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Group Polarization. September 14, 2006. Adding the Element of Interaction. Groups interact with one another to make judgments and decisions. E.g. Juries, Top Management Teams, Presidential Cabinets. Key Questions: How judgments made by individuals compare to judgments made by a group?

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Group Polarization

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group polarization

Group Polarization

September 14, 2006

adding the element of interaction
Adding the Element of Interaction
  • Groups interact with one another to make judgments and decisions.
    • E.g. Juries, Top Management Teams, Presidential Cabinets.
  • Key Questions:
    • How judgments made by individuals compare to judgments made by a group?
    • Does discussion lead groups to make good decisions or bad decisions?
the risky shift first example
The Risky Shift: First Example

Helen is a writer who is said to have considerable creative talent but who so far has been earning a comfortable living writing cheap Westerns. Recently she has come up with an idea for a potentially significant novel. If it could be written and accepted, it might have considerable literary impact and be a boost to her career. On the other hand, if she cannot work out her idea, or the novel is a flop, she will have expended considerable time and energy without pay.

(Stoner, 1961)

decision what should helen do
Decision: What Should Helen Do?
  • Imagine that you are advising Helen. Please check the lowest probability that you would consider acceptable for Helen to write the novel.

__ 1/10 __ 6/10

__ 2/10 __ 7/10

__ 3/10 __ 8/10

__ 4/10 __ 9/10

__ 5/10 __ 10/10

result groups shift toward risk
Result:Groups Shift Toward Risk
  • Individuals marked their answers first while alone, and then again after discussing their opinions with a group.
  • Groups made riskier decision than individuals.
  • Risky Shift: A group consensus is almost always “riskier” than the average decision made by individuals prior to a group discussion
the case of group betting
The Case of Group Betting
  • People asked to make bets first as individuals then as a group.
  • Results showed that groups shifted toward risk by placing bets with a smaller probability of winning and by placing bets with a larger stake.
  • Key Boundary Condition: There must be communication between groups members for a shift to be observed.
why a shift toward risk
Why a Shift Toward Risk?
  • The Risk As Value Hypothesis: Moderate risk is valued in our culture. Therefore, people want to shift toward risky decisions to gain status and approval from other group members.
    • Is this an accurate statement about American culture? Why or why not?
    • Can you think of cases where risk is not valued?
the cautious shift
The Cautious Shift??
  • Many experiments demonstrated a shift toward risk, but sometimes people demonstrated a shift toward caution after the group discussion.
  • Inconsistent results created major problems.
    • Is there a risky and a cautious shift?
    • The “Risk as Value” hypothesis cannot explain this phenomenon.
cautious shift an illustration
Cautious Shift: An Illustration
  • “Roger” is a young married man with two school aged children and a secure but low paying job. Roger can afford life’s necessities but few of its luxuries. He hears that the stock of a relatively unknown company may soon triple in value if its new product is favorably received, but decline precipitously if it fails. Roger has no savings. To invest in the company he is considering selling his life insurance policy.”
risky or cautious advice
Risky or Cautious Advice?
  • Given Roger’s situation, would you advise him to sell his life insurance policy and make the risky investment?
  • If a group were to discuss this issue, what might their initial tendency be: To advise the risky decision or the cautious decision?
beyond the risky shift
Beyond the Risky Shift
  • The “Risky Shift” is not about risk at all.
  • Moscovici & Zavalloni (1969) re-conceptualized the risky shift as a more general phenomenon called group polarization.
  • Group Polarization: A group discussion strengthens the average inclination of group members.
group polarization example
Group Polarization: Example
  • Moscovici examined French student’s attitudes toward Americans (initially negative) and toward de Gaulle (initially positive).
  • Attitudes toward Americans became MORE negative after the discussion than before the discussion.
  • Attitudes toward de Gaulle became MORE positive after the discussion than before the discussion.
domains other than risk
Domains other than risk
  • Polarization of attitudes:
    • Attitudes toward war
    • Attitudes toward capital punishment
    • Attitudes of students toward their school.
    • Racial attitudes
  • Polarization of Juries
    • Dogmatic juries toward harsher sentences
    • Less dogmatic juries toward lenient sentences.
class demonstration
Class Demonstration
  • Each of you completed a survey about your attitudes on several controversial issues.
  • I separated you into like-minded groups based on your responses to the survey.


    • To see if groups polarize on issues that don’t involve risk (like betting)
    • To get a feel for what its like to be in a polarization experiment
    • To begin to think about why groups polarize.
why do groups polarize
Why Do Groups Polarize?
  • Discussion produces a commitment.
    • People become more committed to a viewpoint when they express that viewpoint publicly and therefore they become more extreme in their judgments.
    • No discussion: No polarization
additional mechanisms
Additional Mechanisms
  • How can we explain the phenomenon?
  • 3 MAJOR explanations:
    • Group decision rules (e.g. Majority rules)
    • Social comparisons
    • Informational influence
group decision rules
Group Decision Rules
  • Majority Rules:
  • Example: A jury is deliberating a case involving a traffic accident. Decision whether to award between $10,000 & $50,000.
  • Pre discussion: 12 person jury. 2 would vote for $10,000 and 10 would vote for $40,000: Group Average: $35,000
was there polarization
Was there polarization?
  • Post-discussion: Majority wins and the defendant is awarded 40,000
    • Pre-discussion: $35,000
    • Post-discussion: $40,000
  • Weaknesses of this theory:
    • Polarization occurs even in the absence of such decision rules
    • People can actually change their post-discussion judgments (internalization).
social comparison
Social Comparison
  • Most decision involve social values:
    • Caring for others, being adventurous, taking health risks, etc.
  • Prior to discussion most people believe they are farther toward the favorable pole than everyone else.
  • During discussion people realize that other people might endorse position farther toward the socially desirable pole than them.
social comparison cont
Social Comparison (cont)
  • Result: People are motivated to move farther toward the socially desirable end of the scale.
  • Example: Should governments be allowed to torture captured terrorists?
informational influence
Informational influence
  • People polarize when they hear persuasive arguments.
  • 3 Types of Information:
    • Direction: Arguments reflect dominant tendency within the group
    • Persuasiveness: Is it trivial? Is it relevant?
    • Novelty: Have I heard the argument before?
link to your group discussion
Link to your group discussion
  • Which mechanism (s) did you find the most convincing?
  • Do you think there any mechanisms that were not mentioned? (E.g. Will groups with a strong leader be more likely to polarize).
  • How can you reverse polarization tendencies?
  • How can you use polarization to your advantage?
discussion questions cont
Discussion Questions (cont)
  • Why is it useful to know about polarization tendencies?
    • How should we compose groups given this information?
  • How can group polarization influence the quality of a group’s decision?
    • Are extreme decisions better decisions?
next week
Next week…
  • Jury Simulation.