We can identify four major factors that influence our
decision to join and remain in a wide variety of groups:
attraction to members of the group; the activities, goals,
or the task of the group; affiliating with the people in
the group; and meeting needs or goals lying outside
Attraction to members of the group grows out of proximity
and frequency of interaction. (Consider your own
experience of friendship groups that are largely
determined by who is available for interaction: your
neighbours, classmates, roommates, and so on.)
However, we must remember that proximity creates only
the potential for, attraction; other factors usually come
into play when actually establishing a relationship. The
power of similarity, especially attitudinal similarity,
appears to be as strong in group formation as in
The task of a group, as experienced in its activities and
goals is often an important reason for joining. You join
a photography club because you enjoy taking pictures
and discussing that activity with others. You join a
protest group against higher tuition fees because you
cannot afford to pay more. In these examples, you are
gaining rewards directly through group membership.
The application of social exchange theory to group
formation predicts that we join and remain in groups
when the rewards for doing so outweigh the costs, thus
The third general factor of group formation is our desire
to affiliate with the people in that group. We satisfy our
need for affiliation through interacting with people, just
as we meet our need for achievement through the
activities and goals of the group. Whether we affiliate
for social comparison, or to reduce anxiety, or to satisfy
an innate craving, it is clear that the group is a powerful
forum for meeting our basic social needs and a strong
influence on our behaviour.
Group membership may help us meet needs that lie
outside the group – thus, group membership may be a
stepping stone to achieve an external goal, rather than
a source of direct satisfaction. A college professor may
regularly attend meetings of a professional association
to enhance the probability of promotion. A candidate for
political office may join a host of community
organisations to enhance his or her chances for
When we consider attraction to a group, we must also
consider the characteristics of the group itself. Several
attributes of groups generally make them more
attractive to prospective members and thus contribute
to group formation.
_ The more prestige a group can offer a member, the
more attractive the group. Members who have
positions of higher authority and prestige are
usually most attracted to remain in the group.
_ Co-operative relationships and joint rewards
heighten the attractiveness of a group, whereas
individual striving and competition detract from it.
_ The degree of positive interaction among members
directly affects attractiveness since it increases the
range of personal and social needs being met.
_ The size of the group affects its attraction. Smaller
groups generally offer more possibility for
interaction, for sharing similarities, and for meeting
individual needs, and therefore tend to be more
_ Positive relations with other groups may add to the
prestige of the group and make it more attractive.
_ Nothing succeeds like success. Groups that are
perceived as meeting their goals effectively usually
appear to be more attractive.
Plausible Hypothesis about Group Formation
From the various factors influencing group formation
the following hypothesis can be confidently stated.
1) People join groups in order to satisfy some individual
2) Proximity, contact and interaction provide an
opportunity for individuals to discover the need
satisfactions that can be attained through affiliation
3) Interpersonal attraction is a positive function of
physical attractiveness, attitude similarity,
personality similarity, economic similarity, racial
similarity, perceived ability of the other person (his
or her success or failure) and need compatibility.
4) An individual will join a group if he or she finds the
activities of the group attractive or rewarding.
5) An individual will join a group if he or she values
the goals of the group.
6) There exists a need for affiliation which renders
group membership rewarding.
7) An individual will join a group if he or she perceives
it to be instrumental in satisfying needs outside
8) Group development follows a consistent pattern,
which may be characterized as orientationevaluation-