Came across this in an issue of IEEE Computer today. It’s a simple conceptual model from the 1960s by a guy called Bruce Tuckman of the stages small groups go through; groups such as committees, work groups, and project teams. The basic stages seem obvious, but, as with many models of human behaviour, the value comes from their being made explicit such that they can be recognized, acknowledged, and facilitated appropriately.

Here’s what the original article says (my emphasis):

Groups initially concern themselves with orientation accomplished primarily through testing. Such testing serves to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviors. Coincident with testing in the interpersonal realm is the establishment of dependency relationships with leaders, other group members, or pre‑existing standards. It may be said that orientation, testing and dependence constitute the group process of forming.

The second point in the sequence is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues, with concomitant emotional responding in the task sphere. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and may be labeled as storming.

Resistance is overcome in the third stage in which in-group feeling and cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted. In the task realm, intimate, personal opinions are expressed. Thus, we have the stage of norming.

Finally, the group attains the fourth and final stage in which interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task. Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance. This stage can be labeled as performing.

So, basically, small groups go through the following phases:

  • Forming – the group forms, and members break the ice and begin to get to know one another. Individuals develop the confidence necessary to function within the group.
  • Storming – group members begin to assert themselves through conflict as social roles are negotiated. They act to maintain their own individuality as well as determine their status within the group.
  • Norming – common vocabulary, assumptions, and goals are articulated, and the group begins to function together. Group identity forms.
  • Performing – the group becomes productive, trust becomes firmly established, and group energy is channeled primarily into the task at hand.

I don’t know about you, but these stages certainly feel familiar. I don’t think it’s useful to claim that these are distinct and clear stages, however. Rather, I think they’re best thought of as overlapping phases describing a ‘natural’ progression. With that in mind, then, here’s a bunch of ways you could use this model:

Firstly, with a model at hand, it’s easy to see when behaviour deviates from a ‘normal’ pattern. This isn’t intrinsically bad, but, if unexplained, may be indicative of certain problems within a group.

Secondly, individuals and subgroups might not necessarily move through this progression at a uniform rate – if part of the group is still stuck storming, it makes it hard for the rest of the group to begin norming. In such situtations, a skilled group leader might be able to gently nudge such individuals by, for example, allowing them other outlets to express themselves.

Thirdly, it seems like these stages aren’t just what normally occurs, but also what needs to occur for a group to function. It’s probably important to be aware of this when forming expectations of a group’s performance.

Fourthly, it’s always nice to have a vocabulary to describe things like this, particular given that the elements of group behaviour are normally quite implicit.

Edit: Lastly, it’s interesting to think about the emotional conflicts and outbursts that sometimes occur and realize that they’re actually just part of the process rather than some intrinsically negative distraction.

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Posted in Concepts, Mind & Society | No Comments »

In my last post, I talked about the meaningless of taste as a way of describing our preferences. In this post, I’m going to sketch out a scheme that I tend to use in describing preferences.

There are many ways in which a given piece of music might be appreciated. Examples include virtuosity, technical characteristics, emotional reaction, nostalgia, or even lyrics. Some of our appreciation is based on the objective properties of the music; other times on our subjective interpretation, and still others on partially objective criteria; that is, criteria that are objective within a group or other frame of reference such as a particular aesthetic.

I like to think of these as distinct modes of appreciation and, for the purposes of this discussion, will call them facets. Thinking about appreciation in terms of facets brings out the following observations:

  • A particular person doesn’t necessarily employ the same facets appreciating the time. Instead, different pieces of music might stimulate them through different facets, as might, perhaps, the same piece of music, depending on mood.
  • Just because two people like a song doesn’t mean they like it for the same reasons; they might employ completely different facets in appreciating it and there may be no other correlation between their overall preferences. This implies that merely knowing which songs someone likes is less useful than understanding their reasons for liking them, particularly if we want to assess whether two people share similar taste or predict how someone will react to new music.
  • Not everyone has access to all facets as some facets require particular skills, knowledge, or experience. This implies that we can learn to improve our powers of appreciation, and that some people have more diverse means of appreciation at their disposal than others; in this sense, they could be said to have more sophisticated taste.
  • Though some facets rely on objective properties, appreciation always involves some degree of subjectivity. For example, though we can objectively identify the technical characteristics of a piece, our appreciation becomes subjective when we interpret and judge the piece using those characteristics. One objection to this might be the argument that we react viscerally to certain stimuli in particular ways. This is objective in a sense, but only inasmuch as all humans share similarly structured meat-brains – an alien wouldn’t necessarily agree that these facets are objective. The key point here is that the nature of the audience always plays a role in appreciation.
  • Some facets are extremely specific, relating to particular experiences or contexts. For example, there are certain pieces of music that appeal to me because they remind me of particular times during my childhood and no one else shares that exact same appreciation, though if the music was part of a particular zeitgeist, they may share similar appreciations. Nostalgic facets make it virtually impossible for two people share exactly the same taste
  • To those who do not know which facets we employ, our preferences appear arbitrary and entirely personal. My sense is that this is the origin of the idea of taste as criticized in my last post. Certainly, we all recognize a certain amount of consistency and reason in our own preferences even if we are not necessarily able to articulate it, so why can’t we assume this of others?

That’s all for now – in my next post on this topic, I’ll build a rough taxonomy of different facet types.

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Posted in Mind & Society | 1 Comment »

I’ve heard of colour affecting mood, but not performance. Interesting paper in last week’s Science on several studies examining performance and creativity in various tasks when using a computer with different background colours. It seems surprising to me that they were able to get significant differences simply by changing the background colour, not the content, or anything else.

Existing research reports inconsistent findings with regard to the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Some research suggests that blue or green leads to better performances than red; other studies record the opposite. Current work reconciles this discrepancy. We demonstrate that red (versus blue) color induces primarily an avoidance (versus approach) motivation (study 1, n = 69) and that red enhances performance on a detail-oriented task, whereas blue enhances performance on a creative task (studies 2 and 3, n = 208 and 118). Further, we replicate these results in the domains of product design (study 4, n = 42) and persuasive message evaluation (study 5, n = 161) and show that these effects occur outside of individuals’ consciousness (study 6, n = 68). We also provide process evidence suggesting that the activation of alternative motivations mediates the effect of color on cognitive task performances.

Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) Zhu (5 February 2009) Science [DOI: 10.1126/science.1169144]

Why am I posting this?
I’m interested in pretty much any verifiable means of enhancing human cognitive performance, even if they seem a bit odd. If background colour affects us sufficiently that our performance and mood changes, I have to wonder what would happen if our whole vision was tinted. And, what does my green screen background colour mean? Interesting, if kooky-sounding, idea for augmenting reality. Brings to mind the general idea of using AR as a simple means of interposing image processing between the viewer and the viewed. Could be particularly useful for people with various vision deficiencies and colour blindness.

Also, interesting point about likely variation between North American students (as interviewed in the study) and students of other nationalities.

via Cosmos

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