Science in Christian Perspective



Group Effects on Value Change

From: JASA 15 (March 1963): 20-23.

This paper surveys selected research in the field of socialpsychology. It is directed particularly to the influence whicb a group exercises over the values of its members. The quality of group life has great potential for influencing learning. Groups influence the values of persons who come into contact with them. These and similar findings of  science serve Christianity by advancing explanations and suggesting methods which can assist Christians in the performance of their mission. Christian groups should provide the type of interpersonal environment where Christian growth can take place best. 

We are social creatures. As such we wish to associate with other human beings. Some have theorized that we 
are driven to evaluate ourselves and that we do this, in part, by comparison with others. No doubt there are other reasons for our associations. Many of our indi vidual needs are met in some way through interaction with others.

This article primarily concerns the influence of values upon individuals who are related to other individuals in groups. We are viewing values as deep-rooted dis function of the character of the stimulus situation, the positions by which an individual operates. We shall not attempt to place values on a continuum with opin ions, prejudices, and attitudes. For purposes of re stricting ourselves we shall consider values as inter related with opinions, attitudes, standards, and beliefs; agency, including schools, leisure time activities, the family, and the church. 

We may question whether there is such a thing as a "group value": it may simply be an expression of in dividual values held by persons in the group. We un derstand individual values better than so-called group values. Membership in groups overlaps and individuals relate to these groups in order to meet their need, recognized or not (5, p. 146). We voluntarily associate with other persons because we are motivated to do so. The degree of our motivation is linked to the relative attractiveness of being identified with a particular group. 

When an individual finds himself in conflict with values held by other persons in a group, he may elect several courses of action. He can change his values, change the values of others in the group, lose interest in the group and drop out, or elect to remain in the group and endure the conflict caused by the value discrepancy. There is some evidence that a person can "lose" his individuality in a group, which leads one to suspect that there is such a thing as a group value. An individual seldom departs from his personal value orientation to take part in an activity valued by a group. When he does, he usually finds the activity attractive because it reduces his inner restraints. Festinger calls this de-individuation and states that this occurs when individuals do not pay attention to other individuals as individuals (12, p. 299). An illustration of this might be a mob action in which it appears that a group his a united purpose which overcomes the individual value systems of the participants.

 Factors Affecting Conformity in the Group

  Pressures operate to achieve uniformity of opinions in groups (4, pp. 85-91). Conformity is the tendency
to adopt attitudes corresponding to those held by the majority of the group. Asch speaks of independence
and yielding on the part of an individual as a joint function of the character of the stimulus situation the    character of the group forces, and the character of the individual (2, p. 182). We shall consider the situa tion and group together in discussing the factors af fecting conformity under situational and personality considerations.

-values" will mean any of these. We will review some research findings on the effects which a group of per sons may have on an individual's value system. The insight gained could have relevance to every educational 

 Situational Considerations

Thibaut and Kelley refer to the social influence of the group as its power to induce conformity to norms.
The situational factors that affect conformity are spoken of as norm-sending functions (26, p. 241 f.).

The power which a group has over its members in terms of creating and maintaining group standards has
been called cohesiveness (5, p. 212) ' The closer a group is, the greater the loyalty of individuals to it, the more power will be brought upon its members to conform. Group membership many times determines what an individual learns, does, sees, thinks about, etc. Group members may act like others who are attractive and whom they wish to emulate. We may behave like others because we fear punishment, ridicule, or rejec tion if we don't. To the extent that a member wishes to remain in the group, the group has power over that member (5, pp. 139, 197).

  Situational factors also include communication, clarity of goals, acceptance, extent of agreement in the group,
attraction of the group, the nature of norms the group sends, and the degree of value the group places on
  behavior, as well as what happens in the group and its method of operation. Back reports that in highly co
L hesive groups members make more effort to reachagreement are more affected by the situation, and are in fluenced more through discussion in the group (3, pp. 183-197). We see by this that communication includes
the social setting as well as the words spoken. Dittes and Kelley discovered that when the reward of ac ceptance by the group is viewed as a distant possibility, high public and private conformity on the part of the

*Mr. Anderson is Asst. Prof. of Religious Education and Dean of Students, Bethel Theological Seminary.

individual results. Where acceptance is low and rejection is possible, there is no private conformity on the part of the individual (8, pp. 100-107). Festinger and Carlsmith point out that there are cognitive consequences from forcing compliance upon an individual Forcing someone to say something contrary to his private opinion results in a tendency to change private opinion and bring it more into line with what was said or done. However, pressure beyond that needed to elicit the behavior weakened this tendency (9, p. 209).

