Group Polarization in Social Psychology

people protesting

In contemporary society, we see examples of group polarization growing day by day, in terms of politics, sports teams, and civic pride.

Group polarization is defined as a phenomenon when “members of a deliberating group move toward a more extreme point in whatever direction is indicted by the members’ predeliberation tendency.” Group polarization leads to changing attitudes among individuals within the group. In addition, group polarization can lead to groupthink, which is when bad decisions are made by a group because some of its members don’t want to express opinions or suggest new ideas that some in the group may disagree with.

People want to be unique and have opinions that differ from others, which could lead to more extreme views on a certain subject taking hold. This can have dangerous consequences for society as a whole.

Why Does It Happen?

There is a pair of theories that help explain how group polarization works. The social comparison theory concerns individuals comparing views with others, while the informational influence theory focuses on an individual trying to persuade another.

Social Comparison Theory

Also known as the normative influence, this theory of group polarization states that people often change their opinions when in a group in order to fit in or to be accepted, and to be looked upon more favorably. As outsiders, new members of the group may promote a more extreme view of a topic than the rest of the group previously had. That can push the entire group toward the more extreme viewpoint or the stance that best correlates with the views of the group leader.

Informational Influence

This concept states “that people tend to enter a discussion with favorable information for both sides of the argument, and then change their opinion favoring that side which provides more information in its arguments.” This mainly occurs when an individual is unsure about what he or she believes, and that person will tend to follow which ever viewpoint has the most information supporting it.

Group Polarization Examples

The importance of group polarization in social psychology is significant in contemporary times, because it helps explain group behavior in a variety of real-life situations. Some examples of these include discussions and decisions made about public policy, terrorism, college life, and all types of violence.

One example of informational influence within group polarization is jury verdicts. Multiple studies have shown that jury members in civil trials as a group often decided on punitive damage awards larger or smaller than they would have chosen individually. The studies found that people who favored lower punitive damage awards wound up voting for an even lower award after group discussions; likewise, for higher amounts.

Other contemporary examples of group polarization are demonstrated during sporting events. As individuals, people are less likely to be antagonistic to sporting officials. But with a crowd of partisan supporters rooting on their team, it’s much easier to signal discontent for the officials when a bad call is perceived by the fans.

More recently, group polarization has been observed in cases of racial and sexual prejudice, as seen in racial hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and it’s also observed in online forums and discussions.

Gain a Better Understanding of Group Polarization

Understanding group polarization and its effects on society has never been more important, especially considering how individuals are finding groups within their communities and online. You can learn much more about group polarization and other social phenomena with Alvernia University’s fully online Bachelor of Science in Psychology. With an online psychology bachelor’s degree, you can help people overcome their troubles as a mental health advocate and substance abuse counselor, or become eligible to pursue graduate studies.

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