types of groups | introduction to Sociology (2023)

learning successes

  • Describe the roles of different groups (e.g. primary/secondary, internal/external groups and reference groups)

Most of us are comfortable using the word "group" without really thinking about it. In everyday usage it can be a generic term, although it has important clinical and scientific meanings. Furthermore, the concept of a group is central to much of what we think about society and human interaction. We often mean different things when we use this word. We could say a group of children saw the dog, and it could mean 250 students in a classroom or four siblings playing on the front lawn. In everyday conversation there is no clear use of the distinction. So how can we focus more precisely on meaning for sociological purposes?

definition of a group

The termgroupis amorphous and can refer to a variety of gatherings, from just two people (think of a "group project" at school if you've teamed up with another student), a club, a regular gathering of friends or people, who work together or share a hobby In summary, the term refers to any group of at least two people who interact with some frequency and who share a feeling that their identities are somehow consistent with the group. Of course, when people come together, it's not necessarily a group. For example, a rally is usually a single event, and affiliation with a political party does not imply interaction with others. People who live in the same place at the same time but do not interact with each other or share a sense of identity, such as B. A group of people waiting in line at Starbucks are considered a group.Add, or a crowd. Another example of a non-group is people who share similar characteristics but are not related in any way. These people are consideredCategoryand as an example, all children born between about 1980 and 2000 are called "Millennials". Why are millennials a category and not a group? Because while some of them share a common sense of identity, as a whole they don't often interact with each other.

Interestingly, the individuals within an aggregate or category can become a group. During disasters, people in a neighborhood (an aggregate) who don't know each other can become friends and rely on each other in the local shelter. After the disaster is over and people just live close together again, the feeling of togetherness can remain as everyone has shared an experience. You can continue to be a group, practicing emergency preparedness, coordinating supplies for next time, or taking turns caring for neighbors who need extra help. Likewise, there can be many groups within a single category. For example, think of teachers. Within this category there may be groups such as teacher unions, teacher coaches or staff involved in PTA.

types of groups

The sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) suggested that groups can be roughly divided into two categories:primary groupsjsubgroups(Cooley 1909). According to Cooley, primary groups play the most important role in our lives. The core group is usually quite small, made up of people who typically engage face-to-face in long-term, emotionally meaningful ways. These interactions that take place within the primary group and that serve emotional needs are calledexpression functions, which differ from merelythe pragmatists. The primary group is usually made up of significant others, the people who have the greatest impact on our socialization. The best example of a primary group is the family.

Secondary groups tend to be larger and impersonal. They can also be task-oriented and time-limited. These groups serve ainstrumental functionrather expressive, meaning your role is goal or task oriented rather than emotional. Fellow students or co-workers can be examples of a secondary group. Neither primary nor secondary groups are subject to strict definitions or set boundaries. In fact, people can move from one group to another. For example, a graduate school might begin as a secondary group focused on each class, but as students work through their program together, they may find common interests and strong bonds that make them a more enduring primary group.

Best Friends You Never Met

Writer Allison Levy worked alone. While she appreciated the freedom and flexibility of working from home, she sometimes missed a community of colleagues, both for the practical purpose of brainstorming and for the more social "water cooler" aspect. Levy did what many do in the internet age: he found a group of other writers online through a web forum. Over time, a group of about twenty authors, writing for a similar audience, broke away from the larger forum and formed a private, invitation-only forum. While the writers generally represent all genders, ages and interests, in the end it was a conglomeration of women in their 20s and 30s who formed the new forum; all wrote fiction for children and young adults.

Originally, the Writers' Forum was clearly a side group held together by the professions and work situations of the members. As Levy explained, “On the internet, you can be present or absent as much as you like. Nobody expects you to show up." It was a useful place to look up information about different publishers, who had recently sold what, and to follow industry trends. But over time, Levy discovered it had another purpose. Since the group shared characteristics other than writing (such as age and gender), the online conversation naturally centered around topics such as parenting, aging parents, health and fitness, and Levy found it a personable place to chime in on a variety of topics to speak, not just to write. Even though people didn't post for several days, others expressed their concern and asked if anyone had heard from the missing authors. It got to a point where most members of the group shared, whether they were traveling or needed to be offline for a while.

