Social psychology with a strong focus on group research

My scientific activity lies within the social psychological research field with a strong focus on group research. To increase the understanding of processes within and between groups and how we might understand what happens when people come together in a group and work together on a common task, are issues that formed the basis of my research.

As of 2013, I am the project manager for a research project concerning assessment of knowledge and skills in group work. My research is principally carried out on authentic groups in their natural settings (i.e., groups in “real life”), and I frequently use qualitative research strategies, especially group observations and focus groups. My scientific activity is mainly focused on a number of research areas connected to groups, group processes, learning and education. 

Dynamic processes in work groups 

During my thesis work, I studied dynamic processes in work groups. A main result from the thesis is a new theoretical model for the analysis and understanding of group processes when work in the group. The model is named “The periodic system for the understanding of group processes” and gives a simplified picture of what do the group members do, and how do they do it. The model addresses the issue of group processes connected to type of task and activity in the group and illustrates different ways that groups can use when they are working in a group to solve a common task. It supports the idea that certain working modes are better suited in some parts of the group work, while others are not, and that group work is not one but many processes. 

Application of group methodology in educational activities 

From being focused on explaining the course events in group work I turned my attention more in the direction of interpreting and understanding how group processes are constructed. Why does some group work turn out successful while other group work results in the opposite, and is this something that can be influenced, and if so how? A neglected area in terms of group research in general, and groups in educational situations in particular, is the participants’ perspective, which inspired me to explore this point of view, i.e. pupils’ and students’ but also teachers’ perspective on group work. This research can be summarized as follows: How can we understand what happens when people come together in a group and work together on a common task? 

Assessment when working in groups 

In the meeting with researchers at conferences and teachers in schools, I often get confirmation that group work is perceived as a teaching method that promotes pupils' and students' learning. At the same time, the teacher's perceived difficulties in assessing pupils ‘and students’ knowledge and abilities when they are working in groups are also highlighted. ”How can we assess individual knowledge when students are working in groups?” is the underlying question for the research project “Assessment of knowledge and competence when working in groups - an intervention study in everyday classroom practice”.  This research project is an interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers from social psychology and education, we are studying assessment of knowledge and competence when working in groups and if it is possible to train this ability by use of education. 

Problem-based learning 

Problem-based learning (PBL) is both an ideology and a learning approach, but it is often easy to describe PBL as a method and forget the significance of the ideology. In my research I use a group psychological approach to understand PBL and the role of tutoring. In order to add knowledge and understanding of what the essence behind high quality PBL I have again turned my focus towards the participants’ (both students’ and tutors’) experiences and conceptions of PBL, an aspect sparsely occurring in previous research on PBL. As an example I have studied the professional role of university teachers receive in problem-based learning (PBL) and how collaboration with other colleagues can act as an incentive for further development of the role a tutor. One recurrent aspect I want to emphasize is the importance of holding on to the PBL philosophy and the pedagogical idea behind PBL, even when things gets tough. In recent years the collaboration with Dr. Sally Wiggins at the University of Strathclyde, School of Psychological Sciences and Health in GB, has resulted in research on PBL from an international perspective. 

Research perspective and methodology 

Research methodologically I am domiciled mainly in the qualitative research tradition, although in my research deed there are elements of a multiple research strategy / mixed - methods approach. Research of complex phenomena, such as groups and group processes, group work in education and assessment in group work requires an openness to a comprehensive research strategy, a variety of data collection methods and possible levels to collect data. My research approach emanates from social psychology. It is mainly group psychological, dynamic, process-oriented and guided by a humanistic view on people. In recent research I have also been using the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism in order to illuminate the social processes that teachers and pupils are part of and that influences their communication and actions in social situations, such as group work. The group psychological approach combined with symbolic interactionism, as theoretical perspective, is useful for increasing the understanding of the phenomenon that I have studied and described above. In the Assessment in group work Johnson and Johnson’s Social interdependence theory and Bandura's social cognitive theory are of specific interest. My research is principally carried on authentic groups in their natural settings e.g. groups in educational settings, and I am frequently using qualitative research strategies, especially group observations and focus groups. During my fieldwork, I have tried a variety of research methods – for example, group interviews, focus groups, questionnaires and in particularly group observation. Analyses are primarily conducted through qualitative content or thematic analysis and by using grounded theory. Computer software for qualitative analysis such as NUD*IST, NVivo and now MAXQDA is software used in the analysis.       

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Cooperation within LiU

Division of Education, Teaching and Learning (research, teaching and supervision) 

National cooperation 

Lund University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Supervision of PhD student Maria Heintz together with professor Kerstin Svensson. 

International cooperation

  • University of Strathclyde, School of Psychological Sciences and Health, GB. Problem-based learning. Colleagues: PhD Gunvor Larsson Abbad (LiU) .Dr. Sally Wiggins (LiU), and PhD student  Gillian Hendry (Uni. of Strathclyde ). ERASMUS
  • University of Sussex, School of Psychology, GB. Supervision of PhD student together with Dr. John Drury (co-supervisor).
  • University of Queensland, School of Education, Brisbane, Australia. Cooperative learning. Colleagues Associate professor Karin Forslund Frykedal (LiU) Professor Robyn Gillies (UQ). 


Research leader, Research group in Socal psychology


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