Tavris’ In Groups We Shrink
The main position in, In Groups We Shrink, is so true when applied to
situations of aggregation of a large number of people. As stated in, In Groups
We Shrink, in large groups we are reluctant to deviate from the norm, however,
if alone we often act without even hesitating. We can apply this to everyday
situations as with, The Lottery. Why are people so hesitant to act out when in
large groups? There may be a broad spectrum of reasons from the mentality of
“diffusion of responsibility” to the fear of ridicule.
It seems as if within a group we act as single entity instead of a group
of individuals. “In groups we shrink” may sound paradoxical but it is evident
to be true. In a group we tend to think singularly instead of groups of many
single individuals. This could be due to the fact that people are afraid of
ridicule. So afraid that nobody is willing to do the morally correct thing.
As in The Lottery, we see that people are reluctant to act out against
the remainder of the group. Why did the town’s people just stand by and take
part in the senseless stoning of Mrs. Hutchinson? Why didn’t anyone intervene?
Nobody was willing to be an individual and step up to take responsibility and
put an end to the senseless lottery.
Another good example of the reluctance to act against the group would be
the Rodney King incident. As the officers clubbed, electrocuted, and beat
Rodney King to a bloody pulp, onlookers just looked on. Nobody did anything to
stop the senseless beating. It was obvious that the police officers were using
excessive force. Someone even shot the whole incident on videotape. Despite
the number of onlookers, to no one’s surprise, not a single person tried to stop
it. Even as other fellow officers watched on, they just stood around. Again,
we ask the question of why didn’t anybody do anything? What were the people
In addition to being afraid of being an individual in the midst of a
group, people often look at others to set the example. Another term for this is,
“diffusion of responsibility” or “social loafing”. For example, I’ve been in
many classes where the students were afraid to speak out. But eventually there
is a brave soul who ventures to raise their hand to answer a question. And this
starts the ball rolling. Eventually each individual starts to get involved with
the class. People often have the mentality that someone else will take the
Often times this seems to be the case. In, In Groups We Shrink, Tavris
gives us the example of the students seated in a room and then smoke was
released into the room. “Students who were on their own usually hesitated a
minute, got up, checked the vents and then went out to report what certainly
seemed like a fire. But the students who were sitting in groups of three did
not move. They sat there for six minutes, with smoke so thick they could barely
see, rubbing their eyes and coughing.”
“Diffusion of responsibility” can also be witnessed in The Lottery.
Nobody wanted to go against the grain. Until the lottery directly affected them,
they did not feel like they had to put an end to it. Although the lottery may
have been morally wrong, they all went along with it because nobody felt the
obligation to break the chain.
Although we aren’t often faced with situations that require us to make
the decision of acting against the group, most of us may claim that if faced
with that situation we would be able to be individuals and do the morally
correct. With the ever-growing media coverage of incidents like the Rodney King
incident, we are left to ponder this question daily. Would we be able to act
accordingly when faced with situations like that? I think if exposed enough, we
might be able to. With a little help from the media, we can reverse the
mentality from being single individual efforts to a group effort. So the stigma
of being different from the rest of the group would be less potent.