HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Social Belonging, Groups, Collective Behaviour, Aggression, and Conformity

Section 6.2—Sociology and Behaviour

Social Belonging and Groups

  • individuals are part of many different groups which individuals interact with—family, friends, teams etc.
  • the feeling of belonging to a group is an essential element of living in society
  • social belonging is based on solidarity—the ties that unite members of a group, and these ties allow individuals to experience social belonging
  • a dyad is a group consisting of 2 members (ex: married couple, best friends), and it’s the most intimate type of group
  • an informal group is a less intimate gathering of people in which member interaction isn’t governed by explicit rules (ex: neighbours)
  • a primary group involve members who have a personal and emotional relationship with one another (ex: family)
    • typically primary groups are the most influential group to which one can belong
    • group is deeply invested in and concerned for its members
    • the members know one another’s personalities and share in one another triumphs/failures
    • ties within the group are very strong
    • primary group has power to persuade its members and expects a certain degree of conformity to its rules and beliefs (ex: parents restrict certain behaviours of their children)
    • primary group exerts a great deal of influence over the individual, and helps shape and define an individual’s attitudes
  • a secondary group is a large, impersonal gathering of people in which members’ roles are measured by their contributions to a common goal/purpose (ex: sports team—it’s large and impersonal, where intimate details aren’t shared among members)
    • exerts less influence than a primary group
    • instead of intimate talk, secondary groups involver small talk and occasional discussions
  • a virtual community is a group of individuals who communicate online (ex: people who interact over Facebook)
    • main function is to communicate
    • typically the members want to communicate globally with like minded individuals for a variety of reasons (social support, companionship, exchange of information)
    • face-to-face communication is rare, and members have creative/innovative ways of expressing themselves (ex: new forms of language like “lol”)
    • virtual community creates dependency among its members—at any given time of the day, members can have access to each other
      • the ability to chat at 3 A.M. in Toronto with someone in Mumbai is a form of communication that has far reaching implications for how we see ourselves now and in the future
    • can also be part of a person’s  primary and secondary group
  • social networks are individuals who are linked together by one or more social relationships (doesn’t have to be virtual like Facebook)
    • on average, a human can only have meaningful social relationships with about 150 people at one time (Dunbar Number theory)
      • Robin Dunbar believes that if groups have larger than 150 people, the individuals become strangers to each other
    • when using Dunbar’s theory on Facebook, the average person has 120 friends, but people usually interact with a smaller group between 4-26 people
      • therefore, despite our technological advances, there is a limit to the number of interactions with which our brains can keep up


The Power and Influence of Groups

  • every group has behaviours on how its members should and shouldn’t behave and the group exerts a great deal of influence over the individual behaviour of their members
  • groups exert a great deal of influence over the individual behaviour of their members—most groups rely on roles, norms and sanctions
    • however, not all groups have the same roles, norms and sanctions (informal or formal penalty/reward to ensure conformity within a group)
  • a group sets out guidelines for the social roles being enacted among its members (ex: in a workplace, the rules that govern these roles may be very explicit or even written down)
    • the role an individual has in a group is typically attached to a specific function (most of us readily accept the roles expected by a group, because we have had practice with roles due to our socialization)
  • groups also establish guidelines for appropriate behaviour among their members, and these behaviours and called norms
    • society as a whole relies on norms to keep order
    • groups develop norms that reflect those of society to help govern their members as well
    • norms vary from group to group, but they all have the same purpose of keeping order and ensuring a certain level of behaviour
  • the group is responsible for imposing sanctions for proper and improper behaviour, and is used to encourage certain kinds of behaviours, and discourage other kinds (ensure conformity)
    • informal sanctions: word of caution (for unwanted behaviour), pat on the back (for correct behaviour)
    • formal sanctions (very rare): expulsion, imprisonment
  • a gang is a group of people associating for antisocial/criminal purposes; it has many characteristics of a typical group
    • members hold specific roles, and are expected to behave according to certain rules
    • a gang can also hold a great deal of influence over its members by pressuring them to commit acts in order to stay in the gang
    • sanctions occur for those who don’t conform to expected behaviour
    • gangs provide identity, sense of power/purpose, and protection
      • loyalty and respect for its rules are very important
  • gangs appeal to youth who have unpleasant memories of their home life—most members have been isolated from their families, culture, school, community and religion
    • gang membership can occur due to lack of employment opportunities, particularly for those around 16 years of age (when most youth get their first job)


