Group norms and personal well-being

September 30, 2020

Blair Evans, Department of Psychology

Story by Rob Rombouts

How is your health shaped by your memberships in social groups?

This is one of the big questions Blair Evans researches. Evans has joined the Department of Psychology as an Assistant Professor. Evans completed his PhD in Social Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. He was previously with the Department of Kinesiology at Penn State University.

Membership in small group environments can contribute to an individual’s well-being as the behaviour of other group members signal what is normal, expected and acceptable. Evans said this can result in pro-social behaviour, such as increases in physical activity or negative behaviour, such as increasing one’s alcohol use to match that of other group members.

A person’s position within a group can also impact their behaviour. If people are more external to a network, or may not be as popular within a network, they are more likely to adhere to group norms, said Evans, as they may want to ingrain themselves with the group. Although more popular members of the group have the status to act in ways that fall outside of their group’s norms, they can also feel pressure at times to be representative of their group.

Whereas Evans’ research has focused on university student clubs and physical activity settings when studying the influence of small groups, he is excited to join the Industrial/Organizational psychology unit in the Department of Psychology where he will apply this understanding to study the role of workplace group environments.

Evans is leveraging social network analysis to review networks and connections between people and groups. Through this analysis, he hopes to be able to identify whether certain individuals may have more influence over others and how that may impact behavioural changes.

Evans has also been able to research the impact of online communities. Since March, as physical distancing and social bubbles have become the norm, the way people interact has changed. Evans’ research team was able to shift an ongoing study of inter-collegiate sport teams to research the impact of online social connections with teammates on well-being.

Having more frequent connections with coaches and other athletes, even if only online, helped maintain their identity as athletes, said Evans. This identity helped with their well-being and lowered instances of depression. The impact was more pronounced when there was tangible means of support, with people actually showing concern for the well-being, as compared to simply interacting.

Along with identifying the impact of group membership, Evans wants to determine ways to leverage influences in groups to promote health behaviours. He has partnered with Les Mills to study fitness classes, and Strava, makers of a fitness app, to examine the role of other runners in social media circles.

Evans looks forward to recruiting students to work in his lab.

“One of the things that attracted me other than general reputation of Western, was the quality of students and colleagues, and the collegiality and support within the department,” said Evans. “Even though we’re at a distance, and it would be really easy to feel excluded, there’s been lots of support.”