General proposals. In the following sections of this chapter, we will discuss five general "positions":
1. Group decisions without social influence
2. Social influence from opinion expression
3. Social influence from new information
4. Social influence from both opinion expression and new information
5. Social influence from group discussion
Scientists have taken these positions with regard to the role that social influence plays when groups "transform" their members' individual opinions into group decisions. All these positions are relevant to the group polarization effect. Specific theories about the group polarization effect are consistent with each position, and studies are relevant to each theory.
Thus, we will discuss each general position and the relevant group polarization theories and research. We will also show how studies in other areas of social influence relate to these five positions. The areas include many of those discussed in the previous chapter, such as conformity, deviance, and minority influence.
POSITION 1: GROUP DECISIONS WITHOUT SOCIAL INFLUENCE
Position 1 is uniquely relevant to social influence processes in group decision making: It assumes that social influence is not important in group decision making.
Position 1 claims that members come into a group with preformed opinions. Each person has already decided on the best option. Groups come to their decisions by combining these prediscussional opinions. That individuals change their opinions during the discussion is not important. Individual changes do not influence the final group decision because the final decision is based on each member's original opinion.
For example, each member of a four-person group has a prediscussional opinion about the odds that he or she would require before recommending a more attractive, but unsure, option. During their meeting, the people talk about their opinions. What does this first position then hypothesize? It holds that the only important role of communication in group decision making is to acquaint each group member with the other members' prediscussional opinions. Communication is only a way to share information. Social influence, therefore, is not critical to the decision-making process. In other words, whether or not members change their opinions during group discussion has no impact on the final group decision.
This first position hypothesizes that groups form their decisions by combining the members' prediscussional opinions. The group gives each member's prediscussional opinion a "weight," which corresponds to how much the opinion contributes to the final group decision. This happens because the group may consider some members' opinions more important than those of others. In this case, the "more important" members' ideas will make up a larger part of the final decision than will those of the "less important" members.
Position 1 may seem difficult to understand. We used it, however, when we discussed the decisions that groups might make. As you can recall, we listed several scenarios that could take place when groups make decisions about choice dilemmas.
For example, recall the situation in which half the members of a group tend toward a risky decision and the other half lean toward a cautious one. We hypothesized that we could estimate the group decision by computing the arithmetic average of each member's individual opinion. Let us say that two members of this group want odds of 7 in 10 before recommending an option; the other two need odds of only 3 in 10. We would expect the group to accept odds of 5 in 10 because that is the mathematical average. Our reasoning does not assume that the group members have changed their opinions about the choice dilemma. Instead, we base our conclusion solely on an arithmetic average.
Social Decision Schemes
In Chapter 2 we described "social decision schemes." Social decision schemes are rules that groups use to combine individual members' decisions into a group decision. For example, if the odds that a group chooses a particular option are based on whether more than half of the members support it, then the social decision scheme the group is using is a "majority model." On other words, a particular option will be chosen if a majority of the group favors it. If instead the probability that a group chooses an option is based on the proportion of members that favor it, the group is applying a "proportionality model." For example, if three-quarters of the members of a group like a particular option, the odds that the group will choose that option is three-quarters. Social decision scheme theorists then propose mathematical equations to represent these and other models. They then see which equation best predicts group decisions. As we discussed in Chapter 2, research using mock juries shows that the "majority model" equations are normally the best predictors of jury verdicts. This finding implies that a "majority wins" rule is likely at work in this situation.
Predicting Group Polarization
Researchers have applied this approach to predict the group polarization effect. Davis, Kerr, Sussman, and Rissman (1974) used social decision schemes to examine what happens when a group polarizes around either a risky or a cautious option.
The majority model. Specifically, they wanted to see which social decision scheme was best able to predict group polarization. Their findings were similar to what Davis discovered when he looked at juries. Again, the majority model was the best predictor. The group is likely to polarize around the option that the majority prefers.
For example, in a four person group all members lean toward caution but differ in their prediscussional opinions. Two members want odds of 8 in 10, another member wants odds of 7 in 10, the other, the least cautious, wants 6 in 10. The average of these odds is 7.25 in 10. The majority model, on the other hand, predicts that the group's decision will be for the odds of 8 in 10.
