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Minority Influence
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  1. MinorityInfluence Creativity and Conversion September 26, 2006

  2. The Power of the Majority • Moscovici reversed the Asch experiment and found that minorities can also have influence. • When faced with a consistent minority, 10% of subjects reported seeing what the minority saw. • Major Question: Is majority influence more “powerful” than minority influence?

  3. Questions of Power • When thinking about this issue people tended to focus on the following questions: When a minority is faced with majority pressure… • Who wins? • Who is more likely to conform? • How many people will conform to a unanimous majority as opposed to a consistent minority? • From this perspective the majority is always more powerful.

  4. Differentiating Majority from Minority Influence • Two major theories suggesting that minority influence is different and not necessarily “weaker” than majority influence. • Moscovici’s theory of compliance vs. conversion. • Nemeth’s theory of convergent-divergent thinking. Both theories go beyond “who wins” to consider how people think.

  5. A Theory of Conversion Obeying versus believing • When people conform to group pressure: • Is attitude change always genuine? Recall the Asch studies. • How can we know if people really changed their mind? • Can we just ask them or is it more complicated? • These problems led Moscovici to distinguish between compliance and conversion.

  6. Toward A Theory of Conversion • Moscovici developed his theory by making a series of assumptions: (1). Majorities and minorities both exert influence. (2). All attempts at influence create a conflict. (3). Both the majority and the minority can create this conflict. (4). People resolve this conflict by taking the path of least resistance (which differs depending on whether the source is a majority or minority).

  7. Path to compliance • In response to majority (Moscovici p. 216): “…the best way to lessen this tension is to change one’s response in the public realm; modifying them in the private realm would amount to losing one’s self determination.” • All things being equal, it is easier to go along with the majority and so we do so even if we privately disagree.

  8. Path To Conversion • If a person decides the minority view is correct: “…the only path for resolving the conflict lies in the private sphere, since it is very difficult to make direct concession or to change judgments in the public sphere.” • People may convert to the minority view but often not publicly. • If a person moves from the majority to minority then you can generally assume that such movement is genuine.

  9. Summary • Minority influence more often occurs in private but not in public. • Moscovici calls private influence “latent” • In contrast, • Majority influence more often occurs in public but not in private. • Conclusion: Minority influence is not necessarily “weak” just different.

  10. Empirical Evidence • Prediction: People will go along with the majority in public, but they may be influenced by the minority at a private/latent level. • Method: Subjects looked at blue slides • Faced with majority: Confederate said slides were green and experimenter said that most people would agree. • Faced with minority: Confederate said slides were green and experimenter said that most people would disagree.

  11. Afterimage Example

  12. Afterimage Phenomenon • Afterimage examples: View a flash of light, headlights from an approaching car, briefly look at the sun. KEY POINT: • Each color has a complimentary afterimage. • Example: If you stare at blue and then stare at a white screen it will look yellow-orange.

  13. Method (cont) • Write down: (1) The color of the slide (2) The color of the afterimage • Afterimage: Blue = yellow-orange afterimage Green = red-purple after image. Example: The slide was BLUE and the after image was yellow-orange.

  14. Results • Only 5% of the subjects said the slide was green when it was actually blue. • Very little PUBLIC conformity was observed. • Subjects reported seeing the after-image associated with green when they were exposed to a minority saying the slide was green. • Example: Slide was blue, and after image was red-purple (colors associated with green not blue)

  15. Direct versus Indirect Influence • Experiment demonstrated that people were influenced at a private, subconscious level and not at a public, overt level. • Social influence is more pervasive than a simple dichotomy between conforming and yielding. • Influence can also be indirect (e.g. Over time, on peripheral issues).

  16. Further Evidence that Minority Influence is Different from Majority Influence • Nemeth (1986) argues that majority and minority influence can also be distinguished by the way they make people think. • Nemeth also focused on another outcome that is unrelated to who eventually “wins.” • Focus in this theory on convergent versus divergent thinking.

  17. Convergent versus Divergent Thinking • Divergent thinking: Thinking that moves outward from a problem in many possible directions. • Example: Brainstorming • Convergent thinking: Thinking that proceeds toward one single answer. • Example: An arithmetic problem.

