Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 9: Conformity pressure:Undermining true consensus (pp. 328338)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. When Consensus Seeking Goes Awry (pp. 329334)
    1. Consensus without consideration: Unthinking reliance on consensus
    2. Consensus without independence: Contamination
    3. Consensus without acceptance: Public conformity
    4. Pluralistic ignorance and health risk behavior
  2. Consensus Seeking at Its Worst: Groupthink (pp. 334338)
    1. Causes and consequences of groupthink
    2. Remedies for faulty consensus seeking
When Consensus Seeking Goes Awry

Group consensus is highly valued because we think we can trust the outcome of multiple individuals coming to the same conclusion. However, we cannot trust a consensus if (1) people adopt a consensus without carefully considering the relevant information themselves; (2) people are contaminated by shared biases; or (3) people publicly conform to norms.

Consensus without consideration: Unthinking reliance on consensus

When different people independently come to the same conclusion, consensus is valid. However, when people do not consider relevant information themselves, consensus is reached without consideration, and does not have much value.

Consensus without independence: Contamination

People are less influenced by views from a group than by views from separate individuals. This is perhaps because of the possibility for group consensus to be contaminated.

In contrast to trusting consensus when reached by separate individuals, we expect to agree more with similar others. So similarity in terms of features that are relevant for decision making, but difference in other aspects, is important for trusting a consensus.

People therefore trust in-group members' decisions more than decisions reached by out-group members; in-group members are seen as simultaneously more similar and yet different, while out-group members are viewed as similar to one another.

Consensus without acceptance: Public conformity

People often go along with group norms to get along (see SP p. 333). This destroys the reliability of the consensus.

Disagreeing people feel fear, and anticipate negative reactions.

A single supporter helps us to resist majority pressure.

When publicly conforming to a group's norm that no one privately endorses, pluralistic ignorance exists.

Pluralistic ignorance and health risk behavior

Pluralistic ignorance may contribute to social and health-related problems, like drinking, risky sexual behaviors, and illegal drug use. In order to prevent this from happening, people should become aware of what others are really thinking.

Consensus Seeking at Its Worst: Groupthink

When a group becomes more interested in reaching agreement than in how agreement is achieved, ineffective decisions may be made. When this desire or pressure to reach an agreement interferes with effective decision making, this is termed groupthink.

Causes and consequences of groupthink

Groupthink situations can start out as ordinary situations, and occur when (1) consensus is achieved without consideration of all available evidence; (2) consensus is contaminated because members' views are not independent; or (3) consensus is achieved by publicly conforming without acceptance. This produces an illusion of unanimity rather than true consensus. Pluralistic ignorance also reigns when thinking everyone else accepts the group decision.

Case study: Groupthink

Remedies for faulty consensus seeking

Groupthink can be avoided by making sure all available evidence is considered; dissenting information should not be avoided or suppressed. Appointing a devil's advocate can also help.

A second way in which groupthink can be avoided is through group membership being selected for diversity, making sure members' views are independent from each other.

Finally, people should state their private opinion in public votes, tolerance for disagreement should become higher, and the role of powerful and respected members should be minimized.

So what does this mean?

A consensus is invalid if (1) people adopt a consensus without carefully considering the relevant information themselves; (2) people are contaminated by shared biases; or (3) people publicly conform to norms. When publicly conforming to a group's norm that no one privately endorses, pluralistic ignorance exists. Groupthink situations, where the desire or pressure to reach an agreement interferes with effective decision making, occur when (1) consensus is achieved without consideration of all available evidence; (2) consensus is contaminated because members' views are not independent; or (3) consensus is achieved by publicly conforming without acceptance.

Next topic

Minority influence: The value of dissent

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