Collective Behaviour

  • collective behaviour is social behaviour by a large group that doesn’t reflect existing rules, institutions, and structures of society
    • groups engage in this kind of behaviour to accomplish a specific goal/outcome
  • unlike the primary group, the collective isn’t interested in establishing personal/intimate relationships with its members
  • collective behaviour is spontaneous, usually in response to a social crisis or natural disaster
    • collective behaviour of the group doesn’t conform to established norms, but the behaviour isn’t out of the ordinary either (it occurs in situations where established norms are unclear)
  • ex. of collective behaviour: panic—a highly emotional and irrational response on the part of an individual or a group to a dangerous or harmful social event
    • people panic in life-or-death situations, such as fires and disasters; however, studies show that people caught in disasters indicate that most people behave rationally and don’t panic


Convergence Theory

  • theory assumes that when a collectively/large group of like-minded individuals come together, collective action is the most common outcome
  • individuals in a collectivity are behaving according to their own beliefs but do so with the protection of others behaving in the same manner
  • when applied to frustration-aggression theory, collective behaviour can explain why riots and racial violence occur
    • riots are civil disorders stemming from a social grievance, caused by a disorganized crowd exhibiting aggression, who may turn to acts of violence, vandalism, and destruction of property
  • example: when members of a collectivity may be part of the same social class, ethnicity, gender or age group, they’ll find it easy to act out because their frustrations are the same
    • when the collectivity gains momentum and popularity, sometimes its origins become unclear or distorted
      • sometimes the collectivity may degenerate into extreme violence (ex: Nazi Party’s hold over Germany, and the consequences of that collective behaviour led to the Holocaust)


The Rational Decision Theory

  • theory assumes that people make rational decisions whether or not to participate in collective behaviour
    • the motivating factor is always based on self-interest
  • according to the theory, individuals have a specific number/percentage of other people who must already be engaged in the group before they will join
    • this number is the individual’s threshold—a level/point at which something would/wouldn’t happen (tipping point)
      • individual thresholds widely differ
  • individuals prefer to favour larger groups over smaller ones, and more organized groups over less organized ones
  • individuals are likely to participate in collective behaviour if the threshold and size/organization of the group is met
  • when individuals participate in a collective group, they don’t fell responsible since everyone else is taking part in the activity, causing many people to follow a group mentality
  • people enter collective behaviour carefully, and they consider all the possible consequences ahead of time
  • collective behaviour needs a person with a low-threshold to get it started, and collective behaviour will stop if the group lacks an individual with the necessary threshold to move the group to the next stage if needed
    • most collective groups need a leader, and the leader will carry the group forward so long as the threshold remains within his/her comfort zone (when group becomes too large, leader may choose to cut ties with the group)
      • ex: in a riot, the decision to participate is dependeny on what everyone else is doniing—if a leader/instigator begins rioting, others will follow, which will encourage other people to follow (but if the riot begins to become too violent, people will withdraw)


