Terms and fundas
Group polarisation is a phenomenon relating to our tendencies to make decisions which are more 'extreme', when in groups, rather than when individually. It is also called 'risky shift' (earlier term) and 'incestuous amplification' (military).
After group discussions, attitudes such as racial and sexual prejudices are seen to be reduced for already low prejudiced individuals and increased for already highly prejudiced individuals.
The mechanism of group polarisation is said to be based on two phenomena: Social comparison (drive of individuals to appear socially desirable) and informational influence (individuals weighing 'remembered' pros and cons).
A host of people and organisations will make use of this phenomenon ' from people groups, religious organisations, political parties, or even the terrorist groups.
Why does this hapen? I am trying to reason this out from my own experience. If I am inclined heavily towards an issue and am discussing that within a group, if others think like me, definitely I would become more confident of myself and would go for harsher conclusions And on the other hand, if others have predominantly opposite view from me, I would tend to get back into my shell, reinforce my arguments, and in an effort to defend my views, I will become harsher! Also, in a way, this is like negotiation, to show the other person that you have compromised from your position in order to accommodate the other person's views; I will tend to demand more and then later pull back a little. But in effect, I have become harsher than I was before!
Another interesting aspect is that the 'online' or 'virtual' groups behave in almost the same manner except that members feel freer in sharing their views because of the associated anonymity. They will still behave in the same manner ' becoming milder if they were mild and harsher if they were harshly prejudiced before the discussion. You must have observed this phenomenon among bloggers. The more the readers counter you on the comments page, the more you get reinforced in the strength of your own arguments. Very few of us are able to break this tendency and are truly receptive.
This phenomenon again raises the question: when and how much discussion we should have and on what issues? Also, this phenomenon makes us think about can we get some desired results by any manipulations: if I know that Mahesh is highly prejudiced on an issue, will I make him more or less prejudiced by involving him in a group discussion? Also, the question comes: what about rationality? Am I too bounded by such psychological theories? How can I break the clutter? From my own experiences, I understand that this phenomenon is true and real. But I would prefer not to confirm to this.
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