After reading this article you will learn about the effects of groups on the thinking process of an individual.
In modern organisations, groups are employed as major instruments for operations, particularly for problem-solving and improving performance. This is based on the assumption that in a group situation individual vagaries and variations tend to be effaced as the members will be exposed to different points of view and thus overcome their own limitations.
Secondly, it is also assumed that as a result of discussions and deliberations, new ideas, new solutions and new modes of thinking may emerge, thus resulting in a synergic effect. While such a view may ideally be correct, very often events do not follow this pattern.
There are many occasions when decision-making groups fail to arrive at a decision, views get polarised and often result in a conflict or if a particular member is too powerful and dominant, they simply accept what that person says.
But barring these instances, when conditions are appropriate and congenial, groups do come out with decisions far superior to individual decisions. We may here briefly consider some aspects of decision making behaviour in groups.
When people form a group and discuss with the objective of arriving at a solution or judgement, each member comes out with his own views, ideas, perceptions and judgements, some being very strong about their views and others being not so strong. Perhaps a few members of the group hold similar views and judgements.
The basic idea in a “group thinking” exercise is not just to change individual ideas and judgements, but each individual is allowed to express his views, so that the members can examine the views of every member and arrive at the best integration of these. But very often this does not happen.
Those with strong prior opinions and biases, do not listen to others views and arguments and remain stubborn. They seem to believe that they and they alone are “right”. On the other hand those who come with vague views and judgements are very often easily swayed and swing to the other extreme, particularly if such extreme views are expressed by certain dominant members with prestige and power.
This shows that the mere presence of a group cannot ensure mature and productive decision. The commitment of the members, their ability to listen to others, ability to articulate their own views and above all leadership are important.
A very important element here is the way in which the discussion is organised and proceeded. This is where communication and leadership become essential. Certain norms and rules of the game have to be agreed upon and meticulously followed.
Though it has been found that group discussions rarely change people’s views, it has been found that they often change the final decision of groups. This is very peculiar, because the members often subscribe to a decision which is at variation with their own private and personal views.
Factors like conformity come into operation. Secondly, perhaps, there is a gradual loss of interest and motivation. Holfman gives us a description of the steps and stages through which such discussions proceed.
(a) First various views which are divergent involving pros and cons are ex pressed. Loose arguments and support and opposition are expressed.
(b) Then after some time, there emerges one minimal option which is not upheld very strongly by any one. This emergence of a minimal option provides a base.
(c) At this stage, something strange happens. Having arrived at a minimally acceptable option or choice, any further alternative suggestions are frowned upon and vehemently opposed. We hear remarks like, “we have arrived at some agreement, and do not disturb. The job has to be completed.”
Thus, the minimally accepted definition or agreement which occurs first gets strengthened and usually emerges as a final solution. Here one may see the importance of the order of emergence of suggestions.
Two concepts have been very prominent in the analysis and study of “group thinking” Risky shift implies that groups in general tend to arrive at decisions which are more risky and more radical than individual decisions. Perhaps, this can be explained on the basis that each individual member feels that he is personally less responsible and less accountable. But more recent studies have not found evidence to support the view that this is a regular feature of group thinking.
These studies on the whole show that group decisions can swing to either side of the decisions of the average member. It can either be far more risky or on the other hand far more conservative and safety-oriented as shown by Myers, Myers and Canon and Zelaska.
This trend shown by groups to swing towards extremes is described as group polarization. Two factors may be responsible for this; firstly there is a general tendency to support the majority decision, which appears to be rational (this need not always be correct), and secondly, there comes into operation the phenomenon of social comparison which drives people to be close to the group norm, and even prove to be the most committed to it by advocating an extreme position on the group norm.
The result is that, they often like to feel that they are most loyal to the group and switch to the extreme – resulting in polarisation of an extreme type. A third term which is usually employed to describe the course of the thinking process in groups is what is known as group think. As polarisation sets in, group members become unable to think clearly and objectively and evaluate their reactions, various opinions and views.
They develop blocks in thinking and start blaming all those who do not share their views. The process of rationalisation, scapegoating and other defense mechanisms come into operation and when these blind decision-making results in wrong decisions, the members become more defensive, and the thinking becomes disassociated from reality. The group, at this stage, is not in a position to come-out of its own cob-web of thinking. Such a stage is called group think.