School of Psychology

Group Processes and Prejudice

Rupert BrownHumans are a gregarious species. In fact, we probably owed much of our past evolutionary success to our discovery that hunting, living and rearing children were all done better in groups than on our own.

Contemporary life is not much different. Most of what we do involves groups of various kinds: we work in organisations, we are educated in schools and universities, we play in teams, we grow up in families, and we make war (though not usually love!) in groups.

This ubiquity of groups in our everyday lives is one reason why Professor Rupert Brown has written books about how people behave as members of groups. In addition, understanding group processes forms a core part of the study of social psychology at undergraduate level.

group processesIn Group Processes: dynamics within and between groups Professor Rupert Brown reviews what we know about such things as:

  • How do people become members of groups and how do they behave when they do?
  • What roles do we play in our various groups, as leaders, followers or as team members with particular tasks to perform?
  • How does our thinking and behaviour get influenced by others in our group?
  • Do we work better in groups or alone, and do we make better decisions collectively or individually?
  • How do we see and respond to those who are not in our group? When will we compete with them, when will we cooperate?
  • How does our social identity as a group member influence our intergroup behaviour?

These are all classic questions of group psychology that have preoccupied social psychologists for over a hundred years. We are a bit closer to the answers to some of them but many puzzles remain.

In his book Rupert tries ‘to convey the fun and excitement of discovering the former while grappling with the latter’. Group Processes: dynamics within and between groups is used to teach social psychology modules in the first and second years of the undergraduate degree at Sussex which results in great synergy between lectures and core text, which helps to consolidate learning.

PrejudiceIn Prejudice: its social psychology Rupert picks up on one of the themes of Group Processes and tackles one of today’s most pressing social problems: people’s all too common tendency to view and treat ‘outsiders’ – those not in our groups – with condescension, wariness, anxiety or sometimes outright hostility and contempt.

  • Is it just ‘some (other) people’ who are prejudiced, but not (us) the majority? This turns out not to be the case.
  • What are the various cognitive processes underlying prejudice, some of which operate without our conscious awareness. Quite literally, we often do not realise that we are responding in a prejudice manner.
  • How does prejudice develop in young children (it may not be a straightforward matter of simply learning from their parents);
  • How much does prejudice stem from wider intergroup relationships in society?
  • What is it like to be the target of prejudice?
  • What can we do to reduce prejudice?

Throughout the book Rupert liberally illustrates the scientific theories and discoveries of prejudice with examples drawn from contemporary life. This really helps students to understand theory in practice. Prejudice: its social psychology is a core text for the third year option, The Social Psychology of Prejudice, which Rupert convenes.

Rupert loves to write; ‘As a university teacher and researcher, one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of the job is that I get to write a lot: letters, emails, scientific articles and, most of all, books. I have never counted, but I suspect that I must write several tens of thousand words every year. From an early age, I always loved writing, and I still do (though I wouldn’t mind writing fewer emails!). I relish the challenge of finding just the right way to express the ideas that I want to get across; I enjoy the craft of formulating sentences so that they read fluently and, above all, clearly’ he states. Rupert’s ability to write is evident as his books are both enjoyable read and easy to understand.

‘However, it may amaze you to learn that I still do most of my ‘serious’ writing with a fountain pen: a 15 year old Waterman with Parker permanent black ink. Although I appreciate this makes me something of a Luddite in most people’s eyes, I can only plead that it seems to work for me’ he says. ‘not for me the ‘quick and easy’ cutting and pasting facilities of modern word processing software; I like to know what I am going to write before I start and, with this plan in my head, I then just sit down and write it’ he explains.

Like his two books, Rupert’s lectures and seminars are injected with a little humour or personal anecdote. ‘I find that students respond well to a style that is not overly dry or academic’ he states, and in so doing Rupert makes the study of social psychology wonderfully interesting and enjoyable.

Banner image shows the The Hall of Names, a circular ceiling of photographs and fragments recording victims of the Holocaust, at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Centre, Jerusalem, Israel.