Group Polarisation

Group Polarisation

A Story by Icelanna

Essay from university, not a story!


How do researchers explain group polarisation and which is the best explanation and why?


   This essay aims to discuss how researchers explain group polarisation and to determine which is the best explanation and why. Group polarisation is an element of decision-making and the dynamics of deciding on something collectively. Results show that the choice groups make have a significant effect on their distribution on a scale, where the normal curve is restricted to one of the extreme values such as pro and anti, rather than neutral, meaning the mean is very similar. Researchers have studied groups and group polarisation to determine the best way to explain the thinking behind the process.


   Group polarisation is the degree to which members of a group or crowd make decisions which are more extreme than decisions made individually. Originally called the “risky shift” by Stoner in 1961 and suggested that groups were more likely to make riskier choices rather than cautious ones. However, the term “risky shift” outlines an element of danger whereas the term “polarization” enables groups to make extreme choices, because of this further research suggests the term “risky shift” can move from risky to caution to later be titled “polarisation” instead.  


   In a standard group polarisation paradigm participants are presented with a dilemma and the members of the group can make one of three choices. These choices include: the risky but desirable choice, the cautious and less desirable choice and finally the lowest probability that someone would accept before the risky option is preferred choice.  There are, however, amendments towards the process which include the type of dilemma or risk and also the probability of the question being asked of the group. To explain this process of decision-making, which results in a polarised choice, there are three major perspectives that researchers us to explain why groups polarise their choices.


  One of those perspectives is persuasive arguments. The “view that people in groups are persuaded by novel information that supports their initial position, and thus become more extreme in their endorsement of their initial position.” (Hogg and Vaughan). The members of the group will combine their ideas into a “body of supportive arguments” which they agree upon as a group after hearing arguments that are common and supported and also hearing new arguments which supports the groups’ position. This allows the groups decision to become more extreme so the final choice becomes polarised at one end. To support this explanation, Tesser, Martin and Mendolia in 1995, found that thinking about making a decision “strengthens our opinions” which helps the group to gather at one pole as all of the members are agreed on a choice.

   An advantage of this perspective is that it considers arguments from each person to combine them to create a final group decision; however a downfall of this is that the members can be swayed by new information which will appear to be supportive when it is encouraging the members to change their original opinions. It could be argued that the leadership of the group may influence the quiet members and use their confidence to persuade them to agree and combine opinions. A democratic leader, for example, would get agreement and consent from the other members to get a final outcome. 


   Whilst persuasive arguments rely on the information given, Jellison and Arkin in 1977 found that the second perspective relies on the need to be socially approved. The social comparison or cultural values perspective outlines the members searching for social approval from the other members by comparing opinions and adjusting views of wider cultures to avoid being an outcast. One aspect of the social comparison perspective is “the bandwagon effect” (Hogg and Vaughan) where members of the group compete to be the most representative of the extreme “pole” which appears to be the most socially desirable to avoid being disapproved by other members. Researchers can explain group polarisation by this perspective because the need of being socially accepted is constantly desired when we are in public so our choices will conform to be accepted by peers.

   A strength of this perspective is that is gets rid of “pluralistic ignorance” (Miller and McFarland, 1987) which eliminates members opinions being ignored by strong personalities, such as leaders of the group, so everybody has a chance to give and alter their opinions. However a weakness is that persuasive arguments can play a role in the polarisation, the altering of personal opinions, such as cultural views, to fit in can be swayed by new information given by members who have expressed their opinions after you which may lead you to change to be accepted by them also. It could be that the individual wants to be accepted by every member of the group they are in rather than the majority.


   While these two perspectives differ, Isenberg in 1986 suggested both of the perspectives are correct as they explain group polarisation under different circumstances and that we should seek to specify the range of applicability of both. This shows that neither of these perspectives are better than the other as they both compete but give the same purpose even though they differ in their explanation. It could be said that they are equal in their definitions. Although it could be argued that social acceptance may be a larger part of group polarisation, rather than persuasive arguments, depending on the individual’s personality and will conform no matter what they really think because of their strong social desires of being accepted.


   However, the third perspective, the social identity theory, shows that the self-categorization theory treats group polarisation as a “regular conformity phenomenon”, as suggested by Turner et al in 1992. The self-categorisation of a group member creates a social identity and a specific set of in-group behaviours because of that categorisation. This categorisation automatically creates conformity in an in-group norm which allows the members to polarise at one end due to the placement in the group. This perspective does show that members are more likely to be persuaded by in-group members rather than individuals and singular opinions, instead gathering ideas to create a choice which leans towards the pole of the group norm to explain this polarisation.

   This perspective shows that conformity is an automatic response when individuals are grouped together and that an instant norm is created with the in-group members which favour the pole furthest away from opinions not held by the members. It couldn’t be argued that persuasive arguments could aid the process due to the identification of the individual before the decision making process begins. Members label/identify themselves within the group before hand which helps them polarise when a dilemma is given to them and their group. However, it could be argued that social desirability plays a role as the categorisation ultimately results in social acceptance, therefore entwining the model of the social identity theory of the second perspective.


   The three perspectives to explain group polarisation all use similar strategies to result in an extreme choice being chosen but all three of them use pieces of the other perspectives to get to their goal. None of the perspectives outline anything different which does not explain this process due to a social intervention such as leadership and social desirability. The placement in a group reflects the social desirability and leaders of a stronger ground and personality than you are as an individual can influence your opinions when given novel information. It could be argued that group polarisation is a result of all three perspectives together because each of the perspectives give different reasons, mainly social explanations, as to why members gather at one pole which happens to be more extreme rather than making the decision individually.


   Considering the advantages and disadvantages of the three perspectives it is clear that none of them are entirely superlative, instead they are all subjective, giving individual explanations which do not work against each other because they all use elements which can help create the perspective from the other two, such as social categorisation in social acceptance. They all use the basic idea that an element within the perspective changes the original opinions of the members to amalgamate ideas to form a different choice. The choice and process of each one all end in the same result, of an extreme choice being made, no matter how effective each of them is but they use similar techniques to obtain the extreme results.


1390 words





Hogg, M., A., & Vaughan, G., M. (2011.) Social Psychology (6th ed.). London; Prentice Hall.


Isenberg, D. J. (1986). Group polarization: a critical review and meta-analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Miller, D. T., Turnbull, W., & McFarland, C. (1988). Particularistic and universalistic evaluation in the social comparison process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(6), 908-908. Retrieved from


Stoner, J. A. F. (1961) A Comparison of Individual and Group Decisions Involving Risk’, Unpublished Master’s Thesis, M.I.T. Sloan School of Industrial Management


Tesser, A., Martin, L., & Mendolia, M. (1995). The impact of thought on attitude extremity and attitude �" behaviour consistency. In R. E. Petty, & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: antecedents and consequences. (pp, 73-92) Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


David, B. & Turner, J. C. (1992). Studies in self-categorization and minority conversion. Paper presented at the joint EAESP/SESP Meeting/Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve, July, Belgium. David, B.& Turner, J. C. (1996). Studies in self-categorization and minority conversion: Is being a member of the out-group an advantage. British Journal of Social Psychology. 35, 179-200.

© 2013 Icelanna

Author's Note

Because some of you have asked to see some of the work I do! Lol

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Added on January 11, 2013
Last Updated on January 11, 2013



Wales, Caerphilly, United Kingdom

Hi guys! Sorry, I don't come on here all that often anymore. I'm busy in university and editing my book! I'm sorry If I haven't read any of your requests. Anyway, you can read the rest of "Madelin.. more..