If the majority model is correct, the group's decision will be more extreme, in the direction of either risk or caution, than the mathematical average of the members' prediscussional opinions. In essence, in this circumstance, the majority model predicts a polarization effect.
This is exactly what happened in the Davis et al. study for both cautious and risky shifts.
Limits of the majority model. These findings alone, however, do not indicate that the majority model will always predict the group polarization effect. It is easy to think of circumstances in which the majority model does not do so. In our example, the majority opinion was also the most polarized. The two people who agreed on the odds of 8 in 10 made up the majority, and their opinion was also the most extreme, or polarized. In this case, the majority model predicted group polarization correctly. If the majority opinion was not also the most polarized, however, difficulties arise. In these circumstances, the majority model would not predict group polarization.
In an alternative group, two members want odds of 6 in 10. They make up the majority opinion. One other member wants odds of 7 in 10, and the last wants even more cautious odds of 8 in 10. All members are on the side of caution; however, the members in the majority are the least cautious. In this case, the arithmetic average is 6.75 in 10. The majority model, on the other hand, predicts a group decision for the odds of 6 in 10. Hence, the majority model does not predict group polarization, but a decision that reflects the opinions of the least cautious members.
Therefore, the majority model predicts that polarization will take place only if the group majority includes the most polarized members. This happened in the Davis et al. study. The group majorities included the most polarized members. That was why the majority model was a successful predictor of group polarization in their study.
Conclusions. Social decision schemes fall within the realm of Position l, which holds that social influence does not affect the decisions of groups. Accordingly, social decision schemes do not make any claims about whether social influence has any effect on group members' opinions. Davis does not deny that social influence occurs during group discussion. The predictions that his schemes make, however, are based solely on prediscussion opinions. They do not account for changes in opinion that result from group discussion.
As we have discussed earlier, group members do change their opinions as a result of group discussion. We do not mean to say by this that social decision schemes are invalid. The schemes are still often able to predict group decisions. What we know, however, does make it unlikely that Position 1 is a good explanation of the process by which groups make decisions. We need to find something that will account for the changes that members make during discussion.
Figure 7.1 diagrams the social influence process from the standpoint of social decision scheme theory.
INDIVIDUAL PREDISCUSSIONAL------> OPINIONS
POSITION 2: SOCIAL INFLUENCE FROM OPINION EXPRESSION
Let us now turn to the second type of theory that is relevant to how social influence processes affect group decision making. Position 2 accepts the idea that social influence is important to the decision-making process and that social influence happens when group members listen to one another express opinions about the available options.
As does Position 1, Position 2 claims that members come into a group with prediscussional opinions. During their meeting, members share opinions. Through this process, each person learns the other members' preferences. Position 2 then hypothesizes that members are likely to adopt the option of the majority. In essence, social influence occurs because people want to agree with the majority. In the end, the group chooses the majority viewpoint.
An important aspect of Position 2 is that learning about other people's opinions is enough to bring about social influence. Group members need not hear arguments from one another about the strengths and weaknesses of the options. For example, Tom hears that others in his group like Option A but dislike Option X. Position 2 would hypothesize that this alone is enough to cause Tom to favor Option A. Tom does not need to hear arguments for Option A or against Option X before changing his opinion. Social influence can occur even when group members do not hear arguments about the strengths and the weaknesses of the options they are considering.
Research in Support of Position 2
We have already run across several examples of social influence in which theories consistent with Position 2 seem best able to explain them.
In Chapter 5, for instance, we discussed research related to expectation states theory (Berger, Fisek, Norman, & Zelditch, 1977). Participants who believed that they were lower than others in an imaginary skill performed phony tasks. The skill might be something like "contrast sensitivity." The phony task supposedly related to the imaginary skill. Researchers showed these participants answers that supposedly came from people who were allegedly more skilled at the task than the participants were. When these answers disagreed with the participants' decisions, the participants were likely to change their minds and agree with the answers they saw. In other words, merely learning the other opinions could influence a participant's decision. Thus, the results of expectation states research are consistent with Position 2.