Raven and Rietsema found that individuals in groups where clarity of goals and procedures existed were more interested in personal tasks, less hostile, had greater feelings of group belongingness, and were more willing to accept group influence than those who were unclear about the goals and paths of the group (23, pp. 29-45). Mann and Mann concluded that task-oriented groups produce greater personality changes than free discussion groups because of clearer goals and procedures (17, p. 78).

Groups differ in the amount of power they possess by virtue of the manner in which the individual relates to the group. Cohen found that the effectiveness of each formal group (in this case, nine-member infantry rifle squads) increased as the members came to regard it as a reference group--a group whose standpoint is used as a frame of reference for attitudes, behavior, and standards of values (7, pp. 307-309). Siegal and Siegal, in an experiment conducted over a time span of several years, discovered that changes in authoritarian type attitudes resulted when the formal membership group imposed on people came to be adopted as a reference group. This experiment involved housing choice and imposed housing in which choice of sorority-type housing reflected high-status orientation and accompanying authoritarianism among college women (24, pp. 360 364). Newcomb, in studying Bennington College's influence on values, suggests that the individual's attitude development is a function of the way in which he relates himself both to the total membership group and to one or more reference groups (20, p. 275). Apparently both membership and reference groups exert influence, but the latter enjoys the greater power.

Individual Considerations

Individual factors also must be considered in any discussion of factors affecting conformity in the group. Nelson et al. found that the expression of attitudes is an adjustment of the individual representing die pooled effects of stimulus, background, and residual factors. In this study stimulus factors referred to statements of attitudes about war and peace. Background factors referred to the opinions of others (group), and residual factors referred to effects of past experience. The residual factors were measured by the Allport Ascendency-Submission scale. While individual attitudes shifted toward group opinions, they were found to correlate in frequency and amount with the degree of submission of the individual as reported in the A-S scale (19, p. 314). Hardy found that conformity was a joint function of social conditions and the affiliative motivation of the individual. Public agreement (conformity) and private response (attitude change) was measured under conditions of opposition by all in the group or all but one person. Subjects with medium needs for affiliation, interpreted to be ambivalently motivated toward social acceptance, conformed under both conditions but changed in attitude only in the no-support (not in under-support) conditions. The low-need group was least affected; they changed more under conditions of support but were considered to be responding to the content of the situation rather than to the social structure (10, pp. 284-294).

Lawson and Stagnef, as a result of their research, predicted that the more anxious subjects would show greater attitudinal shift and palmar sweat fluctuations in an anxiety arousing group discussion where the majority opinion was contrary to their own (14, p. 312). McDavid noted individual differences in tendencies to respond to the source of the communication or to the message or content of the communication. Messageoriented persons are less susceptible to group influence. Source-oriented persons showed greater flexibility in responding to interpersonal communication (18, pp. 241-246). These studies suggest that individuals differ with respect to their response to the efforts of the group to exercise power over them.

Group Methods of Inducing Conformity

The literature contains many references to studies on methods for inducing conformity within groups. Spector reports that an Air Force R.O.T.C. seminar experience ". . . provides evidence that highly 'culture-laden' attitudes can be changed by classroom procedure" (25, p. 156). This conclusion had reference to human relations attitudes in which change was attributed to the seminar experience. However, no attempt was made to isolate the relative worth of the pedagogic technique which included lectures, role-playing related to human relations problems, and integration of ideas through group discussion. Radke and Klisurich report that mothers of new-born infants engaged in discussion under the leadership of a trained dietician reached group decisions coinciding with recommended procedures and practiced them more effectively than did a similar group receiving individual instruction (22, pp. 403-409). An derson described the effects of discussion in calling off a threatened strike of union workers in which management and union committeemen discussed openly their grievances (1, pp. 93-98). Pennington et al. report that group coalescence and change of opinion were best effected by a combination of group discussion and group decision rather than by any one method used alone (21, pp. 404-408). Hoffman and Maier conclude from their experiment on group decision that ". . . acceptance of group decisions is fostered in an atmosphere where each member can participate in the decision if he wishes and where his ideas about the problem will be considered by the group" (13, p. 559).

