What is Cohesion?

Cohesion  represents  the  degree  to  which  task and social bonds exist among group members, as well as the strength of individuals’ attractions to the  task  and  social  activities  of  the  group.  This entry  briefly  highlights  the  history,  characteristics,  conceptualization,  measurement,  and  correlates  of  cohesion  within  sport  and  exercise environments.

History

Interest in and discussion surrounding the concept of cohesion has a long history across a wide variety  of  academic  domains,  including  sport,  exercise, business, education, and the military. This has resulted  in  the  development  of  a  number  of  definitions,  conceptualizations,  and  assessment  tools. As examples, previous research has proposed that cohesion  is  represented  by  the  factors  keeping members  in  the  group,  the  degree  to  which  the group  can  resist  disruption,  the  commitment  displayed by group members, and individuals’ attractions to other members and the group’s tasks.

Characteristics

Despite the varied historical approaches to understanding  cohesion,  the  1985  work  by  Albert Carron, Neil Widmeyer, and Larry Brawley served to provide a strong foundation for research within the  fields  of  sport  and  exercise  psychology,  and highlighted four characteristics of group cohesion:

Multidimensional.  There  are  a  number  of  facets to consider with respect to cohesion, including the orientation  of  the  social  cognitions  individuals hold about their group (perceptions of group integration and personal attractions to the group), as well  as  the  focus  of  those  perceptions  (task  and social objectives of the group). Importantly, groups within  one  context  like  sport  or  across  contexts like  sport  versus  business  may  differ  in  terms  of which factors are most important to group unity.

Dynamic.  Another  assumption  about  the  nature of   cohesion   is   that   it   is   dynamic.   Essentially, cohesion  can  change  over  the  course  of  group development. From a practical perspective, this is encouraging as it suggests that effective intervenetions could facilitate more positive perceptions of group unity.

Instrumental.  Whether  for  task  or  social  objectives,  groups  form  with  some  purpose  in  mind. Furthermore,  individuals  hold  perceptions  about the  unity  with  which  the  group  pursues  these objectives.

Affective.  The   interactions   and   communication that  occur  in  groups  result  in  social  relationships among   members   and   a   larger   sense   of   social cohesion.

Conceptualization

A well-accepted conceptual model of cohesion was advanced by Carron et al. in 1985 in conjunction with the development of their Group Environment Questionnaire.  This  model  draws  distinctions with  respect  to  the  two  aspects  of  cohesion  outlined  previously  (refer  to  the  multidimensional characteristic  of  cohesion).  The  first  considers the  general  objectives  of  the  group,  and  broadly assumes  that  these  objectives  can  be  classified  as being  either  task  or  social  in  nature.  Task  objectives refer to those that focus on the productivity and performance of the group. In contrast, social objectives refer to those that focus on maintaining group harmony and interrelationships among the members.

A second distinction that is made in the conceptual  model  considers  cohesion  from  the  perspective  of  the  group  as  a  whole  (group  integration), as  well  as  individual  members’  attractions  to  the group.  Group  integration  refers  to  the  degree  of bonding,  closeness,  and  unity  displayed  by  the members,  while  individuals’  attractions  refer  to the  personal  motivations  and  feelings  that  draw and keep members within the group.

Consideration  of  the  general  objectives  of  the group (task vs. social), as well as the group versus individual perspective, results in a four dimension model of cohesion: (1) group integration–task, the degree  to  which  the  group  is  united  around  task objectives (GI-T); (2) group integration–social, the degree to which the group is united around social objectives (GI-S); (3) individual attractions to the group–task, group members’ personal perceptions about  their  involvement  with  task  aspects  of  the group  (ATG-T);  and  (4)  individual  attractions to  the  group–social,  group  members’  personal perceptions  about  their  involvement  with  social aspects of the group (ATG-S).

It  should  be  noted  that  recent  research  has highlighted  that  the  above  conceptual  model  is most relevant to an adult population. Studies conducted  with  younger  sport  participants  provided evidence that these individuals do not distinguish between  group  integration  and  individual  attractions  to  the  group  perspectives.  As  a  result,  it has  been  suggested  that  researchers  differentiate cohesion perceptions of children and youth based only  on  the  general  objectives  of  the  group,  that is, task versus social cohesion. This is reflected in the  measures  that  have  been  developed  in  recent years,  which  are  summarized  in  the  subsequent section.