Prosocial Behaviour

  • theory is used to explain positive collective behaviour
  • prosocial behaviour can be used to explain acts of kindness, generosity, and altruism (the principle of unselfish regard for the needs and interests of others)
  • prosocial behaviour is a form of altruism, in which individuals/groups demonstrate empathy toward and care for the welfare of others without regard for their own personal gain
  • prosocial behaviour can be carried out by an individual despite the individual putting themselves in danger
  • prosocial behaviour is found in all societies around the globe, and it contributes to social cohesion
  • prosocial behaviour show not all social interactions are based on selfish personal goals (ex: when natural disaster strikes, people around the world become empathetic and donate money, such as when Haiti earthquake occurred)
  • collective solidarity was a term Durkheim described for a community’s response to crime
    • ex: a community’s ability to overcome negative consequences of crime
    • ex: mass public grief, which is collective behaviour of grieving publicly for someone whom most of the mourners haven’t met (celebrities, public figures)
      • being in close proximity to others who feel the same affinity toward the public figure has been known to have a healing effect
    • mass public grief can be a response to impact of war on a country (ex: November 11 and Remembrance Day, when people acknowledge those who fought and died in wars past and present; Highway of Heroes)



  • crowds are large numbers of people, in close proximity, and are gathered for a specific reason
  • sociologists study crowds to better understand the nature of collective and group behaviour, and what happens when large groups living in a society come together in a variety of instances and for a number of reasons
  • types of crowds:
    • conventional crowd—large group of people gathered for a clear purpose who behave according to expectations (a town meeting—behaviour is only appropriate, and not inappropriate)
    • casual crowd—a group of people in the same palce at the same time but who do not have a common goal (shoppers on Boxing Day at a mall)
    • expressive crowd—a large number of people at an event who display emotion and excitement (people at a baseball game, concert)
    • acting crowd—a group of people fuelled by a single purpose/goal (peaceful protestors)
    • mob—a disorderly crowd of people (when an acting crowd is incited to become a riot)



  • sometimes collective behaviour can be threatening—the law enforcement perspective is that any group has the potential to become a dangerous and angry group
  • large groups can escalate their activities to include violence, and damage to public property, and they can easily lead to a riot
    • a riot is a civil disorder stemming from a social grievance and caused by a disorganized crowd who usually exhibits aggression (that may lead to violence, vandalism, destruction of property
  • in the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, a peaceful demonstration became a riot—even in the most peaceful of societies, collective behaviour can cause disorder and violence under the correct circumstances
    • police officers were beating protestors, and rounded up many protestors, but in the end, very few were charged


Fear and Collective Behaviour

  • in some cases, fear is motivated by real/perceived events of a frightening/harmful nature
  • mass hysteria is the widespread irrational reaction to a perceived danger
  • panic (emotional/irrational response on the part of an individual/group to a social event that is believed to be dangerous/harmful) is similar to mass hysteria (irrational response to a perceived danger; it’s widespreaed)
  • mass hysteria tends to accompany acute medical/health issues, such as pandemics (a rapid spread of an infectious disease)
    • during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, news stations began reporting on the deaths, causing mass hysteria—people began to demand access to a vaccine


Smart Mobs

  • smart mob is a large group of strangers who use electronic media to organize an d stage surprise public gatherings
  • use of technology to have a group come together
  • once the group is organized using technology, the gathering occurs, and a specific behaviour is enacted for a specific period of time, after which the group disbands
  • ex: flash mobs, which demonstrates the ability for groups of people to organize collective action in the face-to-face world in ways they were unable to do before the combination of internet and cell phones made it possible



  • an individual can belong to many different groups, and these groups are organize according to certain norms and expectations of how members of the group should behave
  • individuals often feel the need to conform to the norms/expectations of society
  • conformity is the process by which an individual will alter or change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to meet the expectations of a group/authority figure
  • conformity can occur as the result of both direct and indirect social behaviour; individuals feel the urge to conform in order to fit in/avoid rejection and criticism from members of their group
  • conformity can be both positive and negative
    • ex: there is an expectation that people will recycle items (positive)
    • if an individual is coerced into a specific form of behaviour that is detrimental to them self/others (negative)
      • ex: a person commits a crime to maintain membership in a gang
  • conformity in some ways is a necessary element to keep society functioning safely
  • fear of being left out/behind is a powerful motivator for an individual to change their behaviour
  • all humans will conform to a group’s expectations at some point


