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Conformity and groupthink

Created by Jeffrey Walsh.

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Video transcript

Voiceover: So Social Psychology is the study of how individuals think, feel, and behave in social interactions. You probably know intuitively that when individuals are in groups, they may act very differently than when they are alone. And if you ever wondered why, let's talk about some group processes. And some of the ways that people change their behavior in social situations. So the first group process that we'll review today is conformity. So conformity. Now, this won't be the first time you've heard about conformity. You've probably just known it by another name, peer pressure. And conformity is a tendency for people to bring their behavior in line with group norms. And it's a powerful in social situations. We use social situations, especially ones with peers, to determine what's acceptable, to question standards and authorities, and get feedback on behaviors. So it is important, especially for younger folks, to have positive peers, because if the group's behavior is positive, then it can lead to peace, harmony, and happiness. But if the group's behavior is negative, it can be catastrophic. So, when behaviors are negative or wrong, why do people still conform to group norms? So, imagine you're part of a group and the group's been asked to train a dog. So, the group training the dog decides to train it with a shock collar, and you decide to agree. Now according to social psychologist, there are two main influences that explain why you would conform with the group. So first lets pretend that you've never interacted with the dog before, and you're uncertain about your method of training a dog and whether it would be correct or not to use a shock color. So in that case, you may look to the group for guidance, in this instance, you assume that the group is correct and so you just go along with their opinion and whatever else they suggest. And this is known as informative influence. Now, let's pretend that you are an expert dog trainer, and you know that it's easier to train a dog with treats, rather than using a shock collar. So even though you know the group's method of using a shock collar is incorrect, you might still decide to go along with the group in order to avoid being a social outcast. And in this instance, you're conforming because of a normative influence. So, in that case, you fear the social rejection that can come with dissenting from a group, and so you decide to conform, instead of rocking the boat. In addition, there are two different ways in which a person can conform, publicly, or privately. If you privately conform to a group's belief, you change your behaviors and opinions to align with the group. If you publicly conform, you're temporarily or superficially changing, so outwardly you agree with the group, but on the inside you actually maintain your own core beliefs. So thinking back to our example, if you privately conformed to use a shock collar, you would leave the group situation with a genuine belief that the best way to train a dog is with a shock collar. In other words you could say you're convinced. On the other hand if you publicly conformed then you would agree to the shock collar while in the group situation. But you would also know that the treats are the more effective route and when you're alone or out of the group situation you would continue to train dogs with the treats. So, you could say that you weren't convinced. Now let's talk a little bit more about group processes. Problem decision making can often take place in groups. Factors that influence individual's problem solving and decision making, continue to operate when an individual's in a group, but group interactions also shape the outcome. So, group polarization is a phenomenon in which group decision enhances or amplifies the original opinions of group members, and for this to happen several factors must be present. First all the views do not have equal influence. So for a view point to influence a group's final decision, it's shared by the majority of individuals in the group. Secondly, in discussions about the topic, arguments made tend to favor the majority or popular view. And any criticism is directed to the minority view and this is called confirmation bias. The group members seek out and reinforce information that supports the majority view. In this sort of atmosphere, the initial attitude or view point amplified by the group discussion, and sometimes a stronger version of the decision can be adopted. So going back to our dog training example, imagine a group of individuals meet to discuss training a dog. The majority of the group agrees that training the dog with treats is the best way to go about it. Most of the discussions of all the benefits of training with positive reinforcement. And some group members, very angrily chastised the advocates for the shock collar. The individuals leave the group discussion feeling more confident than ever that training dogs to his treats is the way to go. So their view of training dogs with treats has been amplified from that discussion. The last group process that we'll talk about is group think. And this occurs when maintaining harmony among group members is more important than carefully analyzing the problem at hand. It happens most often in very cohesive groups that are insulated from other people's opinions and feel that they are invulnerable. So groups susceptible to group-think often have, a very powerful, respected or important leaders. And in the interest of group unity, members censor their opinions. And they may do so by their suppressing personal doubts or they may be actively and openly pressured into conforming to the majority view. And in a situation the first suggestion proposed by a leader is usually adapted, especially if there's little hope of finding a better solution. As you may imagine, this is not the most effective or successful way to make a decision and it explains a lot of what's wrong with Congress in the United States. Now by using our dog training example again, imagine that a group of individuals live in the same close-knit suburban neighborhood. They decide to meet to discuss a dog that's been exhibiting some bad behavior. So the leader of the neighborhood says that they think the dog should be put down to avoid further damage to the neighborhood. Rather than argue with their leader and have a conflict, the neighbors agree that the dog should be put down instead of considering any other options, to train the dog, or some other sort of solution. If the neighbors had wanted to avoid group-think, they might have brought in experts or outsiders, or held smaller groups separately to discuss the dog, or had the leader from the group refrained from disclosing their opinion. So to review, conformity, group think, and group polarization, are all processes that can occur when individuals come together in a group. They're not always positive but can be if the group is positive, open minded, and willing to consider more than one opinion. In the next video, I'll talk more about groups and social behaviors.