Group standards are usually enduring, but they can be changed. Group decisions work best in bringing about value changes in the individuals who comprise the group. Coch and French studied production workers in a manufacturing concern with regard to their resistance to change in methods and jobs. They concluded that management can modify group resistance to change or remove it completely by the use of group meetings in which management effectively communicates the need for change and stimulates group participation in planning the changes (6, p. 279). Levine and Butler report that the biased performance-rating patterns of supervisors change when group decision is involved, in contrast to no change when the supervisors are merely lectured to (15, pp. 29-33).

Lewin conducted an experiment in changing food habits. Group decision produced much more change than a formal lecture, even though the lecturer was well versed in the matter. The group-decision persons became highly involved personally and were not coerced into a decision. He concluded that a lecture is not often conducive to decision and that it is usually easier to change individuals formed into a group than to change any of them separately (16).

Hare, in a study of small discussion groups, experimented with supervisory and participatory discussion leaders. He found that participatory leadership was more effective than supervisory leadership as a technique for changing opinion (11, p. 560).

These and other studies indicate that groups can effectively bring pressures on individuals to change their patterns of behavior.

Some Psychological Conclusions

While our survey has been limited, the weight of the evidence presented suggests that the group through social pressures is able to influence beliefs and values. We have discovered that there are many situational factors in group life which, depending upon the degree of their strength or weakness, variously affect the pressures toward conformity. These include the social climate or environment, the value placed on the group by the member, togetherness, clarity of goals and procedures, mutual respect, and acceptance.

Added to this complex web of forces and relationships are the personality factors in the individual that exert pressure toward or away from conformity. Independence and yielding are related to the way in which an individual reacts to the content and source of communications, the level of anxiety he has, and many other individual modes of behavior and adjustment.

It is suggested, in the research reports and other literature surveyed, that a combination of pedagogic
approaches utilizing group participation is successful in inducing value change.

Groups are a highly useful but very complex educational media. They are of value in any educative effort which includes individual value changes as a goal. Communication in the group must proceed beyond the in formational level if it is to be significant in effecting attitude change.

Change in value orientation does occur. Groups can facilitate an individual's value change by their pressures toward uniformity to achieve and maintain group goals. Group values are usually a composite of individual values. Occasionally the group value or standard of behavior can be stronger than individual values; this is explained on the basis of being psychologically attractive in reducing inner restraints. Change can be facilitated y group decision, and participatory leadership seems more effective than supervisory leadership in bringing change.

Implications for Learning

1. Educational enterprises should make better use o group experiences. Persons learn together. Groups can facilitate learning.

2. The quality of life in a group is of the utmost importance for individual growth. Acceptance, clarity, love and concern, security, and support are all factors of group life which greatly affect individual learning.

3. Personality factors enter into the complex interaction situation. Individual differences must always e recognized.

4. The individual belongs to more than one group. He is subject to many pressures. Every group functions as a membership group, reference group, or both to some degree for every person who is in contact with it.

5. With the recognition that group life is a useful educational experience for effecting changes in the person must go a belief in the dignity and worth of the individual. Any attempt or technique used to manipulate persons for the advantage of a group or individual can quickly change education into a type of forced compliance which is contrary to the spirit of democracy and of Christianity.

6. Since group life is so significant for learning, the family, the school, friendship groups, and die church will be more effective if they utilize the potential for influence which exists in face-to-face fellowship groups.


1. Anderson, K., "A Detroit Case Study in the Group Talk ing Technique," Personnel 1., 27:93-98, June 1958.

2. Asch, S. E., "Effects of Group Pressure Upon the Modification and Distortion of judgment," in Readings in Social Psychology, 3d edition, Eleanor E. Maccoby, Theodore M. Newcomb, and Eugene L. Hartley, eds., N. Y., Henry Holt and Co" 1958, pp. 183-197.

