How Groups can Intensify Decisions


People in groups often advocate riskier decisions than individuals


Stoner (1961) -- Had people "advise" fictional characters. After an individual made a series of such decisions, 5 people were put into a group and had to reach a consensus on what advice to give in the cases they had just made individual decisions on. Decisions made as a group intensified the individualís opinions.

That is, groups donít necessarily make riskier decisions than individuals, just more extreme decisions.


This finding, and others like it led Moscovici and Zavalloni to develop the idea of:

Group Polarization -- Group produced enhancement of membersí preexisting tendencies; a strengthening of the membersí average tendency.

French students who registered pro-French leadership and

anti-American sentiments strengthened their respective opinions following a group discussion.





Whyte (1992) -- Reported that group decision making increased "sunken costs" judgements.

Canadien business students had to decide whether to invest more money in failing business projects or to pull out and take the economic loss. When making the decision as an individual, 72% decided to invest more money. When making the decision as a group, 94% of the people favored reinvestment.


Group polarization in everyday life.

Because we typically associate with people similar to ourselves, our interactions tend to strengthen opinions we already held.

Accentuation Phenomenon: Over time, differences between groups increase.

For example:

Compared to fraternity and sorority members, non-greeks tend to have more liberal political attitudes, and this gap increases throughout college.

Researchers believe this is partly due to group members reinforcing shared opinions.


McCauley & Segal (1987) - point out that the rise of terrorist organizations is partly dependent on group polarization. That is, like minded anti-government individuals converse together, and without other moderating voices will come to extreme positions.

Explaining Group Polarization

Two main theories exist which help explain G.P.

Informational Influence --- Influence that results from accepting evidence about reality provided by other people

Group discussions often result in a pooling of ideas, most favoring the dominant viewpoint. Because people will bring up arguments that other like minded people have not yet considered, these additional arguments can contribute to the polarization effect.


Normative Influence-- Conformity based on a personís desire to fulfill other peoplesí expectations or to gain acceptance.


According to social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) , it is human nature to want to evaluate our opinions and abilities, and one way to do this is by comparing our views to others.

When people have not made their mind up on an issue, other peoples opinions can affect them even more.

Social Comparisons can affect value judgements more, and informational influence can affect factual judgements more.





Another Error in Decision Making caused by Groups

Groupthink -- A tendency by group members to suppress dissenting opinions in the interest of group harmony, which can sometimes lead to disastrous (or unwise) decisions.

Groupthink is most likely in centrally directed groups which view themselves as a highly cohesive unit.


Irving Janis (1971) Examined several major historical disasters to look for commonalities in the decision making practice.

The Bay of Pigs, Americaís escalation in Vietnam, Pearl Harbor

In each of the above examples he noted that people suppressed information which may have led to opposite decisions, in part to help maintain a united, cohesive group.

From historical records, Janis developed a list of 8 symptoms which contributed to groupthink behavior.


1. An illusion of invulnerability -- excessive optimism makes group members oblivious to the actual probability of mission failure.

2. Unquestioned belief in the groupís morality -- group members tend to ignore ethical and moral issues, believing strongly in the groups moral superiority.

3. Rationalization -- Groups spend as much time justifying their decisions as they do considering other possible alternatives.

4. Stereotypical views of opposition -- Underestimation of the opposing groups capabilities.

Finally, basic group pressures which contribute to groupthink.

Conformity pressure -- Group members will typically attack other members who bring up opposing viewpoints.

Self-censorship -- When groups seem to be in agreement on an issue, group members will withhold their viewpoints in fear of upsetting the consensus.

Illusion of Unanimity -- conformity and self-censorship pressures create the image that only one opinion exists within a group, and that all members agree with that opinion.

Mindgaurds -- Sometimes group members hold back information as a way of "protecting" the group from conflicting information.

Problems that Groupthink can cause:

1. Incomplete analysis of alternatives

2. Incomplete survey of objectives.

3. Failure to examine the risks associated with the preferred choice.

4. Poor information search.

5. Selective bias in processing available information.

6. Failure to work out contingency plans.

How can Groupthink be prevented ?

Education -- telling group members about the groupthink phenomenon and its consequences.

Group leader should not publicly endorse either position while a discussion is ongoing.

Encourage doubts and criticisms

Assign someone the role of playing "devilís advocate"

After preliminary discussions have concluded, encourage people to offer dissenting opinions at a "second-chance" meeting.

Invite outside experts to evaluate the groupsí decision.

Encourage members to seek feedback from people outside the group.

Lastly, considering what we learned about gender differences and managerial styles, perhaps women group leaders will be less likely to fall into groupthink traps than male leaders.


One problem why groupthink still exists is that the above suggestions will all add time to the decision making process.

To the extent that group decisions are made under time constraint situations, groupthink processes will act that much more.


Although our discussions of social facilitation, groupthink, and group polarization highlight the importance social influences have on our behavior, the individual does have powers of their own.



The tendency to react opposite of how we know people want us to act, especially in a coercive situation. Reactance helps to restore or strengthen a sense of personal freedom.

Reactance may contribute to underage drinking -- There is a higher rate of abstinence among people over the drinking age than people under the drinking age. In other words, people telling you that you canít drink is more likely to encourage you to drink.

Asserting Uniqueness -- although people donít typically like to stand out in the crowd, they will do small things which assert their independence. People are likely to mention any distinguishing qualities when describing ourselves.

How can Individuals influence groups ?

People holding a minority opinion in a group can sometimes turn their minority opinion into the group norm by:

Being Consistent and Persistent in expressing their viewpoint

Showing self-confidence in holding onto your opinion.

Trying to focus the group discussion on the minority opinion.

(Talkative group members tend to be more influential than reserved group members)

How can the group leader affect group decisions?

Two types of leadership have been recognized:

Task leadership -- organizing work, setting standards, and focusing on group goal attainment.

Social leadership -- building teamwork, mediating within-group conflicts, and building on group cohesion.

Task leaders tend to have a directive style,

while Social leaders often have a democratic style.

Social leadership can lead to group members being more satisfied, because of increased group involvement and input.


Highly successful, charismatic leaders often embrace both styles of leadership, tailoring their behavior (either directive or democratic) toward the specific situation.

Highly successful leaders are able to communicate a vision to the group members, a vision which inspires the group members to work toward the common group goal.