Group polarization is a socio-psychological phenomenon that arises as a result of a group discussion, during which the dissimilar opinions form two polar opposite positions that exclude any compromises. However, it can also arise outside of open discussion, as a result of systematic exchange of views between participants in joint activities, leading to groupings with polar positions. In its extreme form, group polarization expresses the state of intragroup conflict. The term “group polarization” was introduced by S. Moskovici. In the American tradition, this phenomenon is typically described with the term “general shift in choice”. The opposite experience to the one described is called group normalization.
The concept of group polarization states that a person in a group is prone to an extremely harsh expression of their opinion (not implying a compromise) than it might sound initially. This phenomenon occurs when a discussion leads participants to adopt unacceptable attitudes or difficult actions.
Let’s consider the various nuances of this concept in more detail.
Group polarization occurs when discussion forces the group to adopt attitudes or actions that are more extreme than the initial attitudes or actions of individual members of the group. It can occur in the direction of two poles – an increased degree of risk or conservatism.
Each of us adheres to a certain point of view about various problems, situations, phenomena. We are always able to explain why we are in the “for” or “against” position regarding a particular issue. However, research has shown that the extent of our personal opinions can change through group discussion.
For example, a person thinks that children’s beauty contests are not a good idea. Initially, this opinion has a rather mild degree of manifestation, as one, perhaps, did not even think about this issue seriously. However, if a person is placed in a company where this topic will be actively discussed, there is a chance that by the end of the discussion one will not only be against children’s beauty contests but will also express this opinion more harshly.
Another example could be volunteer relief organizations. They often try to perform wonderful acts of charity, while many of the organization’s members were not determined enough to try to do this alone.
Also, manifestations of group polarization in life are examples of various crowd behavior, politics, violent actions, peer pressure, life at an institute or university, and decisions made by the jury of competitions.
The concept closely related to negative group polarization is known as groupthink. This theory is guided by the tendency of group members to suppress their doubts about the decision made because of the fear that they will disturb the harmony of the group, which will lead to a bad impression of themselves.
Talking about groupthink vs group polarization, let’s have a closer look at their causes. The reasons for group polarization have been listed above, so you can consider those for groupthink below.
Group polarization has both positive and negative aspects. For example, it arises in team-building exercises in which participants use it as a tool of encouragement and motivation to achieve the ultimate goal. Then, of course, this effect is perceived exclusively in a positive light.
Most often, however, this phenomenon is treated with caution, as it contributes to suppression by the majority. If the opinion is wrong, it will invariably lead to catastrophic decision-making processes.
The concept of group polarization is an important part of interpersonal communication and once again proves to us that a person is a social being, influenced by others and society. Given that this effect can lead to both positive and negative consequences, try to be conscious and critical of everything that happens to you and around you.