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In Contrast with Position 3

Comparing Positions 2 and 3 helps to understand Position 3. As you can recall, Position 2 assumed that social influence occurs when people learn the opinions of others and, as a result, change their minds to agree more with them. Proponents of Position 2 do not focus on what happens when a group discusses the strengths and weaknesses of options. They do not think this is significant in the social influence process.

Supporters of Position 3, on the other hand, look carefully at what happens when group members argue about the strengths and weaknesses of their options. They believe that this discussion is responsible for social influence and do not feel that group members will change their minds merely because they learn other members' opinions. They believe that group members need to have new information before social influence can occur.


Research in Support of Position 3

Thus far we have not discussed theories and research consistent with Position 3. We can, however, relate a lot of research to this position. We find many examples in the work that scientists have done in the area of persuasion. Scientists have performed a number of studies to determine whether communicative messages that include evidence as part of a persuasive appeal are more successful in changing opinions than messages that do not contain such arguments.

For example, a communicator is trying to persuade you to brush your teeth every day. One of her claims is that, if you don't do this, your teeth will rot and fall out. In essence, the person has expressed an opinion. If you don't brush daily, your teeth will fall out. Will this opinion be more likely to persuade you if evidence backs it up? This is the question that interests scientists. They want to know if the communicator will be more likely to persuade you to brush your teeth every day if she presents evidence supporting the claim that unbrushed teeth rot and fall out than if she does not present such evidence. Reinard (1988) has reviewed many such studies, which indicate that evidence does increase the persuasive power of messages. These findings are consistent with Position 3. They show that a person wanting to change opinions effectively, needs to present arguments for an opinion. Simply expressing that opinion is not enough.

Now let us examine how this idea relates to the group polarization effect.



The Persuasive Arguments Approach to Group Polarization

Burnstein and Vinokur (1973) proposed the persuasive arguments approach, which claims that, when group members must choose from among a number of options, they all know something about each option. Every person has bits of knowledge that can be viewed as arguments either for or against each option. Members base their prediscussional opinions on these arguments.

During group discussion, members talk over the familiar arguments. They support or criticize each option, hearing arguments they had not heard before. They learn new information that gives them reasons to polarize their opinions further. At the end of the discussion, the group bases its decision on the members' further-polarized opinions. Consequently, the group decision will be more polarized than an average of its members' prediscussional opinions.


Example of Process
Let us illustrate this process. Sandra and Harvey face a choice dilemma individually. Sandra thinks of three reasons (A, B, and C) to be risky. She can think of only two reasons (M and N) to be cautious. Therefore, Sandra chooses to be slightly daring and selects the slightly risky odds of 4 in 10. Harvey also leans toward risk but sees other reasons for his choice. He finds reasons A, B, and D for daring behavior and finds reasons N and O to be cautious. He therefore also chooses the slightly risky odds of 4 in 10.

When these two meet in a group, they learn from each other new reasons to be risky. Sandra hears Harvey's reason D, and Harvey hears Sandra's reason C. Thus, they both have four reasons to be daring--A, B, C, and D. Each now has more cause to be risky. Their personal opinions polarize. Perhaps they now favor riskier odds of 3 in 10. Their group decision will then be riskier than their prediscussional opinions.




Research into Proposal
The persuasive arguments approach to the group polarization effect is a Position 3 theory. It assumes that the single factor of members learning new information about the group's options can cause social influence. Burnstein and Vinokur did not see a sharing of opinions as part of the process that changes group members' opinions. They believed that new information is sufficient to cause social influence.

There has been a great deal of research examining the persuasive arguments theory. In general, the results of this research have been supportive. Isenberg (1986) reviewed many of these studies and found a strong relationship between the effects of persuasive arguments and group polarization. Most theorists now believe that a good theory about both group polarization in specific and social influence in general must include some aspects of persuasive arguments.




Limits of the Proposal
However, persuasive arguments theory has problems accounting for certain research data. These problems come from one underlying assumption of the persuasive arguments approach. The approach presumes that the arguments that are voiced during discussion are representative of the arguments with which the members of the group are familiar. As a consequence, the proportion of arguments on either side of the issue that come up during discussion equal the proportion of arguments that members know on both sides. In our example, sixty percent of the arguments that both Sandra and Harvey are familiar with are in favor of risk and forty percent are for caution. The persuasive arguments approach implies that sixty percent of the arguments that come up during their discussion will also be for risk, and forty percent of the arguments will favor caution.

However, there is strong evidence suggesting that this assumption is wrong.




