could pick an issue on campus, such as date rape, cheating, or financial issues, or, better, reach out to understand issues in the surrounding community.

· Each member of the group goes out and interviews 3–6 people on the issue. Ensure that at least two of the people are different from you in gender, age, race, educational background, or other ways. While you are interviewing the person, you might ask if you can make an audio recording of the discussion. Notice every detail about the tone of voice, gestures, movement of the spine, facial expression, use of language, and other details of the person telling the story or stating the opinion.

· Come back to the group and tell each story as the person who told it to you.

· Now, select one character each and put them in a situation that has a location where they might intersect, a central event, and opposing objectives. N

· You may do an improvisation together that brings in as many of the lines and character attributes that you can and brings out divergent points of view on the topic, as above.

Group structure

Group structure refers to ‘the inter-relationships between the individuals constituting the group, and the guidelines to group behavior that make group functioning orderly and predictable’. In what follows we will consider four aspects of group structure: cohesiveness, norm, status and roles. We shall extend the consideration of roles to include role ambiguity and role strain.


Group cohesiveness may be regarded as the ‘glue’ that holds a small group of people together. Cohesiveness refers to the extent to which members of the group are attracted to each other, accept and agree with the priorities and goals of the group and contribute to help achieving the goals.

A certain level of cohesiveness must exist for any small group to be able to work together, and groups that lack cohesiveness may be characterized by members who dislike each other and are unable to agree on the group’s tasks and objectives. At the extreme, a lack of cohesiveness will result in a group disbanding or being so dysfunctional that it fails to achieve tasks that have been set. A certain level of cohesiveness is a basic requirement for any group to be able to function, and is recognised by organizations and senior managers in companies as being desirable. Given this, it is clearly important to understand what factors contribute to making a group cohesive.

The factors which can be identified include: attractiveness of the group; the opportunity to interact with members of the group; shared common goals; stable group membership; small size; past experience of success of the group; external threat, and status congruence.

Where the group is operating in an environment of high external threat or severe competition with another group, cohesiveness tends to increase. Faced with a ‘common enemy’ members of a group tend to pull together and put aside minor, internal differences.

Highly cohesive groups are generally effective in achieving goals and solving problems while at the same time providing a positive experience for individual group members. Highly cohesive groups are participative on the part of members, accept group goals, and evidence low absenteeism. However, there are downsides, and these occur because the group members enjoy being part of the group and in the presence of other members so much that they may lose sight of the goals of the group or work counter to the interests of the organization.

Group Roles

Roles in a group may be defined as ‘the sets of behaviors that individuals occupying specific positions in a group are expected to perform’. As such, roles, like status positions, both describe and prescribe the behavior of a person occupying a role. Roles are a common and pervasive feature of both formal and informal groups extending across work groups, family groups, teenage gangs, Hell’s Angels groups and so on. Role differentiation refers to how different people perform different roles within a group. Role differentiation may emerge as a natural process or be a consequence of allocation to a formal role (e.g. group leader, finance officer, note-taker). Roles will often have norms of behavior associated with them, but are interpreted differently depending on the individual’s personality, for example, and interpretation of the role.

Roles serve three main functions. First, they allow for a division of labour to take place among the members of a group; this should result in efficient operation of the group on the task set. Second, roles bring order and predictability to the group; individuals know their own role and the roles of other people in the group. Third, a role provides a sense of identity for a person; roles may be associated with status and give the person standing among others, and enhance that person’s self-esteem.

Role strain refers to the difficulties a person experiences when performing or trying to enact a particular role. This may be caused by the person lacking the skills, experience or expertise needed to perform the role effectively or by external forces.

1 Different group members may disagree on what should be expected from the role.

2 There may be disagreement over the range of behaviors associated with a role and what is prohibited.

3 Members may disagree about appropriate situations for the role.

4 Members may disagree on what is core and required from the role and what is optional or peripheral.

Conflict between roles may be difficult to resolve, but at times of crises a hierarchy of roles often emerges which dictates how a person will behave.


So, we have looked at four main components of group structure which affect both how the group functions and the various types of relationships that exist and develop between the members of a group. If we also include communication structure, we can see five main components as shown in Figure 2.  For a group to operate effectively in terms of achieving the task set and to the satisfaction of the individual group members, all these components come together to operate in a complex way and determine the unique structure of a group.

Figure 2. Five components of group structure which affect performance, stability and effectiveness of a group

Group development is typically characterized by forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. These stages may be returned to by an established group when circumstances change. A new person who joins a group will be socialized into the goals, rules and norms of the group. The roles of group members may change to accommodate the new member of the group. Often new members go through initiation rites before being accepted by the group.

Group size is an important and often neglected variable. Groups of between three and eight are usually faster at completing tasks than larger groups. In small groups, individuals may be more self-conscious. In very large groups, crowds or nations, deindividuation may occur; this is where individuals feel anonymous and are more likely to conform to group norms.


Think of situations when the roles in the group are necessary, when they are not necessary, and when they are not wanted at all?

Think of how you can avoid creating mini-groups within a whole group? Hint:

From your point of view, describe how you can apply this basic Group Psychology knowledge to your work with ensemble?

How can you, as director, gently guide and lead your actors through the stages of group development? Is it possible?

Make research on the topic of group dynamic, and write an essay 350 - 700 words

Send your reflections to the institute.

Studying Materials

To read:

Necessary to read:

The Social Psychology of Behaviour in Small Groups. Donald C. Pennington

General Knowledge (optional): Introducing Psychology Brain, Person, Group Stephen M. Kosslyn Robin S. Rosenberg page 133-136; 150-153; 162-165; 438-440

Good to Know:




Deadline: 23 April

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