The group continued to share. A member of the site, who was going through a serious illness in the family, wrote: "I don't know where I would be without you women. It's so nice to have a place to vent that I know won't hurt anyone." Others shared similar sentiments.

So is this a primary group? Most of these people have never met. They live in Hawaii, Australia, Minnesota and around the world. Maybe they never meet. Levy recently wrote to the group, "Most of my 'real life' friends and even my husband don't really understand the script. I don't know what I would do without you." Despite the distance and lack of physical contact, the group clearly fulfills an expressive function.

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Internal groups and external groups

types of groups | introduction to Sociology (1)

illustration 1. This driver and Yankees fan makes it clear he belongs to a group.

One of the ways groups can be powerful is through inclusion and its inverse, exclusion. The feeling of belonging to an elite or select group is exhilarating, while the feeling of not fitting in with a group or being in competition with a group can be motivating in other ways. The sociologist William Sumner (1840-1910) developed the concepts ofin a groupjfrom the groupto explain this phenomenon (Sumner 1906). In short, an ingroup is the group that an individual feels they belong to and believe is an integral part of who they are. An outgroup, on the other hand, is a group to which someone does not belong. We can often feel contempt or competition for an outgroup. Sports teams, unions, and sororities are examples of internal and external groups. People can belong to these or stand outside of them. Parent groups consist of inner and outer groups, as do child groups.

While group affiliations can be neutral or even positive, as in the case of a team-based sports competition, the concept of ingroups and outgroups can also explain some negative human behaviors, such as white supremacist movements like the Ku Klux Klan. . , or bullying gay or lesbian students. By defining others as “not like us” and/or inferior, ingroups can practice ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism—ways of negatively judging others based on their identity, culture, race, gender, age, or sexuality. . Own groups can often be formed within a sub-group. For example, a workplace may have cliques of people ranging from top executives who play golf together, engineers who write code together, to young single people who meet after work. While these ingroups may show a preference for and affinity with other ingroup members, the organization as a whole may be unable or unwilling to recognize this. As such, it pays to be cautious about in-group politics, as members can exclude others in order to gain status within the group.

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In January 2018, 12-year-old Gabriella Green ("Gabby") committed suicide by hanging herself at her home in Panama City, Florida. Two 12-year-old students have been charged with cyberbullying after the investigation looked into their social media accounts and cellphone text messages. Cyberbullying is the use of interactive media by one person to torment another, and it's on the rise. Cyberbullying can mean sending threatening text messages, harassing someone on a public forum (like Facebook), hacking into someone else's account and impersonating them, posting embarrassing pictures online, etc.contributed toGabby's suicide and her case are among those that have sparked nationwide conversations about the need for education, prevention and effective responses for young people who are actively being bullied online.

A study by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that 20 percent of high school students admitted to having "seriously contemplated suicide" because of online bullying (Hinduja and Patchin 2010). While face-to-face bullying requires a willingness to interact directly with the victim, cyberbullying allows bullies to bully others from the privacy of their home without witnessing the harm firsthand. This form of intimidation is particularly dangerous because it is widely available and therefore easier to carry out.

According to a 2013 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly one in three students (27.8 percent) say they have been bullied by their classmates. Seventeen percent of students reported being bullied online.

Measuring cyberbullying and its goals is quite difficult. Researchers have shown that the way questions are asked can lead to gender-biased answers. For example, if a survey asks about “rumour-spreading or harmful commentary,” women are more likely to respond, but if the survey asks about “abuse in videos or online games,” men are more likely to respond.[1]In a survey of 5,000 respondents, cyberbullying occurred primarily among multiracial high school women, second among multiracial high school women, and third among white high school women in the past 30 days (Patchin 2019). The groups least affected by cyberbullying were Asian high school boys, Black high school girls, and Asian high school girls.

types of groups | introduction to Sociology (2)

Figure 2. This chart shows the number of people in each group who reported cyberbullying.