  18. Divergent Thinking: Illustration • Question: List all the uses for a brick. • Convergent Thinking: Use the brick to build a bridge, to build a house, to build a barbeque, to build a castle in the sky. • All ideas involve using the brick to build something therefore they are all conceptually similar to one another. • Divergent Thinking: Use the brick to kill someone, to prop open a door, as a topic of conversation, to cast a shadow. • Each idea is conceptually different from the last.

  19. Dissent Stimulates Divergent Thinking OPTIMAL AROUSAL (1). People experience less arousal when exposed to a minority— enough to be motivated but not enough to panic. INCREASED CURIOSITY (2). When faced with a consistent minority people are motivated to understand their position (How can they be so wrong yet so confident?) and in doing so, they see an issue from many different perspectives. They can’t be right, so I will look for alternatives. INCREASED CONFLICT (3). Minority opinions are not adopted quickly and the conflict that ensues will force people to think more carefully about an issue.

  20. Empirical Evidence LABORATORY EVIDENCE: • See Nemeth (1986) for experimental evidence in support of the theory. • Important question of generalizability. Do lab results hold in the real world? FIELD EVIDENCE • Study of majority/minority influence in the Supreme Court. • Some theorists argue that open mindedness depends on ideology. Liberals believed to be more open minded than conservatives. • Question: Does majority versus minority status matter more than ideology in predicting open mindedness?

  21. Minority Influence on the Supreme Court • Studies of political decision making showed that conservatives interpret policies in less complex ways than do liberals. • Integrative Complexity: Viewing an issue in black and white versus shades of gray. One right answer versus many possible right answers (one the one hand, on the other hand). • Problem: Political ideology was systematically confounded with status such that conservatives in these studies were also more often in the minority.

  22. Result: Ideology Does Not Matter • Content analysis of all supreme court decisions (and dissenting opinions) from 1953-1990. RESULTS (1). Dissenting opinions were simple (an indicator of convergent thinking). (2). Majority opinions were complex (an indicator of divergent thinking). (3). Once majority/minority status was accounted for ideology did not have any effect.

  23. Implications of the Theory • Minorities are not the ones thinking in a creative way, instead they are stimulating the majority to think in a more creative way. • Minority dissent even when wrong is of value because it makes a group more creative. • Contrast with “Value in Diversity” hypothesis. Minority viewpoints are not of value because of the content of what they have to say but rather because of the productive conflict that occurs when you engage them in a debate.

  24. Practical Applications • Theory has been applied to at least 2 important areas in organizations. GROUP CREATIVITY: • Groups who think divergently are able to generate more novel and original ideas and ultimately come up with more creative solutions. A foundation for understanding innovation. GROUP DECISION MAKING • Decision making groups often “rush” toward a premature agreement without considering all the available alternatives. Therefore, minority influence can improve the quality of group decision making by leading a group to consider more alternatives prior to making a decision.

  25. Cloning Dissent: Devil’s Advocate • Clearly organizations should encourage dissent, but there are also disadvantages (e.g. cohesion, morale). • Can an organization encourage dissent without experiencing any drawbacks? (Nemeth, et al, 2001) • Devil’s Advocate: Dissent can be role-played by asking one person to disagree with a proposal.

  26. Devil’s Advocate Experiment • Subjects asked to make a decision about rewarding money in a personal injury case. • Case: Washing machine repairman who was injured on the job. His lost wages and medical bills were paid, but he was suing his employer for pain and suffering. • Award: (1) $1-$75K (2) $75K to 150K up to (8) more than $525K. • Most people would award either (1) or (2).

  27. Procedure • One member of the group was asked to: Devil’s Advocate • Play the role of devil’s advocate by taking a position contrary to the group’s decision. The entire group knew the person was instructed to take this role. Authentic Dissent • One person was asked to take a position of high compensation to the victim without the group knowing of these instructions.

  28. Results • Authentic Dissent: People generated more original arguments in favor of their position that went beyond the information given and anticipated more counter-arguments. • Devil’s Advocate: People generated more arguments in favor of their own position without taking into account other perspectives on the issue. Bottom Line: The Devil’s Advocate can actually make things worse!

  29. Recapitulate • Dissent stimulates the group to think divergently, to be more creative, to make better decisions. • These effects are independent of the group’s political ideology. • Authentic dissent cannot easily be “cloned” using techniques such as the Devil’s Advocate.