In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Small Groups

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Edited Books
  • Overview Articles
  • Basic Issues in Analyzing Groups
  • Topics in Small Group Research

Psychology Small Groups
Richard Moreland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0029


Much of life is shaped by the small groups to which we belong. These groups include families, work teams, and friendship cliques, to name a few examples. Because they are so important, groups are studied by scientists from several disciplines. Within psychology, most of the work on groups is done by social and organizational psychologists, but developmental and clinical psychologists sometimes study groups as well. Groups are also studied by people from several other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and political science. Work is also produced by practitioners who use groups as tools to accomplish their professional goals in business, education, medicine, or sports. A few textbooks on small groups are available. Many edited books, containing chapters by different authors, have been published as well, especially in the past few years. Some of these books cover a variety of phenomena, whereas others focus on a single phenomenon. Finally, although some journals in psychology publish an occasional article or two on groups, special issues that are devoted entirely to small groups are published from time to time by some journals. In addition, there are now a few journals that publish only group research. Examples include Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice (cited under Textbooks) , Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, (cited under Edited Books)and Small Group Research (cited under Basic Issues in Analyzing Groups). Scientific conferences, especially the Nags Head summer conferences (held every year from 1981 to 1999), have played a major role in the growth of small groups as a field. Papers about groups are presented in almost every psychology and sociology conference, but there are a few special conferences that offer presentations only about groups. The best of these may be INGROUP (the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research), which sponsors a conference every year in July, but the European Society of Experimental Social Psychology and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues occasionally sponsor conferences devoted to group phenomena as well.


Textbooks about small groups are rare, perhaps because few universities offer courses devoted to groups. (This is a shame, given how important an understanding of groups is to success in many fields.) The available textbooks tend to fall into two broad categories. Some of them, especially in fields such as business and communications, are “how-to” manuals that promise to help students become better at managing groups; Thompson 2010 is a good example of such a book. The remaining textbooks (e.g., Brown 2000, Forsyth 2010) are more traditional in nature, offering students more abstract knowledge about groups, knowledge that students can then apply to actual groups on their own. Levine and Moreland 2006 is a new kind of “textbook,” one that contains source readings meant to accompany a more traditional textbook.

  • Brown, Rupert. 2000. Group processes: Dynamics within and between groups. 2d ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A textbook suitable for undergraduate or graduate courses that offers a European viewpoint (reflecting social identity and self-categorization theory) on groups.

  • Forsyth, Donelson R. 2010. Group dynamics. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Cengage.

    A popular small groups textbook, used mostly for undergraduate courses but also suitable for some graduate courses. The author not only reviews academic research on groups (mostly from social and organizational psychology) but also applies concepts drawn from that research to a variety of natural groups.

  • Levine, John M., and Richard L. Moreland, eds. 2006. Small groups: Key readings. New York: Psychology Press.

    Twenty-six readings in all, each a previously published article on some aspect of small groups. The readings are divided into five topic areas: group composition, group structure, conflict within groups, group performance, and the ecology of groups. Each set of readings begins with a brief introduction that explains the topic area and then comments briefly on each reading. The book ends with a general guide for undergraduate readers about how to read articles from scientific journals.

  • Thompson, Leigh L. 2010. Making the team: A guide for managers. 4th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall.

    A book that focuses on work teams. Intended for use by people who are, or hope to become, managers in business settings. Suitable for undergraduate or graduate courses in business. Includes several useful appendices (e.g., a toolkit for managing team meetings).

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