|Chapter 8: Member Diversity and Group Dynamics (PAGE: 234-236) |
Second, interaction with similar others is rewarding because it provides consensual validation. Remember that social comparison theorists say that we frequently compare ourselves with others in order to assess our abilities and opinions. In short, similar others boost our confidence that our attitudes and behaviors are correct. Dissimilar others shake our sense of confidence that our way of thinking and doing thing is right. Consequently, contact with dissimilar others is often very threatening. After all, we wonder, “how can we both be right?” Furthermore, we perceive the dissimilar other to be judging our behavior and attitudes as wrong or stupid, and this makes us defensive and rigid, and avoidant of the different other.
We also expect that dissimilar others will not like us, and we reciprocate by not liking them. A number of research studies indicate that one of the most crucial determinants of whether we like someone is whether we think the person likes us; this is called reciprocal liking (Bersheid & Walster, 1978; Condon & Crano, 1988; Kenny, 1994). Furthermore, if we think someone does not like us, then we are more likely to behave in less likable ways, such as being less warm and pleasant and more disagreeable; in this way, our behavior can contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy (Curtis & Miller, 1986). Reciprocal liking is so important that it can override dissimilarity. In other words, if we believe that dissimilar others like us, then we will probably like them despite the fact that they disagree with us in some important ways (Gold, Ryckman, Mosely, 1984).
Familiarity is another factor found by years of research to affect liking, and the appearances, communication styles, and cultures of diverse others are often strange and unfamiliar to us. Familiarity is largely the result of repeated exposure to something. In fact, more than 200 experiments have documented the mere exposure effect: the more often we are exposed to something, the more we like it (Zajonc, 1968; Bornstein, 1989). We like familiar things and people because they are predictable. Predictable increase our feeling of control and is therefore less stressful than unpredictability. We know that to expect from familiar others. We do not have to think hard about them, or about our behavior around them. People from groups with whom we have little familiarity make us feel uncomfortable. We do not know what to expect from them, we are distracted by our differences, and we feel less “natural”. For instance, some people experience intergroup anxiety when exposed to people from culture very different from their own. The greater the cultural distance – that is, more different the culture is from our own - the more likely intergroup anxiety is. Normally, we are able to react mindlessly and habitually to the behavior of others, but when dealing with people who behave in ways do not understand, we feel a loss of control that may lead to feelings of incompetence, confusion, anxiety, depression, and helplessness (Triandis, 1994). Again, our discomfort often produces discomfort in them, and interactions between us become strained (self-fulfilling prophecy).
Our lack of familiarity with diverse others usually stems from the social segregation of different groups. We tent to have little contact with people outside our own group because we are more comfortable with similar others, because we seek consensual validation, and because cultural groups see to socialize their children in the ways of culture. In other words, social distance is often great between people from dissimilar groups, and ingroup norms often encourage this distance (Triandis, 1994). Even in so-called intergrated schools, universities, and workplaces, when given the option, people tend to self-segregate into groups of similar people. Research suggests that we tend to use easily visible demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and ethnicity as indices of similarity (Tsui & O’Reilly, 1989).
The relationship between familiarity and social distance goes both ways. Lack of familiarity leads to increased social distance, and increased social distance results in lack of familiarity. Not only are we attracted to others based on similarity and familiarity, but we also tent to like and seek out food, media, and entertainment that are familiar to us based on our culture. This, of course, is what we like. However, these tendencies do mean that other ways of looking, communicating, eating, worshipping, and so on, remain unfamiliar and uncomfortable to us. This perpetuates a situation in which we avoid those who are different from our selves.
Improving Group Effectiveness with the Similarity Attraction Paradigm
In the previous section, you learned about the role of similarity and familiarity in liking and the impact of this on our preference for homogeneous groups. You can use this information to enhance group effectiveness in the following ways:
1. Remind yourself of rewards of interacting with diverse others. Although interacting with diverse others entails costs, such as discomfort and defensiveness, it offers distinct benefits well. These include being exposed to new ways of thinking and doing things, and learning about how others live.
2. Remind yourself that you may have similarities with diverse others, regardless of apparent demographic and cultural differences. Do not let obvious differences prevent you from identifying similarities that can bring you together. Take the time to look for things you share with seemingly different group members, and connect on that basis.
3. Make an effort to override the natural tendency to distance yourself from people who appear different from you. That only keeps them unfamiliar and interactions uncomfortable.
4. Avoid jumping to the conclusion that different others will not like you or will judge you. If you act distant and cool because of these assumptions, they will probably assume that you do not like them and are judging them. Remember that the reciprocity rule governs much of human relation – if you show an openness and warmth toward others, they will return it.
5. If you experience culture shock, hang in there. Once you become more familiar with diverse others and their differences, those feeling of discomfort will go away.
The Social Categorization Approach
The Social Categorization Approach also suggests that member heterogeneity may create problems in group. Our natural tendency to categories people into “ingroup” and “outgroup” may interfere with our seeing diverse members as part of our ingroup. This approach emphasizes how our beliefs (stereotypes) about different demographic group bias how we interact with members of those groups. Once we have negative beliefs about a group and its members, evidence that disproves our stereotypes is hard to come by. This is true for three reasons. First, we socially distance and avoid members of the outgroup, so that we do not have enough experiences with people from the outgroup to learn that we are wrong. Second, our prejudices influence our behavior toward members of the outgroup, so that we are likely to elicit behavior from them that confirms our stereotypes (we create a self-fulfilling prophecy). As you have already learned, our discomfort and suspicion trigger similar behavior from outgroup members, which we then interpret as evidence that we are right to be wary of them. Third, our natural information-processing tendencies mean that once we have a stereotype, it operates schematically. This means that we are more likely to notice, interpret, and remember things in ways that confirm what we already believe. The more prejudiced we are against a group, the more true this appears to be (Blascovich, Wyer, Swatt, & Kibler, 1997).
Our natural information-processing strategies, particularly our tendency to categorize, influence how we perceive others. Think about it like this: The world is full of a potentially overwhelming number of people, situations, and things. To reduce the world’s infinite variety into a cognitively manageable form, we categorize information. These categories are believed to exist in cognitive structures called schemas. These schemas influence how information from the environment is perceived, stored, and remembered. As you will see, schemas of people, also known as stereotypes, influence what we notice about others, how we interpret their behavior, and what we remember about them. Stereotypes, then, as generalized beliefs about what members of an identifiable group are like that operate as scheme when perceiving members of those groups. In other words, they influence perception and memory.