Much of the research we discussed in Chapter 6 also seems to support Position 2. For example, Asch's (1956) study of conformity found that participants agreed with the majority opinion even when that opinion was wrong. As you can recall, participants looked at the lengths of lines, and 33 participants conformed with the confederates' wrong answers in at least two-thirds of the trials. In interviews after the experiment, about half these conformists claimed that they saw the line correctly but that they decided their own perceptions must have been wrong when they heard the majority choice. They went along with the majority judgment even though it was wrong.
In Moscovici, Lage, and Naffrechoux's (1969) study of minority influence, researchers saw that a minority opinion can also affect group members. Confederates, who were in the minority, claimed that a series of blue slides were green. These statements influenced participants when they later had to judge a second series of slides, which were of a color they could easily call either blue or green.
Further research that relates to Position 2 is Sherif's (1935) study of how people judged imaginary "movements" of a stationary point of light. Participants formed standards for judgment about the range of the light's "movements." When two or three participants made judgments in the presence of one another, their standards converged over time.
In all three cases, participants heard only the judgments that other people made, not arguments about those judgments. The mere act of hearing the opinions influenced them, a finding consistent with Position 2.
Jury Decision Models
We have seen mathematical models of jury decision making that are based on social decision schemes and that are in accordance with Position 1. Scientists have proposed other mathematical models of juries that do not use social decision schemes. These models are in accordance with Position 2.
These models assume that jury deliberation is important. During deliberation, jurors can be persuaded to change their initial opinions. Scientists have attempted to represent this deliberation process mathematically.
In addition to showing that the majority tends to persuade the minority most of the time in a jury, research has revealed a "momentum effect": When members of the minority start to join the majority, other minority members begin to agree with the majority at an ever-faster rate. The momentum slows for the last one or two people in the minority, however. They are usually more sure of their opinions, and persuading them to change their minds is more difficult (Penrod & Hastie, 1980).
These models are consistent with Position 2 because of the way they hypothesize that social influence works. The models assume that social influence occurs when jurors hear one another's opinions. They do not need to hear arguments. The scientists who proposed these models claimed that, in truth, at least part of the persuasive process happens when jurors discuss evidence. Their models, however, did not account for this. The models contain no variables that correspond to a discussion of evidence. Instead, the models concerned the number of jurors originally on each side of an issue. They estimate the probability that jurors will change their minds and how quickly that will happen, given the number of jurors on each side. The models implicitly assume that to predict changes in jurors' minds they need look only at the opinions the jurors expressed to one another.
The Social Comparison Approach to Group Polarization
Social comparison theory has been applied to the study of group polarization. It is consistent with Position 2.
We discussed social comparison theory in Chapter 6 as an explanation for conformity. In that theory, Festinger distinguished between "beliefs about abilities" and "opinions." He stated that beliefs about abilities have a good/bad dimension. People can rank them on a scale. They can move toward the good end of the scale and away from the bad. In contrast, Festinger believed that opinions have no analogous good/bad dimension. Instead, people must choose another person as a norm to follow and shift toward that norm if they want to change their opinion.
Baron et al. Version of Social Comparison Theory
Baron, Roper, and Baron (1974) proposed a newer version of social comparison theory to explain the group polarization effect. They discarded the distinction that Festinger had made between "beliefs about abilities" and "opinions" by giving a good/bad dimension to opinions also. They stated that opinions, as well as beliefs about abilities, can be ranked on a scale running from good to bad.
The new idea is that any situation involves opinions that people in our culture consider good and opinions that we consider bad, including opinions that have to do with risk and caution. In some situations we believe that being cautious is good; in others, we believe that being risky is good.
Scientists have found that how they write choice dilemmas influences whether risk or caution is the "good" opinion. For example, we can write the dilemma of Mr. Jones in two ways. One version might imply good risky values, emphasizing the courage and determination that risk would involve. Another version could emphasize the hardships that Mr. Jones's children would suffer in case of failure. This would imply good cautious values, such as thriftiness and security for Mr. Jones's family. In both versions, the implied values serve as ideals. Group members use these ideals to reach their prediscussional opinions. They want to make the ideally "good" choice when they consider whether Mr. Jones should be daring or careful.
During group discussion, members express their opinions to one another about the good option. For example, in a group of people all from the same culture, members have learned from their culture when being risky is good and when being cautious is good. For this reason, most people in this group will probably react to a choice dilemma in the same way. In other words, group members are likely to agree when risk or caution is the "good" choice.