Conformity in Individualistic Cultures

  • Canada is an individualistic society, and therefore conformity suggests something negative
    • yet Canadians often pride themselves on being agreeable and getting along with others
  • there is a difference between conformity and compliance (social behaviour by an individual that may be contrary to his/her beliefs but is exhibited nonetheless in order to achieve rewards and avoid punishment)
  • on the outside, compliance resembles conformity (ex: students follow attendance rules even when they would rather skip class)
  • in all forms, conformity is a social process that allows people to organize and function effectively in society
  • conformity allows groups to establish boundaries—members of social groups such as families, peers and even countries are able to distinguish themselves
  • conformity to certain beliefs of a group clarifies acceptable and unacceptable behaviours for their members  (ex: students are expected to conform to the school’s rules)


Conformity in Collectivistic Cultures

  • conformity has various different meanings in collectivistic cultures—conformity takes precedence over individuality
    • actions, language, and dress are all determined by society; not meeting the group’s expectations have more serious consequences than in individualistic cultures
  • in Japan, conformity is vitally important—Japan is surrounded by oceans on all sides, which limits living space, forcing Japanese people to live in close proximity to one another
    • Japanese have had to relinquish some claims for personal space and rely on predictable behaviour (due to conformity) to maintain social harmony and order
    • Japan is changing, allowing for more individuals to express their identity


Breaking Social Norms: The Breaching Experiments

  • Harold Garfinkel was interested in understanding what would happen if people purposely broke the rules/norms of a group; he would then analyze people’s reactions to the breach
    • the focus of the experiment was having people break the unwritten rules of society (ex: walking backwards up a flight of stairs, standing up while eating in a restaurant)
  • Garfinkel’s experiments showed society resists breaches in social order and quickly attempts to reconstruct order when a social norm has been broken
    • ex: in society, you typically stand on right side of escalator and allow for people in a rush to be on the left side—if someone stood on the left side, this would be a breach in the unwritten rules of society
  • these experiments who how people take for granted the unwritten social norms and come to expect that certain things will always function in a specific way


Stanley Milgram’s Subway Experiments: Breaching Social Norms

  • subways are ideal places to observe social interaction, as people of all classes, ethnicities, and religions are together without speaking
  • Milgarm created a breaching experiment—typically, when you’re on a subway, you give up your seat to someone weak, pregnant, disabled, elderly
    • Milgram’s study involved using his students as participants, and having them give up their seats to someone who was able to stand
  • Milgram had his students enter in pairs—one would observe, while the other asked if they could have a person’s seat
    • results showed a majority of people gave up their seats to Milgram’s able students
  • when Milgram did the experiment himself, he was so overwhelmed to behave in a way that would justify his request for a seat, that he sank his head in his knees (pretending to be sick)
    • in another case when a researcher asked if they could have his seat because he couldn’t read standing up, only 38% of people gave up their seats
  • after the experiment, many of the researchers said they felt wrong in doing what they did; it was unethical
  • Milgram’s study showed how the unwritten rules of society are taken advantage of, as they help maintain order (until violated)



  • groupthink is the effects of collective pressure on the decision-making abilities of individual members of a group
    • ex: when in a group, the group makes a decision that isn’t perfect, but all the members have agreed to it; how likely is it for one of the members to successfully have the group adopt a better alternative solution
  • many groups value independent thought by their members, but on rare occasions, the pressure for a group to arrive at a consensus may silence opposing opinions and evidence presented by individual members
    • groupthink causes individuals to remain silent than stir up conflict by stating their opposing opinion
  • groupthink is a tendency within organizations or society to promote/establish the view of the predominant group (usually occurs in groups that are highly cohesive/close)
  • the effects of groupthink which may lead to conformity:
    • pressure: individual applies direct pressure to any member who disagrees to the group
    • self-censorship: individuals of groupthink would rather censor them self than disagree with group
    • morality: individual doesn’t question the ethical/moral decision of the group
    • stereotype: individual develop stereotypical views of outside groups who don’t have same belief as their group
    • mindguard: individual sometimes appoints them self as protector of the group from outside information and sources that might break up group