Measurement

A  number  of  assessment  tools  exist  that  capture perceptions of cohesion held by a variety of different  groups.  The  most  recent  versions  are presented:

  • Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ). Developed in 1985 by Carron and colleagues, the GEQ directly corresponds with the four dimension conceptual model outlined earlier.
  • The Youth Sport Environment Questionnaire (YSEQ). Early cohesion studies periodically assessed cohesion perceptions held by youth sport participants via the GEQ. However, researchers noted that some of the psychometric properties of the GEQ were questionable when used with this population. Others postulated that the advanced level of readability, use of negative phrasing for some items, and decreased applicability of the conceptual model may partially explain the experienced difficulties. As a result, Mark Eys, Todd Loughead, Bert Carron, and Steven Bray developed the YSEQ in 2009 specifically to assess youth (approximately 13–17 years of age) perceptions of cohesion.
  • The Child Sport Cohesion Questionnaire (CSCQ). Further extending the ability to assess sport participants’ perceptions of cohesion, Luc Martin and colleagues developed an assessment tool relevant to children 9–12 years of age.
  • Questionnaire sur l’Ambiance du Groupe (QAG). The Group Environment Questionnaire has been translated into several languages. The work conducted by Jean-Philippe Heuzé and Paul Fontayne in 2002 highlighted the difficulties in translating the meaning of specific questions across cultures and languages, but also reinforced the salience of the four dimension conceptual model of cohesion for adult populations.
  • The Physical Activity Group Environment Questionnaire (PAGEQ). With the intention of gauging exercisers’ perceptions of group cohesion within physical activity contexts, Paul Estabrooks and Bert Carron developed the PAGEQ. Its structure is similar to the GEQ in terms of dimensionality and response options.

Correlates

The availability of assessment tools and interest in group dynamics has yielded a number of insights pertaining to the antecedents and consequences of cohesion. The following sections briefly highlight two  major  correlates  of  interest,  performance and  adherence,  and  list  a  number  of  individual and  group  variables  that  have  been  linked  with cohesion.

Performance.  The   cohesion–performance   relationship has been a major research interest for the field. Substantial evidence exists that this relationship  is  positive  and  bidirectional,  that  is,  greater cohesion  leads  to  better  performance  and  better performance  leads  to  greater  cohesion.  Furthermore,  this  relationship  exists  at  all  competitive levels, from recreational to competitive levels, and across   sport   types   (e.g.,   interdependent   versus independent sports). Finally, of all the moderators examined,  only  gender  appears  to  moderate  this relationship.  Specifically,  the  positive  cohesion– performance link is stronger for female athletes.

Adherence.  Another  major  variable  of  interest  is the  adherence  of  sport  and  exercise  group  members.  The  sport  studies  that  have  been  conducted suggest  that  members  of  highly  cohesive  teams drop out less during the competitive season, show up  to  games  and  practices  on  time,  expend  more effort, and indicate stronger intentions to return to their team the following season. Furthermore, athletes’ actual return to their sport team the following year has been predicted by their perceptions of group  cohesion  in  the  previous  season.  Similar findings  have  been  demonstrated  in  exercise  contexts, in that those individuals who participate in a cohesive  group  environment  are  more  likely  to adhere to their exercise regimens and accrue positive outcomes.

Individual variables.  Perceptions of greater group cohesion  tend  to  have  positive  associations  with important  variables  at  the  individual  level.  As examples,  cohesion  is  positively  associated  with athletes’  sport  satisfaction  and  negatively  associated   with   perceptions   of   state   anxiety   and depression.

Group   variables.  In   addition   to   team   performance, stronger perceptions of cohesion relate to other  group-oriented  concepts,  such  as  improved role  involvement  like  greater  role  clarity,  normative expectations, and collective efficacy, as well as lower levels of group conflict.

Potential Downsides of Cohesion

While  the  presentation  of  group  cohesion  highlights the many positive associations that cohesion has with important sport and exercise variables, it is  also  critical  to  consider  whether  high  cohesion creates  challenges  for  groups.  It  is  possible  for highly  cohesive  groups  to  be  more  likely  to  have issues  with  groupthink  (tendency  for  a  group  to apply normative pressures on its members within decision-making  processes),  deindividuation  (loss of personal identity and self-awareness), and social loafing.  In  2005,  James  Hardy  and  colleagues explored whether athletes perceived downsides of highly  cohesive  sport  teams;  their  findings  indicated that over half of the athletes identified specific issues on this topic. For example, a number of participants noted that high social cohesion among team members may challenge their ability to focus and commit to task goals.

References:

  1. Carron, A. V., Colman, M. M., Wheeler, J., & Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in sport: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 24, 168–188.
  2. Carron, A. V., Widmeyer, W. N., & Brawley, L. R. (1985). The development of an instrument to assess cohesion in sport teams: The Group Environment Questionnaire. Journal of Sport Psychology, 7, 244–266.
  3. Eys, M. A., Loughead, T. M., Bray, S. R., & Carron, A.V. (2009). Development of a cohesion questionnaire for youth: The Youth Sport Environment Questionnaire. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31, 390–408.
  4. Hardy, J., Eys, M. A., & Carron, A. V. (2005). Exploring the potential disadvantages of high team cohesion. Small Group Research, 36, 166–187.
  5. Martin, L. J., Carron, A. V., Eys, M. A., & Loughead, T. M. (2012). Development of a cohesion questionnaire for children’s sport teams. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 16, 68–79.
  6. Senecal, J., Loughead, T. M., & Bloom, G. (2008). A season-long team-building intervention: Examining the effect of team goal setting on cohesion. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 30, 186–199.
  7. Spink, K. S., Wilson, K. S., & Odnokon, P. (2010). Examining the relationship between cohesion and return to team in elite athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 6–11.

 

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