Critically evaluate research concerned with decision making in groups. Give attention to minority and majority group influences Lewin (1948) states the definition of a group was “a dynamic whole based on interdependence”, and Newcomb (1957), “Shared norms and interlocking roles”. Both definitions share two common features of norms and independence. This suggests that a group works around some form of ‘normality’ and ‘mutuality’ and therefore it is presumptuous that group decision-making would show apparent signs of ‘mutual’ agreement and ‘normal’ outcome.
It may be that those individuals exposed to decision making in groups may show these signs due to fear of ridicule and would therefore keep their true opinions to themselves. Or perhaps this ‘mutual agreement’ between the majorities has actually influenced the individual to change their opinion. Alternatively, can the minority influence the majority, and if so, how? Majority influence is the term used when talking about an individual conforming to a viewpoint of the majority, usually a group or organization that they follow.
Studies done on the issue of majority influence are conducted to find how real the trend of ‘conformity’ is, and whether or not majority influence really does change the minds of individuals, or do individuals only agree overtly but keep their own views private. The first study, is one of the early social-influence experiments conducted by Muzafer Sherif 1935. Sherif’s experiment involved the Auto kinetic effect whereby a point of light in an otherwise totally dark environment will appear to move randomly. Subjects were invited to estimate the amount of ‘movement’ they observed.
Some of the participants made their estimates in groups first and then in following experiments made their decisions on their own. The other half of the group did the reverse. When participants were in-groups each member could hear the others’ estimates. Ultimately, the group members’ estimates converged towards a ‘group estimate’ regardless of what their original estimate was. Sherif found a fairly large degree of convergence among the judgments within the group. Thus, in the absence of any ‘real’ physical cues, group members used the judgment of others to modify their own judgments.
Regardless of this experiment failing to show majority influence or conformity, it does, however show that when an individual is faced with different judgements of others they quickly abandon their own ‘frame of reference and adopt that of the group’. The findings of this experiment may not be surprising but somewhat expected, as being influenced by others judgements is to be expected especially if one is not sure about the stimulus. However it is questioned whether the same results will be attained when the participant is fully aware that the apposing views are obviously in the wrong.
Exactly how far do we blindly follow and accept others judgements? Asch criticised Sheriffs experiments for being too ambiguous and not really showing any form of conformity; and therefore was difficult to measure exactly how willing individuals were to follow the judgements of others. He suggested that if people ‘yield to group pressure’ (Crutchfield 1962) when the answer is obvious then there is much more likeliness of conformity than when the answer is not clear. And so in the early 1950’s Asch conducted a series of experiments using the ‘Asch paradigm’.
In his experiments he put together a group of participants and asked them to match comparison lines with a standard line. To begin with the experiment was shown as one, which is straightforward and obvious, and so for the first few trials all confederates agreed on the right answer. However as the experiment proceeded the confederates (who were the majority of the group) began to agree with the wrong answer. The overall finding showed that the basic conformity rate was around 32%, which is a lot of people considering how straightforward the task given was.
Van Avermaet (1988) suggested that ‘the results revealed the tremendous impact of an ‘obviously’ incorrect but unanimous majority on the judgements of a lone subject. ‘ When the participants or took part in Asch’s experiment were interviewed after it was conducted, many of them confessed that they dismissed what they believed to be the correct answer and conformed to what they thought would please the experimenter, and felt that by following what others were doing they were giving him results that he wanted.
Others claimed that their reason for conformity was simply to avoid being seen as an ‘outcast’ even though they knew that the answer was wrong. From these findings we can see that both the groups despite having conformed and changed their judgements to those of the confederates still internally believed that their judgement was correct. As so the influence was not able to truly change their mind, however they did conform in public.
Although it was found that when this same experiment was replicated only this time with 16 nai?? ve participants and 1 confederate, the answers given by the confederate were mocked and so the fear of being laughed at for giving the wrong answer had disappeared for the participants. It seems that the decision made by the individual when in a group depends on the environment and on the individuals themselves.