The Group Polarization Phenomenon

The Group Polarization Phenomenon

David G. Myers

Helmut Lamm

Experiments exploring the effects of group discussion on attitudes, jury decisions, ethical decisions, judgments, person perceptions, negotiations, and risk taking (other than the choice-dilemmas task) are generally consistent with a “group polarization” hypothesis, derived from the risky-shift literature. Recent attempts to explain the phenomenon fall mostly into one of three theoretical approaches: (a) group decision rules, especially majority rule (which is contradicted by available data), (b) interpersonal comparisons (for which there is mixed support), and (c) informational influence (for which there is strong support). A conceptual scheme is presented which integrates the latter two viewpoints and suggests how attitudes develop in a social context.

  • Pictures may be important as part of an argument. Need to be able to support that.
  • This polarization concept should also be distinguished from a related concept, extremization. Whereas polarization refers to shifts toward the already preferred pole, extremization has been used to refer to movement away from neutrality, regardless of direction. Since all instances of group polarization are instances of extremization, but not vice versa, extremization may be easier to demonstrate than polarization. (pp 603)
  • For convenience we have organized these studies into seven categories: attitudes, jury decisions, ethical decisions, judgments, person perceptions, negotiation behavior, and risk measures other than the choice dilemmas. This categorization is admittedly somewhat arbitrary. (pp 604)
  • In other studies, however, it is possible to infer the direction of initial preferences. Robinson (1941) conducted lengthy discussions of two attitudes. On attitude toward war, where students were initially quite pacifistic, there was a nonsignificant shift to even more pacifism following discussion. On attitude toward capital punishment, to which students were initially opposed, there was a significant shift to even stronger opposition. (pp 604)
  • Varying the stimulus materials. Myers and Kaplan (1976) engaged their subjects in discussion of stimulus materials which elicited a dominant predisposition of guilty or not guilty. After discussing traffic cases in which the defendants were made to appear as low in guilt, the Subjects Were even more definite in their judgments of innocence and more lenient in recommended punishment. After discussing “high-guilt” cases, the subjects polarized toward harsher judgments of guilt and punishment. (pp 605)
  • Group composition studies. Vidmar composed groups of jurors high or low in dogmatism. The high-dogmatism juries shifted toward harsher sentences following discussion, and the low-dogmatism groups shifted toward more lenient sentences, despite the fact that the high- and low-dogmatism juries did not differ in their predeliberation judgments. (pp 606)
  • Main and Walker (1973) observed that these constitutionality decisions were also more libertarian in the group condition (65% versus 45%). Although a minority of the single-judge decisions were prolibertarian, Walker and Main surmised that the preexisting private values of the judges were actually prolibertarian and that their decisions made alone were compromised in the face of antilibertarian public pressure. Their private values were then supposedly released and reinforced in the professional group context (pp 606)
  • From what we have been able to perceive thus far, the process is an interesting combination of rational persuasion, sheer social pressure, and the psychological mechanism by which individual perceptions undergo change when exposed to group discussion (pp 606)
  • Myers (1975) also used a faculty evaluation task. The subjects responded to 200 word descriptions of “good” or “bad” faculty with a scale judgment and by distributing a pay increase budget among the hypothetical faculty. As predicted by the group polarization hypothesis, good faculty were rated and paid even more favorably after the group interaction, and contrariwise for the bad faculty. (pp 608)
  • in general, the work on person perception supports the group polarization hypothesis, especially when the stimulus materials are more complex than just a single adjective. (pp 608)
  • Myers and Bach (1976) compared the conflict behavior of individuals and groups, using an expanded prisoner’s dilemma matrix cast in the language of a gas war. There was no difference in their conflict behavior (both individuals and groups were highly noncooperative). But on postexperimental scales assessing the subjects’ evaluations of themselves and their opponents, individuals tended to justify their own behavior, and groups were even more inclined toward self-justification. This demonstration of group polarization supports Janis’s (1972) contention that in situations of intergroup conflict, group members are likely to develop a strengthened belief in the inherent morality of their actions.  (pp 608)
