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Cliques and Crowds: And Why We Create Sub-groups Within Society

By Brian Orr.

Cliques and Crowds

And Why We Create Sub-Groups Within Society

Society isn’t giant unified group as one would think, but a collection of separate groups within that society. If you look within any culture or society, you will find an array of smaller sub-groups that lay within that certain culture. Individuals seem to be psychologically hardwired to break apart from larger groups into smaller more tightly knit groups, which typically consist of individuals with similar traits and ideas. The two most primary examples of sub-grouping within contemporary societies would be race and class. People of similar class or race typically form friendships within their own class or race, and stay away from those that are different. (You would laugh at the thought of someone rich like bill gates hanging out in the streets with a group of poor homeless men.) If you trace this social trait of sub-grouping back through individual’s development, you would see that it is during early adolescence where sub-grouping first becomes apparent. Because of this, this paper will focus on adolescent sub-groups called cliques and crowds. It will examine the developmental, social and evolutionary causes of subgroup formation in adolescence, and will also look at the positive and negative consequences of joining these subgroups.

As individuals progress into adolescents, their affiliated peer groups become more defined then they were in early childhood. It is in early adolescents that you see crowds and cliques first start to form. Crowds can be defined as large vaguely defined groups based on reputation and similarities of interests. These are the subgroups that you would call jocks, stoners, skaters, and so forth. Within crowds, exist the smaller groups referred to as cliques. Cliques are pretty much small tightly knit groups based off close relationships and friendship (Steinberg, 2010).

There are three primary factors that define crowd and clique membership. The first factor is their orientation toward school, academics and extracurricular activities. The second factor defining crowd’s membership is their orientation towards teen culture. The third factor is their involvement in anti-social activity or delinquency. To exemplify this, the stereotypical nerd would have a high orientation towards extracurricular activities, like academics, and wouldn’t have any association with antisocial behavior. Where as your stereotypical stoner would have very low orientation towards academics and extracurricular activities, and would partake often in antisocial behavior (Steinberg, 2010).

In 1998, psychologists Leo Rigsby and Edward McDill proposed the categorization of crowds by only two axes. They proposed that just academic engagement and peer status were the defining factors of crowds. To look more closely into it, the defining factors are how committed the crowd is to the formal (adult-controlled) reward system of school and the degree to which they are committed to the informal (peer-controlled) status system. (Bateman)

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