Our research is aimed at better understanding when and why people gravitate toward groups and whether people act differently in groups versus being alone. Past research has shown that groups provide people with a sense of anonymity and diffusion of responsibility (Hirsh, Galinsky, & Zhong, 2011). For instance, when people are in groups, they feel they are less identifiable and when part of a group, people feel less personally accountable when actions go awry. Because people feel less accountable, and because groups are less likely to be targeted than individuals, groups also provide a sense of psychological safety (Park & Hinsz, 2006).
In our society, there are many lay theories and personal beliefs about groups. For example, many believe that groups are better decision makers than individuals. We see this in political, legal, educational, and business settings (e.g., congress, juries, committees, and board of directors). While we employ groups across life domains, little is known about how group contexts actually differ from individual contexts. Past research has shown that when individuals work with others, individuals and the way they think can be influenced by the presence of others. This is just one example of how group contexts can change an individual.
Using a survey method design, the current study suggests that people prefer to be in groups versus being alone when in threatening situations. For example, when asked to imagine being in scenarios that are potentially threatening, such as facing a tornado, participants show a preference to be with others over being alone. Similarly, the study supports the claim that people are less inhibited (more impulsive) and less ethical in group contexts compared to individual contexts. For example, when asked to think about the most impulsive thing that they had ever done and did not regret, 92.3% (36 out of 39) of participants report being with at least one other person. Furthermore, after envisioning scenarios that involved acting unethically alone and envisioning scenarios that involved acting unethically with others, participants report a higher likelihood of acting unethically in group contexts compared to individual contexts.
The findings suggest that an increase in the study of groups could help us to better understand why individuals prefer to be in groups and the effects that being in groups can have on the way an individual thinks and behaves.