Both formal and informal groups share many key features that can influence the behaviors of their members. Group members interact; they have varying levels of status, rights, and responsibilities; they pursue goals; and there is a shared sense of identity, and all four of these characteristics can affect the tendency of group members to misbehave. In informal groups, interaction patterns, roles, status, and goals may all be more loosely defined and dynamic than in formal groups, but these characteristics are important determinants of behavior in all types of groups.
Interaction patterns, status hierarchies, roles, and goals all define what types of behavior group members are expected to engage in and they all play a role in defining the range of behaviors that can be expected of individuals. Any of these group processes can contribute to misbehavior, particularly when the norms of important reference groups support or tolerate misbehavior. Gangs, for example, tolerate and even encourage criminal and antisocial behavior, but many groups that think of themselves as upstanding and law-abiding also tolerate many types of misbehavior. However, even in the absence of antisocial norms, group processes such as a drive to enforce conformity, the diffusion of responsibility, and stereotyping of out-groups can encourage misbehavior.
This chapter has focused on informal groups, where roles, status, goals, and the like are informally defined and potentially fluid. As you will see in the chapter that follows, any of the processes described in this chapter (e.g., pressure to conform, diffusion and displacement of authority) that have the potential to encourage misbehavior are magnified when they occur in more tightly structured formal groups.