The study of this topic is a mature area for sociological inquiry and has clear political implications. When we consider demographic variables such as race/ethnicity, gender, and age, how does that help us understand this phenomenon? How does understanding groups show the behavior of cyberbullyers (who also report being more likely to commit suicide) and those who experience cyberbullying? What other sociological research methods could be used besides survey research?

reference groups

types of groups | introduction to Sociology (3)

Figure 2.Athletes are often seen as a reference group for young people. (Photo courtesy of Johnny Bivera/US Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

Areference groupIt is a group that people compare themselves to: it provides a yardstick for measurement. In American society, peer groups are common affinity groups. Children and adults pay attention to what their peers are wearing, what music they like, what they do with their free time and compare themselves to what they see. Most people have more than one affinity group, so a middle school student might look not only at his classmates but also at his older brother's friends and see different norms. And maybe you'll watch your favorite athletes' antics on more behaviors.

Some other examples of affinity groups can be the cultural center, the workplace, the family reunion, and even the parents. Affinity groups often convey mixed messages. For example, young adults on television and in the cinema often have wonderful apartments and cars and an active social life, even though they don't have a job. In the music videos, young women are allowed to dance and sing in a sexually aggressive manner that hints at experiences transcending their age. In all age groups we use reference groups to guide our behavior and to show us social norms. So how important is it to surround yourself with positive reference groups? You may not recognize an affinity group, but it still influences your actions. Identifying your affinity groups can help you understand the origin of the social identities you aspire to or wish to distance yourself from.

Types of groups, group dynamics and leadership

Watch this video to review the different types of groups and preview what you'll learn over the next few pages: group dynamics and leadership.

University: a world of internal, external and affinity groups

FFigure 3.Which fraternity or sorority would you fit into, if any? Sorority Recruiting Day offers students the opportunity to learn more about these different groups. (Photo courtesy of Murray State/flickr)

For a student entering college, the sociological study of groups takes on immediate and practical importance. When we arrive in a new place, most of us eventually look around to see how well we want to blend in or how we want to stand out. This is a natural response to a reference group, and on a large campus there can be many competing groups. Let's say you're a strong athlete who wants to play sports at work and your favorite musicians are a local punk band. You may find yourself dealing with two very different affinity groups.

These reference groups can also become your internal or external groups. For example, different groups on campus may ask you to join. Are there fraternities and sororities at your school? If so, they will probably try to persuade the students, that is, the students they deem worthy, to join them. And if you love playing soccer and want to play on a campus team but are wearing ripped jeans, combat boots and a local gang jersey, you might have a hard time convincing the soccer team to give you a shot. While most college groups refrain from insulting competing groups, there is a clear sense of ingroup vs. outgroup. "To them?" one member might say. "They're fine, but their parties aren't as great as ours." Or: "Only serious techies join this group." This instant categorization into ingroups and outgroups means students must choose carefully, as each group they associate with defines not only their friends but potentially their enemies as well.

more research

For more information on the causes and statistics of cyberbullying, visitcyberbullying.org.

think about it

  • Make a list of all the different groups in your social world. Then label each group and make sure you have at least one example of a parent group, child group, inner group, outer group, and reference group. Now write the instrumental and expressive functions of each group next to the group. After reviewing this list and the features of each group, which ones are most important to you? Why?
  • How has technology changed your parent and child groups? Do you have more primary (and separate) groups due to online connectivity? Do you think someone like Levy can have a real primary group made up of people he's never met? Why or why not?
  • Groups can be formed based on exclusion criteria and/or converted into an internal group with clearly defined external groups. Street gangs and motorcycle clubs are extreme examples, but what about fraternities and sororities or athletic rivalries (e.g. Yankees/Red Sox, Celtics/Lakers, Real Madrid/Barcelona, ​​Duke/North Carolina)? What are the instrumental and expressive functions of such ingroups? What malfunctions are there? How is this based on Durkheim's theory of the solidarity society?

