Group cohesiveness

Group cohesiveness

In general terms, a group is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the group as a whole. According to Festinger, Schachter, and Back (1950), group cohesion was believed to develop from a field of binding social forces that act on members to stay in the group.[1] Groups that possess strong unifying forces typically stick together over time whereas groups that lack such bonds between members usually disintegrate.


Dimensions of Group Cohesion

The bonds that link group members to one another and to their group as a whole are not believed to develop spontaneously. Over the years, social scientists have suggested that cohesiveness among group members can develop from various dimensions, including a heightened sense of belonging, interpersonal attraction, and teamwork.

Group Unity

Many theorists believe that group cohesion results from a deep sense of “we-ness” or belonging to a group as a whole.[2] [3] By becoming enthusiastically involved in the efforts of their group and by recognizing the similarities that exist among group members, individuals tend to develop a close connection with their group and its members. This sense of community strengthens the bonds of unity that link group members to one another, ultimately fostering solidarity and cohesion.


Some theorists believe that group cohesion has more to do with interpersonal attraction [4] at both individual- and group-levels.[5][6] A group may be cohesive if:

  1. Its members have positive feelings towards one another (individual-level attraction),
  2. Its members have positive feelings towards the group (group-level attraction), or
  3. Its members have positive feelings towards other members and the group as a whole.

According to Hogg (1992), group cohesiveness typically develops from a depersonalized attraction to group members based on their status as group members, rather than a personal attraction based on specific relationships. In addition to group cohesion, this depersonalized form of attraction has also been linked to membership stability.


Other theorists stress that cohesion comes from group members’ commitment to work together to complete their shared tasks and accomplish their collective goals.[7][8] Members of task-oriented groups typically exhibit great interdependence and often possess feelings of responsibility for the group’s outcomes. The bonds of unity that develop from members’ concerted effort to achieve their common goals are considered indicative of group cohesion.

Given that the construct of group cohesion has been conceptualized in so many different ways, contemporary theorists assert that cohesion is a complex, multidimensional construct that cannot be simplified to a single element or generalized across groups [9][10] While members of a hockey team may exhibit teamwork as they attempt to score a goal, members of a group therapy session may develop feelings of acceptance and a sense of belonging. The important thing to remember is that because cohesion can be represented in many different forms, there is no such thing as a standard cohesive group.

Factors Influencing Group Cohesion

The forces that push group members together can be positive (group-based rewards) or negative (things lost upon leaving the group). The main factors that influence group cohesiveness are: members’ similarity, group size, entry difficulty, group success and external competition and threats. Often, these factors work through enhancing the identification of the individual with the group she/he belongs to as well as their beliefs of how the group can fulfill their personal needs.

Members’ Similarity

The more group members are similar to each other on various characteristics the easier it would be to reach cohesiveness. Following Social Identity Theory, we know that people feel closer to those whom they perceive as similar to themselves in terms of external characteristics (age, ethnicity) or internal ones (values, attitudes). In addition, similar background makes it more likely that members share similar views on various issues, including group objectives, how to communicate and the type of desired leadership. In general, higher agreement among members on group rules and norms results in greater trust and less dysfunctional conflict. This, in turn, strengthens both emotional and task cohesiveness.

Group Size

Since it is easier for fewer people to agree on goals and to co-ordinate their work smaller groups are more cohesive than larger groups. Task cohesiveness may suffer, though, if the group lacks enough members to perform its tasks well enough.

Entry Difficulty

Difficult entry criteria or procedures to a group tend to present it in more exclusive light. The more elite the group is perceived to be, the more prestigious it is to be a member in that group and consequently, the more motivated members are to belong and stay in it. This is why alumni of prestigious universities tend to keep in touch for many years after they graduate.

Group Success

Group success, like exclusive entry, increases the value of group membership to its members and influences members to identify more strongly with the team and to want to be actively associated with it.

External Competition and Threats

When members perceive active competition with another group, they become more aware of members’ similarity within their group as well as seeing their group as a means to overcome the external threat or competition they are facing. Both these factors increase group cohesiveness; leaders throughout human history have been aware of this and focused the attention of their followers on conflicts with external enemies when internal cohesion was threatened. Similar effects can be brought about by facing an ‘objective’ external threat or challenge (such as natural disaster).