Bias in discussion. As just mentioned, persuasive arguments theory presumes that the proportion of arguments that are brought up during discussion on either side of the issue is about the same as the proportion of arguments on either side with which members of the group are familiar. If so, then discussion should also include arguments new to each member on the disfavored side of the issue. Sandra will voice reason M to be cautious some time during the discussion, and Harvey will voice reason O. As a result, both will learn new arguments in favor of caution along with new arguments in favor of risk. These new arguments on either side of the issue will approximately cancel one another out, leaving Harvey and Sandra's opinions unchanged. Therefore, group polarization will not occur. In fact, group polarization could only occur if the assumption of equal proportions of arguments is wrong and arguments are biased in favor of the side that the members originally favor.

There are studies that suggest that discussion in biased in this manner. One of them was performed by one of us (Pavitt, 1994). For three choice dilemmas, some of the participants were asked to write down the arguments they knew on both sides of the issue. Then they made a decision about each dilemma in three- or four-member groups. A content analysis was performed in order to determine the proportion of arguments on both sides of the issue in both the written lists and the discussion. The discussion was consistently more polarized than the written lists. When participants leaned toward risk, 57 percent of their written arguments but 86 percent of their voiced arguments favored risk. When participants leaned toward caution, 60 percent of their written arguments but 83 percent of their voiced arguments favored caution. This finding implies that the discussion is biased in favor of prediscussional opinions.

Why do group members seem to talk so much about ideas that favor the group opinion? Why don't they instead reveal more of their personal arguments on the disfavored side? The persuasive arguments theory cannot answer these questions. It does not account for the disproportion between personal opinion arguments and group decision arguments.


The hidden profile effect. Suppose that Jeff and Betsy are discussing a choice dilemma. Jeff has thought of four cautious arguments (W, X, Y, and Z). On the other hand, he has been able to think of only three risky arguments, (A, B, and C). He therefore leans toward caution in his prediscussional opinion. He wants an option with low odds of failure.

Betsy has also come up with four cautious arguments (V, X, Y, and Z). Like Jeff, she could think of only three risky arguments (D, E, and F). Thus, she also prefers a cautious option.

As you can see, Jeff and Betsy had thought of many of the same cautious arguments. If they combined all of them, they would have a total of only five arguments for caution: V, W, X, Y, and Z. On the other hand, they thought of completely different arguments for risk. Together they have a total of six such arguments: A, B, C, D, E, and F. Because together they have more risky arguments than cautious ones, will they both change their minds after they talk to each other? Will they reach a risky decision? Yes, according to persuasive arguments theory. This theory hypothesizes that Betsy and Jeff would talk openly with each other and learn all about the arguments for risk that they both knew. In turn, this would cause them to change their preferences from caution to risk.

Does this really happen in groups? Stasser and Titus (1985) examined circumstances such as this. They found that groups such as Betsy and Jeff did tend to polarize around the option the members originally liked best. This was true even though, together, the members had thought of more arguments for the opposite option. Thus Betsy and Jeff would become more polarized toward caution, in contrast with the persuasive arguments prediction.

Stasser and Titus's finding makes sense if the members of groups such as Betsy and Jeff only discuss the arguments on the side of the issue that each member originally favored. Thus Betsy and Jeff would have discussed cautious arguments V through Z. Risky arguments A through F, which could have changed their minds, were never mentioned. Thus the risky arguments remained hidden from their consideration. Because of this, Stasser and Titus called this phenomenon the hidden profile effect.

Conclusion

It seems that the persuasive arguments proposal can account for some outcomes but not all. It does explain the effect of arguments during group discussion. It cannot reveal, however, why the group tends to verbalize only those arguments that favor the original group option. Therefore, it cannot account for the hidden profile effect.

Figure 7.3 diagrams the social influence process from the standpoint of persuasive arguments theory.
FIGURE 7.3

Input

Process

Output

INDIVIDUAL

PROPORTION

OF PREDISCUS-->

SIONAL


OPINIONS

INDIVIDUAL

PREDISCUS-SIONAL------->

OPINIONS


DISCUSSION

OF

ARGUMENTS



INDIVIDUAL

POSTDISCUS-

SIONAL------->

OPINIONS


GROUP


DECISION


POSITION 4: SOCIAL INFLUENCE FROM BOTH OPINION EXPRESSION

AND NEW INFORMATION

Position 4 combines parts of positions 2 and 3.

We have seen in Position 2, how theorists hypothesized that opinion expression was the key to social influence in groups. In Position 3, scientists theorized that new information caused group members to change their minds. Now, in Position 4, researchers claim that both opinion expression and new information are important; both can affect the opinions of group members.

