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Health: Life Hacks #3 – Group Up and Hack Some Friends Into Your Life

Posted June 27, 2012 by Ann Cronin in Lifestyle
Crowd surf

We all saw it in Poznan when fans stayed and sung their misery away after a 4-0 defeat to Spain: groups are good for you.

Group processes were evident when fans cemented their group identity by remaining upbeat, bolstering collective self confidence and maintaining a positive outlook through a few hundred rounds of ‘The Fields Of Athenry’. The Irish fans’ group identity is firmly ‘positive, good craic and friendly’. The result on the field was not going to destroy that, so the songs carried the group forward and helped it maintain these important characteristics.

One of the most interesting aspects to group psychology is our willingness to help other members of the same group. People stop and help strangers who are dressed in team colours much more readily than they would any other stranger. Numerous tales abound from our emigrant population of GAA shirts being spotted and help offered immediately.

Traditionally, psychology has been about the study of the individual; the last thirty years have seen an explosion of research into groups and group identity. Group identity is when you act in terms of your membership of particular groups. Think about it. You may be an individual, but when you are acting in terms of your role in, for example, the ‘mother’ group, you act in certain ways; you are constrained by what is normal group behaviour for you as a mother.

The same is true of all the identities you carry about, swapping effortlessly between ‘worker’ or ‘party animal’ behaviours, dependent on the situation. Instead of thinking of people as individuals moving one personality between situations, think of the normal behaviour associated with a place or time and how we judge people based on their ability to behave accordingly. Most Christmas party faux pas are because of the invasion of one identity (drunken madman) into a group with a very straight-laced norm for behaviour.

The Hack

Time to pull out the finger and get some new groups into your life. Join a book club, start orienteering, develop a hobby, rewatch Star Trek and get your Trekkie on; being part of groups is good for you and recent evidence suggests the more the merrier. When people put all of their efforts into singular identities, the risk or failure and subsequent trauma are greater. Take for example the singer who loses his voice or the career person who lives to work and loses her job. Such shocks affect the individual greatest when these identities are the major focus of their life. Contrast this with somebody who has many social identities: parent, friend, volunteer, reader, painter, worker. The loss of one identity is not as catastrophic.

Being part of multiple groups has a number of psychological and health benefits. For instance, being socially isolated is more of a factor in repeat stroke than exercise and coronary artery disease. People with multiple social networks suffer less from the common cold even though they are more exposed to germs. Social isolation should be checked by your GP as its risks are comparable to smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Having a bigger social network to fall back on in times of stress is just as important, it seems, as other healthy practices.

So think of groups as a form of psychological inoculation to threats to your physical and emotional wellbeing. A word to the wise on online groups must be added: unless you see the people you network with online and benefit from interaction with them, beware. While research into the benefits of online networks is ongoing, it appears those with the least amount of real-world engagement are those with the highest online presence. Be careful to balance watching groups with doing stuff with them.

For more, see Jetten, Haslam and Haslam’s ‘The Social Cure: Identity, Health and Wellbeing’.

Featured Image by Travlr

About the Author

Ann Cronin

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