  • Skewness cannot account for group polarization. This is particularly relevant to the majority rule scheme, which depends on a skewed distribution of initial choices. On choice dilemmas, positively skewed distributions (i.e., with a risky majority) should produce risky shift, and negatively skewed distributions should yield a conservative shift. Several findings refute this prediction. (pp 612)
  • Shifts in the group median, although slightly attenuated, are not significantly smaller than shifts in the group mean (pp 612)
  • Group shift has also been shown to occur in dyads (although somewhat reduced), where obviously there can be no skewness in the initial responses (pp 612)
  • while group decision models may be useful in other situations in which discussion is minimal or absent and the task is to reach agreement (e.g., Lambert, 1969), the models (or at least the majority rule model stressed in this analysis) are not a sufficient explanation of the group polarization findings we are seeking to explain. There are still a variety of other decision schemes that can be explored and with other specific tasks. But clearly, group induced shift on choice dilemmas is something more than a statistical artifact. (pp 612)
  • Interpersonal Comparisons theory suggests that a subject changes when he discovers that others share his inclinations more than he would have supposed, either because the group norm is discovered to be more in the preferred direction than previously imagined or because the subject is released to more strongly act out his preference after observing someone else who models it more extremely than himself. This theory, taken by itself, suggests that relevant new information which emerges during the discussion is of no consequence. Group polarization is a source effect, not a message effect. (pp 614)
    • This is very close to the flocking theory where one agent looks at the alignment and velocity of nearby agents.
  • Differences between self, presumed other, and ideal scores. One well-known and widely substantiated assumption of the interpersonal comparisons approach is the observation from choice-dilemmas research that if, after responding, the subjects go back over the items and guess how their average peer would respond and then go back over the items a third time and indicate what response they would actually admire most, they tend to estimate the group norm as more neutral than their own initial response and their ideal as more extreme (pp 613)
  • Lamm et al. (1972) have also shown that not only do subjects indicate their ideal as more extreme than their actual response, but they also suspect that the same is true of their peers. The tendency of people to perceive themselves as more in what they consider to be the socially desirable direction than their average peer extends beyond the choice dilemmas (see Codol, Note 13). For example, most businessmen believe themselves to be more ethical than the average businessman (Baumhart, 1968), and there is evidence that people perceive their own views as less prejudiced than the norm of their community (Lenihan, Note 14). (pp 613)
  • The tendency to perceive others as “behind” oneself exists only when the self response is made prior to estimating the group norm (McCauley, Kogan, & Teger, 1971; Myers, 1974). Evidently it is after one has decided for himself that there is then a tendency to consider one’s action as relatively admirable (by perceiving the average person as less admirable than oneself). (pp 613)
  • it has been reliably demonstrated that subjects perceive other persons who have responded more extremely than themselves (in the direction of their ideal) as more socially desirable than persons who have not (Baron, Monson, & Baron, 1973; Jellison & Davis, 1973; Jellison & Riskind, 1970, 1971; Madaras & Bern, 1968). A parallel finding exists in the attitude literature (Eisinger & Mills, 1968): An extreme communicator on one’s side of an issue tends to be perceived as more sincere and competent than a moderate. (pp 614)
  • Burnstein, Vinokur, and Pichevin (1974) took an informational influence viewpoint and showed that people who adopt extreme choices are presumed to possess cogent arguments and are then presumably admired for their ability. They also demonstrated that subjects have much less confidence in others’ choices than in their own, suggesting that the tendency to perceive others as more neutral than oneself simply reflects ignorance about others’ choices (pp 614)
  • self-ideal difference scores are less affected by order of measurement than self versus perceived other differences (Myers, 1974)—suggest that the self-ideal discrepancy may be the more crucial element of a viable interpersonal comparisons approach. (pp 614)
  • One set of studies has manipulated the information about others’ responses by providing fake norms. More than a dozen separate studies all show that subjects will move toward the manipulated norm (see Myers, 1973) (pp 615)
    • Can’t find this paper, but herding!
