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Abstract

Two perspectives on the nature of the social group and psychological group formation are discussed. The traditional social cohesion approach traces group formation to processes of interpersonal attraction, while the social identity approach defines the group in cognitive terms and considers identification, or self-categorization, to be the mechanism of psychological group formation. On the basis of an experiment by Turner, Sachdev and Hogg (1983) it is hypothesized that interpersonal attraction (positive or negative) is related to group formation only in so far as it enhances intergroup distinctiveness. This hypothesis is experimentally tested in a 2 × 3 (interpersonal liking/disliking per se versus no explicit categorization/random categorization/criterial categorization on the basis of affect) factorial design employing the ‘minimal group’ paradigm. People who like each other and were not explicitly categorized formed a group. This effect was enhanced by criterial categorization but disappeared when categorization was random. Although the results do not support the hypothesis, they are not explicable in social cohesion terms. A social identity explanation is furnished—attraction influences group formation by acting, under certain specifiable conditions, as a cognitive criterion for common category membership. This explanation is located in current theorizing and is proposed as part of a reconceptualization of the relationship between interpersonal attraction and group formation.