Individual or group: why do people change when they belong to a group?

By the time an individual interacts with a group of people, they usually feel like they are part of a group that is beyond them, and this feeling can lead to a detachment from your ethical values already directing his decisions and actions in a way he would never have imagined as an independent individual.

This is what many historical events have witnessed over the centuries.

Individual and group: investigating the influence of the collective on the subject

Recently published research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, which looked at this phenomenon of social psychology in an attempt to unravel how it is possible for people with moral values ​​to commit evil acts when they are protected or legitimized by a group, ignoring their ethical principles.

The researchers compared the brain function of people when they were without company and when they were in the company of a group of people.

The study was born out of the inspiration that gave one of the leading researchers an experience during a football match. Her husband went to a soccer match wearing the cap of one of the teams playing the game, but had the bad luck to sit in a town surrounded by fans of the opposing team, so he must have received d ‘countless insults and insults. The researcher, who accompanied her husband to the camp in the neighboring locality, thought that if she put on her cap, the followers would moderate her insults (or even cease) out of respect for a woman.

However, that is not what ended up happening. At this moment, the psychologist wondered if there could be a neurological reason for this group behavior.

When enmities go from interindividual to intergroup

Essentially, there are two basic reasons why individuals change their behavior when they are (or feel they are) part of a group. That’s it:

Basically there is two fundamental reasons why people behave differently when they are part of a group, they are:

1. Perception of anonymity

2. Perception of less risk of being punished for their fault

However, in this research the intention was to study the ethical conflict what happens to the individual when he is part of a group, and to see to what extent the group might have the effect of inhibiting individual moral principles.

In the experiment, participants were asked to answer a few questions showing a preview on its ethical principles. In this way, the researchers modeled certain individualized statements, such as “I stole food from a common refrigerator” or “I always apologize when I run into someone.”

Subjects were then asked to participate in a game in which they were asked to think about some of the aforementioned phrases and, while playing, their brains were observed by scanning. To be able to distinguish neurological effects, some participants played alone, while others did so in groups.


People who played without any company and therefore reflected on their own moral judgments, showed increased brain activity in the region of the median prefrontal cortex, which is the area where thought operates on an even. People fully identified with the sentences that exposed them, so it was not uncommon to find these results.

Less expected was that when subjects playing in groups reflected on these ethical statements, their response was less intense. This suggests that the level of identification of sentences was lower in the face of their own moral beliefs.


The researchers concluded that our judgments on ethics become more flexible when we are part of a community, Because we feel that the group has a value which tends to weaken our personality and our beliefs. In the context of group membership, we become anonymous subjects as our priorities and beliefs change as we move from the identity of “I” to “we”.

Therefore, we tend to reconfigure our beliefs and values ​​to those of the group, Which is detectable even at the brain level. This metamorphosis can have a perverse effect, because if we stop recognizing and identifying with certain moral values, we are more likely not to feel rejection or remorse for certain actions or attitudes, and thus become benevolent in the face of a behavior. false., Violent or perverse.

Bibliographical references:

  • Cikara, M. and. At. (2014) Reduced self-referential neuronal response during intergroup competition predicts competitor injury. NeuroImage; 96 (1): 36-43.

Leave a Comment