Hoffman and Kleinman's Response
Hoffman and Kleinman (1994) responded with two criticisms of McPhee et al.'s work. First, Hoffman and Kleinman did not accept McPhee et al.'s combination of individual valence as the main part of their model along with total valence as a tie-breaker. They felt that mixing individual and total valence in the same model was inconsistent, like mixing apples and oranges. They felt that the McPhee et al. model should only included those groups without ties. Based on the discussion of 42 groups, Hoffman and Kleinman found the original Hoffman model was a better predictor of group decisions than a valence distribution model without ties.
Further, Hoffman and Kleinman continued to argue for +15 as the adoption threshold valence. This is because none of the 143 proposals made by their groups that had valences of less than +15 were chosen. However, some of their own data is inconsistent with their conclusion. Of the 20 proposals made by their groups that had valences of +15 to +29, only 7 were chosen. In contrast, of the 47 proposals with valences of +30 or higher, 37 were chosen. It is obvious that the adoption threshold in the Hoffman and Kleinman groups was considerably higher than +15.
Looking at all the research, it seems that the adoption threshold differs substantially for different types of groups. Perhaps there are some input variables that determine a group's adoption threshold. One direction that valence theorists can take is to try to determine what those input factors may be.
The Valence Model and the Five Positions
Structurational theorists primarily tried to refine the valence model because they believed that it fit the way they looked at group discussion (Poole, Seibold, & McPhee, 1985). As you can recall, structurational theory claims that group members formulate their postdiscussional opinions during group discussion. This means that scientists can predict these final opinions by looking only at the content of the discussion. Looking at prediscussional opinions is not helpful.
Valence theory appears to agree. It also attempts to predict a group's final decision by examining the content of its discussion. Thus, on the surface, it seems to agree with structurational theory and Position 5.
Valence theory, however, makes no claims about how social influence actually works; therefore, we cannot state that it totally agrees with Position 5. When we look at the five positions toward social influence, it is not actually clear under which position valence theory would fit best. We can be sure that it does not fit under Position 1 because Position 1 does not seriously consider the role of group discussion in social influence. For this reason, the valence model clearly does not belong there. When we look at the other four positions, however, we can interpret the model in ways that make it fit any one of them.
For example, let us interpret the finding that groups usually choose the option that members discuss in the most positive light. We could assume that conformity processes explain this finding. Group members decide to support the option that they discuss in the most favorable terms simply because it receives the most vocal support. In this case, we can interpret the valence model as a theory that fits Position 2.
We could instead assume that groups choose the option they discuss most positively for another reason. Suppose that members hear a great deal of evidence in support of this option during group discussion. The weight of this evidence could sway the members. If that weight of evidence corresponds to arguments that group members would have made even before discussion, the valence model is consistent with persuasive arguments theory and thus fits under Position 3.
Finally, we can interpret our finding in another light. If it shows that both conformity and persuasive arguments processes occur simultaneously, we must see the valence model as a type of Position 4 theory. As is clear, placing valence theory under only one social influence position is difficult.
SOCIAL INFLUENCE CONCLUSIONS
In the last sections, we have shown how scientists have gathered knowledge and data regarding the ways in which social influence works in group decision making. We have also seen how theorists have attempted to account for these data findings. What are we to conclude?
Two Important Propositions
Generally, we need to conclude that a valid theory regarding group decision making must account for two propositions.
First, data has supported the proposition that group decisions are primarily a result of the opinions of group members. It is true that members wish to meet group or individual standards about how they "should" choose, but this desire is only a secondary cause of group decisions. Individual opinions are more important.
Second, individual opinions can and do change as a result of group discussion because members learn from one another the implications of each alternative.
Limits of Present Theories
We have reviewed theories that attempt to account for social influence. It appears that viable theories of social influence must be consistent with these two important propositions. At this time, however, it is not clear which, if any, of these theories can truly explain how social influence operates in decision-making groups.
In Chapter 6 we described how scientists have generally studied conformity by using experiments that limit social interaction and make it artificial. In this chapter, we looked at studies that allowed interaction to proceed naturally. These experiments have led to further insights into social influence processes.
One insight that we have gained from more "natural" experiments involves what happens when group members work on a choice dilemma. Scientists have found a group polarization effect. This takes place when group members are initially in general but not exact agreement on one side of an issue involving potential risk. In this situation, the group's final decision tends to be on the same side as their initial judgments, but it is more extreme.
Five general positions concern how social influence affects group decisions. Each leads to a specific theory about how group polarization works.
Position 1 proposes that group members come to a decision by "combining" their prediscussional opinions and that social influence is not important. "Social decision scheme" research suggests that groups polarize because the majority of their members have an extreme opinion and the group adopts that majority opinion. We know, however, that social influence does affect decision-making groups. For this reason, social decision schemes cannot explain the decision process.
Position 2 claims that the opinions that members express influence the group. Social comparison theory, which is consistent with this position, examines the members' opinions to explain group polarization. The theory claims that group members polarize their opinions to agree with the member who has the "best" opinion.
Position 3 proposes that arguments influence group members. When members hear arguments for or against options, they incorporate them into their thinking. Persuasive arguments theory is consistent with this position. It attempts to explain group polarization by looking at arguments. The theory claims that, when group members hear arguments that are consistent with their prediscussional views, they further polarize their opinions.
Research suggests that social comparison theory and persuasive arguments theory may be partial and complementary explanations of group polarization. Accordingly, Position 4 attempts to combine these two theories.
Position 5 is the structurational view, which claims that members' using argumentation strategically during group discussion brings groups to their decisions. As a result, a group's decision will reflect the content of its discussion. The decision may not be related at all to the members' prediscussional opinions. Research that has attempted to test this view has led to mixed findings.
A final insight from "natural" studies concerns the manner in which group discussion functions. According to the "valence model," all proposals in groups have levels of acceptability, which group discussion both governs and reflects. It appears that proposals must reach certain thresholds of acceptability. Scientists can discover the acceptability level of an idea by examining the number of times the group evaluates the idea positively or negatively. The group will reject a proposal that does not reach the necessary threshold of acceptability. Alternatively, members will seriously consider ideas that are close to the proper acceptability level, and they will usually choose the proposals that meet that threshold standard.
Our discussion on how social influence may affect group decision making is only a first stab at describing the many-sided nature of the decision process. In the next two chapters, we approach the topic of decision making from two angles: (1) the study of group process and (2) group structure.