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a collection of people living in the same place at the same time, but not interacting with each other or sharing a sense of identity
People who share similar qualities but are not related in any way
expression function:
a group function that serves an emotional need
any group of at least two people who interact with some frequency and who share some sense of aligned identity
in a group:
a group to which a person belongs and feels an integral part of their identity
Instrument function:
be task or goal oriented
external group:
a group to which an individual does not belong and with which he may even compete
main groups:
small informal groups of people closest to us
Reference Groups:
Groups to which a person is compared
larger, impersonal groups that are task-oriented and have limited time


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  1. Patchin, J. 2019. “Cyberbullying Victimization Rates by Race, Gender, and Age.” Cyberbullying Research Center.https://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying-victimization-rates-2016


What are the types of groups in sociology? ›

Four basic types of groups have traditionally been recognized: primary groups, secondary groups, collective groups, and categories.

What are 3 types of social groups? ›

Types of Social Groups: Primary, Secondary and Reference Groups.

What are the 2 major types of groups? ›

Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) suggested that groups can broadly be divided into two categories: primary groups and secondary groups (Cooley 1909).

What are the 4 types of group work? ›

Four types of group work are best known and most researched: collaborative learning, cooperative learning, problem-based learning (often known by its acronym, PBL) and team-based learning (also known by its initials TBL). From the get-go, definitional confusion about these types has prevailed.

What are the 6 types of group behavior? ›

  • Mass Action.
  • Communal Labour/Service.
  • Joining a Protest/March.
  • Participating in fight.
  • Acting Patriotically.

What are the 6 group types? ›

Types of Groups
  • Formal Group.
  • Informal Group.
  • Managed Group.
  • Process Group.
  • Semi-Formal Groups.
  • Goal Group.
  • Learning Group.
  • Problem-Solving Group.

What are the 6 types of social group? ›

If we consider the nature of social contact and intensity of social interaction the types of social group will be as such:
  • Primary Groups. ...
  • Secondary Groups. ...
  • In-Group and Out-Group. ...
  • Formal and Informal Groups. ...
  • Reference Group. ...
  • Ethnic Group. ...
  • Caste. ...
  • Pressure-Group.

What are primary groups in sociology? ›

classification of social groups

“Primary group” refers to those personal relations that are direct, face-to-face, relatively permanent, and intimate, such as the relations in a family, a group of close friends, and the like.…

What are major social groups? ›

There are four main types of groups: 1) primary groups, 2) social groups, 3) collectives, and 4) categories.
  • 1) Primary groups. ...
  • 2) Social groups. ...
  • 3) Collectives. ...
  • 4) Categories.

What are 3 examples of formal groups? ›

Examples of formal groups include sections of departments (such as the accounts receivable section of the accounting department), committees, or special project task forces. These groups are set up by management on either a temporary or permanent basis to accomplish prescribed tasks.

What are the types of groups in social psychology? ›

There are mainly three types of groups in psychology.
  • Primary and secondary groups.
  • Formal and informal groups.
  • Ingroup and outgroup.

What are examples of social groups? ›

Clubs, businesses, families, circles of friends, local religious congregations, and fraternity and sorority chapters are examples of social groups. A primary group is a limited social group whose participants tend to have direct, intimate, and long-term connections.

What are formal and informal groups in sociology? ›

In a formal group, the relationship between the members is professional, they gather just to accomplish the task allotted to them. On the other hand, in an informal group, there is a personal relationship between members, they share their opinions, experiences, problems, information with each other.

