Social psychology is fundamentally the study of individuals in groups, yet there remain basic unanswered questions about group formation, structure, and change. We argue that the problem is methodological. Until recently, there was no way to track who was interacting with whom with anything approximating valid resolution and scale. In the current study we describe a new method that applies recent advances in image-based tracking to study incipient group formation and evolution with experimental precision and control. In this method, which we term “in vivo behavioral tracking,” we track individuals’ movements with a high definition video camera mounted atop a large field laboratory. We report results of an initial study that quantifies the composition, structure, and size of the incipient groups. We also apply in-vivo spatial tracking to study participants’ tendency to cooperate as a function of their embeddedness in those crowds. We find that participants form groups of seven on average, are more likely to approach others of similar attractiveness and (to a lesser extent) gender, and that participants’ gender and attractiveness are both associated with their proximity to the spatial center of groups (such that women and attractive individuals are more likely than men and unattractive individuals to end up in the center of their groups). Furthermore, participants’ proximity to others early in the study predicted the effort they exerted in a subsequent cooperative task, suggesting that submergence in a crowd may predict social loafing. We conclude that in vivo behavioral tracking is a uniquely powerful new tool for answering longstanding, fundamental questions about group dynamics.
Bibliographical note© 2016 Halberstadt et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Halberstadt, J., Jackson, J. C., Bilkey, D., Jong, J., Whitehouse, H., McNaughton, C., & Zollmann, S. (2016). Incipient Social Groups: An Analysis via In-Vivo Behavioral Tracking. PLoS ONE, 11(3), [e0149880]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149880