Scientists variously combine Positions 2 and 3 to come up with theories consistent with Position 4. In this section, however, we propose only one combination. It is the proposal we tested in our earlier study of group polarization (Pavitt, 1994).




Hypotheses of Proposal

The main argument of our version of Position 4 is that social influence is a result of two aspects of group interaction: (1) a social comparison process that leads to biased group discussion and (2) the new, but often biased, information that group members learn from one another when they discuss the options.

As did Position 2, Position 4 claims that we can rank opinions on a good/bad scale (a version of social comparison theory). Our proposal, however, does not strictly adhere to social comparison theory. It does not assert that people use cultural beliefs to help them decide what is "good" and "bad" in a situation. Instead, people decide what is a "good" opinion based on the arguments they can think of in favor of different options. The more arguments they can come up with in favor of an option, the "better" that option becomes to them.

As did Position 3, Position 4 argues that group discussion leads to members learning new arguments relevant to their decision. However, unlike persuasive arguments theory, we do not presume that the arguments that come up during discussion are representative of all the arguments known by group members. Instead, members only bring up arguments that are consistent with what they think is the "good" option. Therefore, group discussion is biased in favor of that option. As a result, group members only learn more about that option that the members originally favored. Therefore their opinions become more extreme, and group polarization occurs.



A Model of the Proposal

To understand this proposal, think of it in terms of an input-process-output model of group discussion.

The input section contains members' prediscussion opinions. The process section consists of the arguments for and against the options that members make during group discussion. The "output" section includes the members' postdiscussional opinions and their group decision.

This proposal combines two theories, social comparison and persuasive arguments. Where do these theories fit in the model? Social comparison explains the first link, that between input and process. It states that, to support "good" opinions, group members present only arguments that support their opinion.

Persuasive arguments theory accounts for the link between process and output. During discussion, members tend to hear new arguments that affect their opinions and the output of the group. Because the arguments are biased in favor of the "good" choice, the members learn more about that choice and become more polarized in its favor.


The Proposal and Group Polarization

Let us see how this proposal would explain the group polarization effect.

As you can recall, in a previous example, Sandra and Harvey face a choice dilemma. Sandra thinks of three reasons (A, B, and C) to be risky. She can think of only two reasons (M and N) to be cautious. She decides to select the slightly risky odds for success of only 4 in 10. Harvey also thinks of three reasons to be risky. Two (A and B) are the same as Sandra's, but the third (D) is different. He comes up with two reasons (N and O) to be cautious. He also decides to accept the slightly risky odds of 4 in 10. According to persuasive arguments theory, when Sandra talks with Harvey, she learns another argument for risk, D. Harvey also learns another argument for risk from Sandra, C. Together they both now have four reasons to be risky--A, B, C, and D. Because they both now have more reason to be risky, their opinions polarize toward more risk.

Persuasive arguments theory alone, however, cannot explain why Sandra and Harvey do not also talk about their other arguments, which support caution. If they were to talk about these, Sandra would learn a new cautious argument (O) from Harvey, and Harvey would learn a new cautious argument (M) from Sandra. Together they would now have three reasons to be cautious: M, N, and O. These cautious arguments would counteract the persuasive effect of the new risky arguments they learned from each other. Therefore, their opinions would not polarize.

What then accounts for the polarization? Social comparison theory can combine with persuasive arguments theory to tell us.

According to social comparison theory, both Sandra and Harvey would only discuss the arguments that support the option they prefer. They want to argue for the "good" option. They have each decided that risk is that option. Thus, they never mention the arguments for caution. In this way, our proposal accounts for the group polarization effect. By combining social comparison theory with the persuasive arguments approach, we show how group polarization can occur.




Research in Support of the Proposal

This proposal, which combines the social comparison and persuasive arguments theories, can explain the results of the two studies we described earlier that revealed problems with persuasive arguments theory.




Bias in discussion. As we mentioned earlier, we performed a study (Pavitt, 1994) in which three- or four-member groups discussed and made a decision about three choice dilemmas. Before the discussion, some of the participants were asked to write down the arguments they knew on both sides of the issue. As we discussed, the arguments that occurred in their discussion were more polarized than these lists. This is evidence that persuasive arguments theory cannot explain.

Before their discussion, we asked other participants to write down "the reasons for" their choice. In these cases, the arguments that occurred during discussion were not more polarized than the arguments on the list. In fact, they were less polarized. When participants leaned toward risk, 99 percent of their written arguments but 83 percent of their voiced arguments favored risk. When participants leaned toward caution, 99 percent of their written arguments but 87 percent of their voiced arguments favored caution.