3. Back, Kurt W., "Influence Through Social Communication," in Readings In Social Psychology, (see 'ref. 2), pp. 183-197.

4. Brehm, Jack, and Leon Festinger, "Pressures Toward Uniformity of Performance in Groups," Human Relations, 10:85-91, Feb. 1957.

5. Cartwright, Darwin, and Alvin Zander, eds., Group Dynamics Research and Theory, Evanston, Row Peterson and Co., 1953.

6. Coch, Lester, and John R. P. French, Jr., "Overcoming Resistance to Change," (in ref. 5), pp. 257-279.

7. Cohen, Edwin, "The Effect of Member's Use of a Formal Group Upon Group Effectiveness," 1. of Social Psychol., 46:307-309, Nov. 1957.

8. Dittes, James E., and Harold H. Kelley, "Effects of Different Conditions of Acceptance Upon Conformity to Group Norms," J. of Abnormal & Social Psycbol., 53: 100-107, July 1956.

9. Festinger, Leon, and James M. Carlsmith, "Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance," I. of Abnormal
Social Psychol.,
58:209, March 1959.

10. Hardy, Kenneth R., "Determinants of Conformity and Attitude Change," J. of Abnormal & Social Psycbol., 54:284294, May 1957.

11. Hare, A. Paul, "Small Group Discussions with Participatory and Supervisory Leadership," (in ref. 12), pp. 556-560.

Hare, A. P., E. F. Borgatta and R. F. Bales, eds., Small Groups, N. Y., Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.

13. Hoffman, L. Richard, and Norman R. F. Maier, "The Use of Group Decision to Resolve a Problem of Fairness," Personnel Psychol., 12:545-559, 1959.

14. Lawson, Edwin D., and Ross Stagner, "Group Pressure, Attitude Change and Autonomic Involvement," J. of Social Psychol., 45:299-312, May 1957.

15. Levine, J. and J. Butler, "Lecture Vs. Group Decision in Changing Behavior," 1. of Applied Psychol., 36:29-33, Feb. 1952.

16. Lewin, Kurt "Group Decision and Social Change," in Readings in Social Psychology, (see ref. 2), pp. 197-211.

17. Mann, John H., and Carola H. Mann, "The Importance of a Group Task in Producing Group-Member Personality and Behavior Changes," Human Relations, 12:75-80, Feb. 1959.

18. McDavid, John, "Personality and Situational Determinants of Conformity," I. of Abnormal & Social Psycbol., 58:241246, March 1959.

19. Nelson, Harry, Robert R. Blake, Jane S. Mouton, and Joseph A. Olmstead, "Attitudes as Adjustments to Stimulus, Background, and Residual Factors," 1. of Abnormal & Social Psychol., 52:314-322, May 1956.

20. Newcomb, Theodore M.' "Attitude Development as a Function of Reference Groups: The Bennington Study," in Readings In Social Psychology, (see ref. 2), pp. 265275.

21. Pennington, D. F., Jr., Francois Haravey, and Bernard M. Bass, "Some Effects of Decision and Discussion on Coalescence, Change, and Effectiveness," I. of Applied Psychol., 42:404-408, Dec. 1958.

22. Radke, M., and D. Klisurich, "Experiments in Changing Food Habits," I. of the American Dietetics Assn., 23:403409, May 1947.

23. Raven, Bertram H., and Jan Rietsema, "The Effects of Varied Clarity of Group Goal and Group Path Upon the Individual and his Relation to the Group, " Human Relations, 10:29-45, Feb. 1957.

24. Siegal, Alberta E., and Sidney Siegal, "Reference Groups, Membership Groups, and Attitude Change," 1. of Abnormal & Social Psychol., 55:360-364, Nov. 1957.

25. Spector, Aaron J., "Changes In Human Relations Attitude," I. of Applied Psychol., 42;154-157, June 1958.
26. Thibaut, John W. and Harold H. Kelley, The Social Psychology of Groups, N. Y., John Wiley & Sons, 1959.