What is group polarization? Group polarization is an interesting phenomenon whereby the decisions and opinions of people become more extreme when they are in a group setting, but in order to fully understand the phenomenon, it helps to study a group polarization example.
Where did the study of group polarization first originate?
Group polarization as a concept first came to light in an unpublished study by MIT student James Stoner. He observed a phenomenon known as “risky shift”, which appeared to show that when placed in a group setting, individuals were prepared to take riskier decisions than those they might have taken as individual members. Interestingly, this directly conflicted with previous studies carried out by other researchers in the 1920s and 1930s: they had come to the conclusion that individuals were more likely to make risky decisions than people in a group.
Following the findings of James Stoner, further research was carried out, and by the end of the 1960s Moscovici and Zavalloni had coined the term “group polarization”. Many studies were subsequently carried out on how group polarization worked in a number of different settings, from religion to politics, and eventually group polarization was considered to be a fundamental part of the group decision making process, even though many of the mechanisms remained misunderstood.
Why does group polarization occur?
When a group of people come together as part of a decision making process, discussion on any topic often becomes very heated and energised. This can move things on faster, more than the individuals originally intended, and before long the group views become much more extreme due to a lack of opposing views.
This effect occurs because most people tend to act differently in a group setting. Most of us care about what others think of us and as a result we modify our behavior in the presence of others.
What are common group polarization examples?
One important example of group polarization in action is the decision making process of a jury. Many studies have shown that during civil trials, the jury members often decided on a punitive damage award that is larger or smaller than the award they were considering as individual jurors. What tends to happen is that if individuals are in favor of a low award, following a group discussion, the award will be even lower, but if the individual members of the jury believe a higher award is more appropriate, the final award will be higher still.
The same effect has also been observed in cases of racial and sexual prejudice. Individuals holding fairly moderate views tend to become even less prejudiced in a group setting, but individuals who are already highly prejudiced, always inflate their views in a group environment—for example, as seen in racial hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Group polarization has also been observed in online group discussions and research has shown that when members of a group are in an anonymous environment, or cannot see each other, the effects of group polarization are far greater than those observed in a traditional face to face meeting environment.