What do these findings suggest? The results for participants that wrote down arguments on both sides of the issue show that group members' prediscussional opinions reflect the proportion of arguments with which they are familiar on both sides of the issue. The results for participants who wrote down their "reasons for" the prediscussional opinions shows that discussion reflects group members' "reasons for" these opinions, not their entire set of known arguments.

In fact, the findings for the "reasons for" participants leads to another question. Why were participants' discussion arguments not as polarized as their "reasons for?" Why did they ever argue against their favored choice? A further analysis implies a possible reason. In every case in which participants stated an argument for the side to which they were opposed, their group included members on either side of the issue. In other words, when there was conflict between group members for risk and group members for caution, participants appear to have been acknowledging the validity of arguments supporting the other side. Such an acknowledgment is a good strategy for conflict management. In contrast, when all members were on the same side, there was no conflict and thus no need to acknowledge opposed arguments. In these groups, there were no instances in which group members voiced opposing arguments.




The hidden profile effect. As you recall, the "hidden profile" effect" occurs when each member of a group knows more arguments on one side of the issue but the group as a whole knows more arguments on the other side. In our example from earlier, Jeff has thought of four cautious arguments (W, X, Y, and Z) and three risky arguments, (A, B, and C). Betsy has also come up with four cautious arguments (V, X, Y, and Z) and three risky arguments (D, E, and F). Thus, both prefer a cautious option. However, between the two of them there are six risky arguments (A, B, C, D, E, and F) and five cautious arguments (V, W, X, Y, and Z). According to persuasive arguments theory, discussion should lead Betsy and Jeff to change their minds and support risk. Instead, Stasser and Titus (1985) found polarization for caution to occur.

Our proposal accounts for the hidden profile effect. Betsy and Jeff would limit their arguments to those favoring their prediscussional choice, caution. Each would learn new arguments in favor of caution and polarize. Arguments for risk would not occur during their discussion.




Conclusions

Clearly, there is good evidence in support of our proposal. Research shows that combining social comparison and persuasive arguments theories can explain the group polarization effect. This, in turn, means that we may be able to explain social influence in general.

This combined theory, however, is not the last approach that scientists have proposed to account for social influence.

Figure 7.4 diagrams the social influence process from the standpoint of the combined social comparison/persuasive arguments proposal.


FIGURE 7.4




Input




INDIVIDUAL

PROPORTION OF

OF PREDISCUS-->

SIONAL OPINIONS



INDIVIDUAL

PREDISCUSSION->

AL OPINIONS



DECISION ON

"CORRECT" ------>

SIDE OF ISSUE






Process

Output

EXCHANGE OF

PREDISCUSSION->

AL OPINIONS


DISCUSSION OF-->

ARGUMENTS


INDIVIDUAL

POSTDISCUS------>

SIONAL OPINIONS


GROUP DECISION




POSITION 5: SOCIAL INFLUENCE FROM GROUP DISCUSSION

Position 5 gives group discussion itself a large role in the influence process and a bigger role than do any of the other four positions. Poole, Seibold, and McPhee (1985) formulated this position, and researchers have come to call it structurational theory.



Description of the Theory

As do the other four positions, structurational theory hypothesizes that when people come to groups they already have opinions about what they like best. As you can recall, Positions 3 and 4 claim that people base these prediscussional opinions on all the arguments they can think of before the group meeting. The arguments are both for and against all of the options. Position 5 hypothesizes this also.

After this initial similarity, however, Position 5 starts to differ. Structurational theory claims that what happens during group discussion is of utmost importance. As members talk, the group creates a new base of information, as it were, which it uses to make its decision. If arguments do not appear during group discussion, they fall by the wayside. In a sense, they disappear from the equation.

How then do the members' prediscussional opinions and the individual arguments that helped them reach those opinions affect the group decision? They affect the decision only to the extent that members talk about them during group discussion. As we have said, the opinions and arguments that members voice during discussion create a unique body of information for the group, which members use when they form their postdiscussional opinions. As do the other theories, structurational theory hypothesizes that a group's decision is based on the members' postdiscussional opinions. Structurational theory, however, claims that these final opinions come directly from the new base of information that group discussion creates.

Members cease to focus on their own arguments and turn to the arguments that the group has discussed. Thus, members' initial opinions may relate only slightly to their final opinions. Prediscussional and postdiscussional opinions may have no similarities, and the members' early ideas may have little in common with the final group decision.

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