Members are also likely to disagree on particulars. Members will probably require different actual odds for success before they will accept the more risky, but attractive, option. Some members will be more extreme in the "good" direction than others, whether that direction is toward caution or risk. As they talk, members hear everyone's prediscussional opinions. They all learn where they stand on the good/bad dimension in relation to others in the group. The theory hypothesizes that once members have this knowledge they can see if they are as far in the "good" direction as other members. If they find they don't have as "good" an opinion as other members do, they will shift their opinion so that it is closer to the extreme. They want to have as good an opinion as they can in the group, whether it is a risky opinion or a cautious one. At the end of the discussion, the group bases its decision on the members' more polarized opinions. As a result, the group decision will be more polarized than the average of its members' prediscussional opinions.
Example of Social Comparison Approach
Consider, for example, our four-person group discussing Mr. Jones's investment. Let us assume that researchers have written the dilemma to emphasize thriftiness and security. As a result, our group members all believe that being cautious is good in this circumstance. They do not agree, however, on the degree of caution.
Their prediscussional opinions are that one member needs the odds for success to be at least 8 in 10, two members are slightly less cautious and want odds of 7 in 10, the last member is the least cautious and requires odds of only 6 in 10. The mathematic average is 7 in 10.
When they learn one another's prediscussional opinions, however, the less extreme members wish to "improve" their choices. They want to become more extreme to agree more with the most cautious member. Hence, the two members who wanted odds of 7 in 10 change their minds and decide to require odds of 8 in 10. Similarly, the person who needed odds of only 6 in 10 decides that 7 in 10 is better. The average is now 7.75 in 10. Their group decision will probably approximate these odds. Thus, polarization has occurred.
If the researchers had written the dilemma so that risky values were "good," the same process would have led to group polarization in the direction of risk.
Research into the Theory
The social comparison approach to group polarization is consistent with Position 2. Hence, the theory assumes that all that is necessary for social influence to occur in a group is that members express their opinions. Group members need not hear arguments about the advantages or disadvantages of either risk or caution to change their opinions toward the "good" extreme. All that they need to hear is the prediscussional opinions of the other members. Each person can then decide whether his or her opinion is "good enough." This implies that group polarization will still occur in groups in which the members cannot argue for a particular option.
Scientists can artificially constrain group discussion so that members can voice only their prediscussional opinions. They cannot discuss arguments for or against either risk or caution. Teger and Pruitt (1967) placed these artificial constraints on groups and found that group polarization did occur under these circumstances. The amount of polarization, however, was not as great as in "normal" discussion groups.
Teger and Pruitt's results imply that social comparison may partly account for the group polarization effect. Social comparison is not the entire reason, however, because polarization was smaller than usual in their constrained groups. In the same vein, Isenberg (1986) reviewed relevant studies and found that social comparison had a consistent but only moderate effect on group polarization in those studies.
As we know, to understand social influence completely, we need to understand why the group polarization effect occurs. We have seen how the research comes close to supporting the social comparison approach to group polarization. Therefore, Position 2 appears to be viable but incomplete.
Figure 7.2 diagrams the social influence process from the standpoint of social comparison theory. The process is divided into input, process, and output stages. These stages are equivalent to the stages in the input-process-output model we discussed in Chapters 1 and 2. In this and subsequent diagrams in this chapter. the input steps occur before group discussion begins, the process steps occur during discussion, and the output steps are the results of discussion.
CULTURAL VALUES INDICATING
"CORRECT"--> SIDE OF ISSUE
POSITION 3: SOCIAL INFLUENCE FROM NEW INFORMATION
As did Position 2, Position 3 also accepts the idea that social influence is important in the decision-making process. The main contention of Position 3, however, is that social influence occurs when group members learn new information about the available options. The arguments that members present, not their opinions, are key.
As did Positions 1 and 2, Position 3 claims that members come into a group with prediscussional opinions. Position 3, however, hypothesizes that the group members talk about their opinions during the meeting. Their discussion centers on the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Through this type of discussion, each member learns more about the options. This new information often causes members to change their opinions. The group then uses the members' new opinions to help it decide on the best option.