  • Consistent with this idea, they observed that exposure to others’ choices produced shift only when subjects then wrote arguments on the item. If knowledge of others’ choices was denied or if an opportunity to rethink the item was denied, no shift occurred. (pp 615)
  • On the other hand, it may be reasoned that in each of the studies producing minimal or nonexistent shift after exposure to others’ attitudes, the subjects were first induced to bind themselves publicly to a pretest choice and then simply exposed to others’ choices. It takes only a quick recall of some classic conformity studies (e.g., Asch, 1956) to realize that this was an excellent procedure for inhibiting response change. (pp 615)
  • Bishop and Myers (1974) have formulated mathematical models of the presumed informational influence mechanisms. These models assume that the amount of group shift will be determined by three factors: the direction of each argument (which alternative it favors), the persuasiveness of each argument, and the originality of each argument (the extent to which it is not already known by the group members before discussion). In discussion, the potency of an argument will be zero if either the rated persuasiveness is zero (it is trivial or irrelevant) or if all group members considered the argument before discussion (pp 616)
  • the simple direction of arguments is such an excellent predictor of shift (without considering persuasiveness and originality), it is not easy to demonstrate the superiority of the models over a simple analysis of argument direction as undertaken by Ebbesen and Bowers (1974). (pp 617)
    • This supports the notion that alignment and heading, as used in the model may really be sufficient to model polarizing behavior
  • A group that is fairly polarized on a particular item before discussion is presumably already in general possession of those arguments which polarize a group. A less extreme group has more to gain from the expression of partially shared persuasive arguments. (pp 617)
  • Passive receipt of arguments outside an interactive discussion context generally produces reduced shift (e.g., Bishop & Myers, 1974; Burnstein & Vinokur, 1973; St. Jean, 1970; St. Jean & Percival, 1974). Likewise, listening to a group discussion generally elicits less shift than actual participation (pp 617)
    • There may be implications here with respect to what’s being seen and read on the news having a lower influence than items that are being discussed on social media. A good questions is at what point does the reception of information feel ‘interactive’? Is clicking ‘like enough? My guess is that it is.
  • Verbal commitment could produce the increased sense of involvement and certainty that Moscovici and Zavolloni (1969) believe to be inherent in group polarization. (pp 618)
    • This reinforces the point above, but we need to know what the minimum threshold of what can be considered ‘verbal commitment’.
  • By offering arguments that tend toward the outer limits of his range of acceptability, the individual tests his ideals and also presents himself favorably to the group since, as we noted earlier, extremity in the direction of the ideal connotes knowledgeability and competence. (pp 618)
  • Diagram (pp 619) PolarazationDiagram
  • Arguments spoken in discussion more decisively favor the dominant alternative than do written arguments. The tendency for discussion arguments to be one-sided is probably not equal for all phases of a given discussion. Studies in speech-communications (see Fisher, 1974) suggest that one-sided discussion is especially likely after a choice direction has implicitly emerged and group members mutually reinforce their shared inclination. (pp 619)
    • This review is pre IRC, and views writing as non-interactive. THis may not be true any more.
  • The strength of the various vectors is expected to vary across situations. In more fact-oriented judgment tasks (group problem solving tasks being the extreme case), the cognitive determinants will likely be paramount, although people will still be motivated to demonstrate their abilities. On matters of social preference, in which the social desirability of actions is more evident, the direct and indirect attitudinal effects of social motivation are likely to appear. The direct impact will occur in situations in which the individual has ideals that may be compromised by presumed norms but in which exposure to others’ positions informs him that his ideals are shared more strongly or widely than he would have supposed. These situations—in which expressed ideals are a step ahead of prior responses—will also tend to elicit discussion content that is biased toward the ideals. (pp 620)
  • What is the extent of small group influence on attitudes? McGuire (1969) noted, “It is clear that any impact that the mass media have on opinion is less than that produced by informal face-to-face communication of the person with his primary groups, his family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors (p. 231,).” (pp 220)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s