Consequences of Group Cohesion

Group cohesion has been linked to a range of positive and negative consequences. Firstly, members of cohesive groups tend to communicate with one another in a more positive fashion than noncohesive groups. As a result, members of cohesive groups often report higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of anxiety and tension than members of noncohesive groups. [11] Secondly, group cohesion has been linked to enhanced group performance in non-laboratory-based groups. This bi-directional relationship is strongest when the members of a group are committed to the group’s tasks.

Membership in a cohesive group can also prove problematic for members. As cohesion increases, the internal dynamics (e.g., emotional and social processes) of the group intensify. As a result, people in cohesive groups are confronted with powerful pressures to conform to the group’s goals, norms, and decisions. In many instances these pressures to conform are so great that members suffer from groupthink. Individuals who refuse to yield to the ways of the majority are typically met with additional negative consequences, including hostility, exclusion, and scapegoating. Furthermore, group cohesion can trigger distress and maladaptive behavior in members following changes to the structure of the group (e.g., loss of a member).

See also


  1. ^ Festinger, L., Schachter, S., Back, K., (1950) "The Spatial Ecology of Group Formation", in L. Festinger, S. Schachter, & K. Back (eds.), Social Pressure in Informal Groups, 1950. Chapter 4.
  2. ^ Bollen, K. A., and Hoyle, R. H. (1990) Perceived cohesion: a conceptual and empirical examination. Social Forces, 69,2, 479-504.
  3. ^ Owen, W. F. (1985). Metaphor analysis of cohesiveness in small discussion groups. Small Group Behavior, 16, 415-424.
  4. ^ Lott, A. J, and Lott, B. E. (1965). Group cohesiveness as interpersonal attraction: a review of relationships with antecedent and consequent variables. Psychol. Bull. 64:259–309.
  5. ^ Hogg, M. A. (1992). The Social Psychology of Group Cohesiveness. New York: New York Univ. Press
  6. ^ Hogg, M.A., Hardie, E.A., & Reynolds, K.J. (1995). Prototypical similarity, self-categorization, and depersonalized attraction: a perspective on group cohesiveness. European Journal of Social Psychology, U25U, 159-177
  7. ^ Yukelson, D., Weinberg, R., & Jackson, A. (1984). A multi-dimensional group cohesion instrument for intercollegiate basket-ball teams. Journal of Sport Psychology, 6, 103-117.
  8. ^ Guzzo, R. A. (1995). At the intersection of team effectiveness and decision making. In Guzzo, R. A. And Salas, E. (eds), Team Effectiveness and Decision Making in Organizations, pp. 1-8. Sand Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  9. ^ Cota, A. A., Dion, K. L., & Evans, C. R. (1993). A reexamination of the structure of the Gross Cohesiveness Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53, 499-506.
  10. ^ Cota, A.A., Evans, C.R., Dion, K.L., Kilik, L., & Longman, R.S. (1995). The structure of group cohesion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 572-580.
  11. ^ Shaw, M. E., and Shaw, L. M. (1962). Some effects of sociometric grouping upon learning in a second grade classroom. Social Psychology, 57, 453–458.
  • Beal, D. J., Cohen, R., Burke, M. J. & McLendon, C. L. (2003). Cohesion and performance in groups: A meta-analytic clarification of construct relation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 989-1004.
  • Eisenberg, J. (2007). Group Cohesiveness, in R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopaedia of Social Psychology, 386-388. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Forsyth, D.R. (2010). Group Dynamics, 5th Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-36822-0.
  • Piper, W., Marrache, M., Lacroix, R., Richardson, A. & Jones, B. (1983). Cohesion as a basic bond in groups. Human Relations, 36, 93-108.
  • Wheelan, S. A. (2010). Creating effective teams: a guide for members and leaders (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Further Reading

  • Cartwright, Dorwin. (1968). “The Nature of Group Cohesiveness,” in Dorwin Cartwright and Alvin Zander, editors, Group Dynamics: Research and Theory, 3rd Edition, (New York: Harper and Row, 1968).
  • Forsyth, D.R. (2010). Group Dynamics, 5th Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-36822-0.
  • Mullen, Brian and Carolyn Copper. (1994). “The Relation Between Group Cohesiveness and Performance: An Integration,” Psychological Bulletin 115, 2 (March 1994).
  • Schaub, Gary Jr. (2010). "Unit Cohesion and the Impact of DADT" Strategic Studies Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 3 (Fall 2010), pages 85–101. [1]

Madsen (2008). Groups.

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