What Is Group Emotion?

Daniel Liden

Group emotion is a term used to describe the overall emotional state of a group, which emerges from and influences the emotional states of the individuals who make up the group. This form of emotion is often studied in sociology and psychology because of its importance in group dynamics and its effect on the emotional states of individuals. It is also a subject of interest in studies of leadership and education because effective management of group emotion can greatly increase the effectiveness of a group at a given task and the ability of a group to acquire new skills and knowledge.

Individual emotions contribute to the emotion of a group.
Individual emotions contribute to the emotion of a group.

Two primary viewpoints tend to dominate the possible ways of examining the phenomenon of group emotion: the top-down and the bottom-up views. The top-down approach emphasizes the impact that the emotional state of the group has on the individual members of the group. Group emotion can strongly intensify and alter personal emotion, particularly in cohesive groups with goals important to the individuals. It can also set social constraints that limit the presence, or at least the expression, of certain emotions that are not aligned with those of the group. The similarities and differences in the emotions of members of a group can be used to assess the cohesiveness of the group as a whole.

Natural leaders are often able to manipulate group emotion to some extent.
Natural leaders are often able to manipulate group emotion to some extent.

The bottom-up approach focuses on how the emotions of the individual members of the group influence the emotional state of the group as a whole. Studies based on this approach tend to examine how individual aspects of emotion, including emotional maturity, changing moods, and personal values, tend to result in an emergent group emotion that affects all members of the group. Another important aspect of this view is the emotional effects of those who have drastically different emotional behaviors than the "group average." A truly comprehensive study of the emotions displayed by a group must include both top-down and bottom-up approaches.

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Group emotion is often studied in relation to leadership. Many theories of leadership are based, directly or indirectly, on the idea that leadership skills should involve the ability to manipulate group emotion to some extent. Natural leaders may be able to do this simply because of intrinsic aspects of their personalities while others need to learn specific leadership techniques that allow them to manipulate the emotions of a group. Additionally, the emotions of a group are often influenced by the emotions of the leader more than by the emotions of other individual members.

Group emotions can dictate what type of activities friends might do when hanging out.
Group emotions can dictate what type of activities friends might do when hanging out.

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