Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 9: How groups form norms: Processes of social influence (pp. 322328)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Group Compromise: Taking the Middle Ground (p. 322)
  2. Group Polarization: Going to Normative Extremes (pp. 322324)
    1. Polarization in the jury room
  3. Explaining Polarized Norm Formation (pp. 324328)
    1. Superficial processing: Relying on others' positions
    2. Systematic processing: Attending to both positions and arguments
Group Compromise: Taking the Middle Ground

The effect that the compromised position of a group is more moderate than the initial views of individual members is termed depolarization. This only happens when opinions of a group are evenly split.

Group Polarization: Going to Normative Extremes

It is more common that most groups initially lean in one direction, because groups are often formed because of shared views. In addition, evidence might also lean towards one direction.

Stoner (1961) demonstrated that when people work in groups, decisions are more risky than when people work alone. However this finding had nothing to do with risk, but was the first demonstration of group polarization; a group's initial average position becomes more extreme after group interaction.

Polarization in the jury room

Group polarization also takes place in the jury room (see SP p. 324).

Explaining Polarized Norm Formation

Group norms become polarized regardless whether the information that is discussed is processed superficially or systematically.

Superficial processing: Relying on others' positions

Group polarization occurs when processing information superficially because (1) undecided or dissenting group members adopt the majority consensus; and (2) people want to be the best possible member of the group, and want to represent the group ideal. Social comparison with other group members makes people realize that they are not above average, and people adapt their initial position to a more extreme one.

Systematic processing: Attending to both positions and arguments

When a decision is important, one pays attention to the arguments and positions of other group members. Group polarization occurs in this situation because majority arguments are more numerous, get more discussion, seem more compelling, and are presented as more compelling.

So what does this mean?

Depolarization (when the compromised position of a group is more moderate than the initial views of individual members) happens only when the opinions of a group are evenly split. It is more common that most groups initially lean in one direction and, after group discussion, the group's initial average position becomes more extreme, termed group polarization. Group polarization occurs when processing information superficially, because (1) undecided or dissenting group members adopt the majority consensus; and (2) people want to be the best possible member of the group, and want to represent the group ideal. Group polarization occurs when processing systematically because majority arguments are more numerous, get more discussion, seem more compelling, and are presented as more compelling.

Next topic

Conformity pressure:Undermining true consensus

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 9 introduction
  2. Conformity to social norms
  3. The dual functions of conformity to norms: Mastery and connectedness
  4. How groups form norms: Processes of social influence
  5. Conformity pressure:Undermining true consensus
  6. Minority influence: The value of dissent
  7. Chapter overview (PDF)
  8. Fill-in-the-blanks
  9. Multiple-choice questions