How many main groups are there? ›

The main group elements of the periodic table are groups 1, 2 and 13 through 18. Elements in these groups are collectively known as main group or representative elements. These groups contain the most naturally abundant elements, comprise 80 percent of the earth's crust and are the most important for life.

What is ingroup and outgroup in sociology? ›

In sociology and social psychology, an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify.

What are primary and secondary groups? ›

A primary group is a small group based largely on long-term face-to-face interaction, and typically based on affiliation, such as a family or a friendship group; a secondary group is one based on shared goals or interests in which the members are rarely if ever in face-to-face contact with each other, such as a ...

What are the 4 characteristics of a group? ›

Cragon, Wright, and Kasch (2008) state that the primary defining characteristic of group interaction is that it is purposeful. They go on to break down purposeful interaction into four types: problem-solving, role playing, team building, and trust building. Without purposeful interaction, a true group does not exist.

What are the four properties of a group? ›

Properties of Group Under Group Theory

A group, G, is a finite or infinite set of components/factors, unitedly through a binary operation or group operation, that jointly meet the four primary properties of the group, i.e closure, associativity, the identity, and the inverse property.

What are the types of group theory? ›

Group theory has three main historical sources: number theory, the theory of algebraic equations, and geometry.

What are the 8 types of collective behavior? ›

Common forms of collective behavior discussed in this section include crowds, mobs, panics, riots, disaster behavior, rumors, mass hysteria, moral panics, and fads and crazes.

What are the 6 Group properties? ›

Some defining group properties are roles, norms, status, size, cohesiveness, and diversity.

What are the 6 functions of groups? ›

Functions of a Group
  • They help organizations achieve their goals and objectives.
  • They help solve organizational issues.
  • They create a healthy environment in an organization.
  • They help employees raise issues.
  • They motivate employees to perform better.
Mar 10, 2022

What are the 5 characteristics of a group? ›

Characteristics of a Group
  • Size- A group is formed with at least two members. ...
  • Goals- The reason behind the existence of a group is having certain goals to achieve among the group members. ...
  • Norms- ...
  • Structure- ...
  • Roles- ...
  • Interaction- ...
  • Collective Identity-

What are the major types of groups teams? ›

Teams can be divided into four main groups: project teams, self-managed teams, virtual teams, and operational teams. What type of team you have depends on its purpose, location, and organizational structure.

What is a 6 group called? ›

Group 6A — The Chalcogens. Group 6A (or VIA) of the periodic table are the chalcogens: the nonmetals oxygen (O), sulfur (S), and selenium (Se), the metalloid tellurium (Te), and the metal polonium (Po). The name "chalcogen" means "ore former," derived from the Greek words chalcos ("ore") and -gen ("formation").

What are the 7 types of societies? ›

The major types of societies historically have been hunting-and-gathering, horticultural, pastoral, agricultural, industrial, and postindustrial. As societies developed and grew larger, they became more unequal in terms of gender and wealth and also more competitive and even warlike with other societies.

What is a secondary group sociology? ›

Unlike first groups, secondary groups are large groups whose relationships are impersonal and goal oriented. People in a secondary group interact on a less personal level than in a primary group, and their relationships are generally temporary rather than long lasting.

What is secondary group example? ›

Common examples of secondary groups include students in a classroom and workers in an office. Another example of a secondary group is a reading club, which is a group of people with similar interests.

What is the definition of a secondary group? ›

noun. : a social group characterized by conscious collective interest and formal association. contrasted with primary group.

What are examples of primary groups? ›

A primary group is a group in which one exchanges implicit items, such as love, caring, concern, support, etc. Examples of these would be family groups, love relationships, crisis support groups, and church groups. Relationships formed in primary groups are often long lasting and goals in themselves.

What are primary and secondary groups in sociology? ›

The primary group is usually made up of significant others, those individuals who have the most impact on our socialization. The best example of a primary group is the family. Secondary groups are often larger and impersonal. They may also be task-focused and time-limited.


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