Organisational psychology is not exactly quantum physics, but in one respect it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. In physics, the Heisenberg Effect describes a conundrum wherein the act of observation of an object or process alters that which is being observed. The relational processes between person, group, and context work in much the same way: the person both affects and is affected by the group and these individually and together affect and are affected by the context, and all these mutual changes alter the mutual effects. Thus, the only valid analysis and explanation of the group-person-context dynamic is a snapshot, and this is particularly true of analysing the dynamic from a first-person perspective.
My observations of my own behaviour and experiences in the dynamic inevitably alters my perceptions in some way, at the very least by expanding my understanding of them, so that my behaviour changes and has a different effect on the dynamic. Relational Processes between Person and GroupThere are different ideas about how a personality is defined. In the Week 6 class lecture various approaches to theories of personality were explored, and one of the concepts presented was Eysenck’s Type Theory, an idiographic approach that describes four interconnected parts of a personality: Extroversion, Introversion, Neuroticism, and Stability.
Much of the research into actual applications of personality into real-world organisational situations, however, speaks of the “Big Five” components of personality: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism or anxiety, conscientiousness, and openness. (Guthrie, Coate, and Schwoerer, 1998; Antonioni, 1998; Manning, Pogson, and Morrison, 2008) Every person has some degree of every one of these components in their personality, which are determined by the person’s heredity, environment – meaning family, and culture – and circumstances.
These components are all interconnected and are all changeable to some degree, mostly through the circumstances determinant, which is where the relational process between person and group occurs. The other determinants of personality – heredity and environment – are what J. M. Balkin (1998) calls cultural software. These are the parts of the personality that are the least easy to change, and represent a kind of “operating system” for each person. This personal software is made up of memes, or units of cultural transmission, most of which are written into the person’s system at an early age through their genes, their family and social status, and the culture in which they grow up.
(Balkin, 1998: 43) Thus when forming or joining groups, every person brings a unique basic program – a personality – to the group. But because every personality can be determined at least partially by circumstances, the group, which is the product of many diverse personalities, can change every personality. There are two ways in which this can happen: cognitive contagion, which is the transfer of ideas and knowledge, and emotional contagion, which is the transfer of feelings and emotions.
(Barsade, 2002) Of the two, cognitive contagion is easier to understand, because most ideas can be transmitted with language, whereas emotional contagion is a complex mix of language and non-verbal cues. (Ibid. ) In common terms, emotional contagion is what happens when someone’s mood “rubs off on” someone else. Barsade’s study was one of the first to quantify the effect, by using carefully-trained researcher to ‘transmit’ specific moods to a group of unsuspecting subjects, and then using several observers to note the subjects’ reactions.
(Barsade, 2002: 652)