Groups generally work in a context that is both relational and social. Quality communication such as helping behaviors and information-sharing causes groups to be superior communicating in small groups beebe pdf the average individual in terms of the quality of decisions and effectiveness of decisions made or actions taken.
However, quality decision-making requires that members both identify with the group and have an attitude of commitment to participation in interaction. The first important research study of small group communication was performed in front of a live studio audience in Hollywood California by social psychologist Robert Bales and published in a series of books and articles in the early and mid 1950s . Bales made a series of important discoveries. First, group discussion tends to shift back and forth relatively quickly between the discussion of the group task and discussion relevant to the relationship among the members. He believed that this shifting was the product of an implicit attempt to balance the demands of task completion and group cohesion, under the presumption that conflict generated during task discussion causes stress among members, which must be released through positive relational talk. Second, task group discussion shifts from an emphasis on opinion exchange, through an attentiveness to values underlying the decision, to making the decision. Third, the most talkative member of a group tends to make between 40 and 50 percent of the comments and the second most talkative member between 25 and 30, no matter the size of the group.
As a consequence, large groups tend to be dominated by one or two members to the detriment of the others. For example, communication researcher B. Aubrey Fisher showed groups going sequentially through an orientation stage, a conflict stage, a stage in which a decision emerges and a stage in which that decision is reinforced. First, all group data was combined before analysis, making it impossible to determine whether there were differences among groups in their sequence of discussion.
Second, group discussion content was compared across the same number of stages as the researcher hypothesized, such that if the researcher believed there were four stages to discussion, there was no way to find out if there actually were five or more. He hypothesized that groups finding themselves in some difficulty due to task complexity, an unclear leadership structure or poor cohesion act as if they feel the need to conduct a “complete” discussion and thus are more likely to pass through all stages as the linear phase model implies, whereas groups feeling confident due to task simplicity, a clear leadership structure and cohesion are more likely to skip stages apparently deemed unnecessary. Another milestone in the study of group discussion content was early 1960s work by communication researchers Thomas Scheidel and Laura Crowell regarding the process by which groups examine individual proposed solutions to their problem. They concluded that after a proposal is made, groups discuss it in an implied attempt to determine their “comfort level” with it and then drop it in lieu of a different proposal.
Although there are serious methodological problems with this work, other studies have led to similar conclusions. For example, in the 1970s, social psychologist L. Richard Hoffman noted that odds of a proposal’s acceptance is strongly associated with the arithmetical difference between the number of utterances supporting versus rejecting that proposal. More recent work has shown that groups differ substantially in the extent to which they spiral.
Additional developments have taken place within group communication theory as researchers move away from conducting research on zero-history groups, and toward a “bona fide” groups perspective. The bona fide group, as described by Linda L. Putnam and Cynthia Stohl in 1990, fosters a sense of interdependence among the members of the group, along with specific boundaries that have been agreed upon by members over time. Two early examples of social psychological research have been particularly influential. Sherif asked participants to voice their judgments of light movement in the presence of others and noted that these judgments tended to converge. 3 of the cases, participants voiced the obviously wrong judgment. Sherif’s study appears to be an example.