  • obedience is the act/habit of doing what one is told or submitting to authority
  • obedience is the act of doing what one is told, usually by someone in authority
    • ex: dog is trained to be obedient to owner; military personnel trained to be obedient to commanders
  • obedience is different from compliance and conformity—compliance is influenced by peers, conformity is behaviour that matches the majority (may be influenced by peers)
    • obedience is about power, and submitting to authority; most people comply with the rules of society and obey authority in order to avoid public sanctions/punishment


Charles Hofling’s Obedience Study

  • Hofling conducted experiments of obedience in the medical profession
  • Hofling extended Milgram’s obedience experiment (sending electric shocks) into the medical field
    • he looked to see if nurses would carry out the orders of doctors whom they didn’t know and never met in person
  • experiment had 22 night nurses on duty at a hospital, and Hofling created the character “Dr. Smith” for the experiment
    • Dr. Smith phoned each of the nurses during one of their shifts, and asked each nurse to check the availability of a fake drug called Astroten
    • when the nurse checked the availability, she saw the maximum recommended dosage was 10 mg; when the nurses reported the error to Dr. Smit, they were assured it would be fine to administer the drug despite label
    • Dr. Smith pretended to be in a hurry, and told nurses he would sign authorization forms when he came in to do rounds
  • dilemma of the nurses was whether to follow Dr. Smith’s orders and risk the patient’s life or administer the wrong dose and break 3 hospital rules (accepting orders over the phone, delivering a dose that was over maximum limit, and using an unauthorized medicine)
    • results showed 21/22 nurses administered the drug according to Dr. Smith’s instructions
  • Hofling concluded that people will reluctantly question authority figures and would rather be wrong than disobey orders
  • proved medical field to be dangerous—nurses took orders over the phone and obeyed the authority figure of a doctor they never met



  • aggression is any action that is intended to injure, harm, or inflict pain on another living being/group of living beings
  • aggression could be physical, or verbal hostility
  • aggression can include many categories of behaviour (verbal, road rage, child abuse, war)
  • throughout a person’s lifetime, unique brands of aggression pop up, challenging the individual’s progress and development
  • frustration is a precursor for aggressive behaviour—most people eventually learn how to control their frustration, but for those who can’t can lead to aggression
  • differential association theory explains how individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques and motives for criminal behaviour through interactuion with others
    • belief that aggression and violence are learned behaviours—if a person associates with people who accept criminal behaviour, then they’re more likely to be part of this behaviour
  • some belive that if individuals live without a community without connections, people commit aggressive actions
  • dehumanization is a part of aggression (dehumanize: to deprive people of their human qualities; to degrade or deny the humanity of another person)
    • when an individual dehumanizes someone, it makes it easier to commit violence against that someone
      • ex: slavery dehumanizes slaves to become property, making the buying, selling, and trading of slaves easier



  • increase in peer aggression in adolescents has created issues on bullying
  • in bullying, victims experience overt/subtle forms of aggression—faced with overt, physical confrontations by their aggressor, or may become the subject of malicious rumours/gossip
  • bullying can cause the victim to develop anxiety, depression, and may lead to suicide
  • bullying has many criminal consequences, as it’s a type of harassment
  • bullying can be verbal (name calling), physical (hitting), social (leaving someone out of a group), theft, cyber
  • bullying is about contempt—a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respect
  • bullying is not only about power and aggression, but also about relationships; bullying has long-term effects on society (many bullies become antisocial, and develop behaviours such as sexual harassment, spousal abuse, gang-related behaviour)
  • virtual aggression/cyber bullying—use of technology to bully, harass, and intimate others
    • example: an embarrassing picture of the victim circulated
    • technology allows individuals to bully 24/7 (before technology, bullying in children occurred only at school)
    • internet makes it easier for people to join in the bullying of others and makes bullying easier (threats and ridicule that is difficult to carry out in person, becomes easy only)
    • bullying  online can be anonymous
    • the internet has also allowed individuals to fight back bullying (ex: “It Gets Better Project” on Youtube)