PYB202 Textbook Reading – Chapter 9
‘Group Decision Making’
Group Decision Making
Groups perform many tasks together, one of the most important being group decision making. The course of our lives
is largely determined by the kind of decisions that are made in groups – for example, parliaments, juries and groups of
Social psychologists have long been interested in the social processes involved in group decision making and whether or
not groups make better (or different) decisions than do individuals.
There exists a variety of models which relate to the distribution of initial opinions in a decision-making group as
opposed to the group’s final decision. Some of these models are complex computer-simulation models whilst others
are expressed in formalised mathematical style and are more immediately related to actual real-life groups.
Davis’s (1973) social decisions schemes model identifies a small number of explicit or implicit decision-making rules
that groups can adopt. Under this model, prediction of the final group decision can be made with a high degree of
certainty, provided that knowledge of the initial distribution of individual opinions in the group as well as the rule under
which the group is operating is known.
Davis’s rules include the following:
o Unanimity – the purpose of discussion is to pressure deviants to conform.
o Majority wins – the discussion simply confirms the majority position, which is then adopted as the group
o Truth wins – the discussion reveals the position that is evidently correct through logical argument.
o Two-thirds majority – unless there is at least two-thirds of the majority who agree, a decision is not made.
o First shift – the group ultimately adopts a decision consistent with the direction of the first shift in opinion.
Rules may differ in strictness (for example, unanimity is very strict while majority is not so much) and in the distribution
of power among group members (for example, authoritarian rules concentrate power on one member while
egalitarian spreads the power among all members).
In general, the stricter the rule, the less power concentration. Evidently, unanimity is strict but has low power
concentration whereas two-thirds majority is less strict but has a greater concentration of power.
For intellectual tasks where there is a correct answer, the truth-wins approach is typically adopted. For judgemental
and personal preference tasks, the majority wins rule is typically adopted.
The type of rule adopted for decision-making can not only impact the decision reached, but also the group members. It
can affect their satisfaction with the outcome, their perception of the nature of the group discussion and their feelings
towards other group members.
Kerr’s (1981) social transition scheme model focuses on the actual pattern of, or incremental changes in, the opinion of
each group member as the group progresses towards a final decision. In order to do this, each member’s opinions are
monitored during the decision-making process, either by periodically asking them or having them note down each
change in opinion.
An important part of the decision-making process can be the generation of novel ideas. The technique of brainstorming
serves to achieve this, and occurs when a number of people come together to randomly generate ideas in an
uninhibited manner for the purpose of increasing group creativity and productivity.
Popular opinion sees brainstorming as a useful technique that works to achieve this, and as a result brainstorming is
used widely in schools, businesses etc.
However, whilst research shows that brainstorming does generate more ideas within a group than not, it has not been
proven to at all increase creativity among individuals. In fact, nominal groups – in which brainstorming is conducted
individually and without interaction – are found to be twice as effective as group brainstorm sessions.
The inferior performance of brainstorming can be attributed to a number of factors including:
o Evaluation apprehension – the fear of not making a good impression upon peers may cause self-censorship
and reduce productivity.
o Social loafing and free-riding – there is a motivational loss to perform and participate because of the collective
nature of the task.
o Production matching – where individuals adjust their level of contribution to match the average of the rest of
o Production blocking – individual creativity and productivity are reduced due to the interference of others’
generation of ideas at the same time, which contend with or sway the direction of current ideas.
Stroebe and Diehl (1994) review evidence for these possible explanations and conclude that production blocking is
probably the main obstacle to unlocking the creative potential of brainstorming groups. They discuss a number of
remedies for these, two of which appear to have promise: o Electronic brainstorming – this reduces the extent to which the production of new ideas is blocked by listening
to others or waiting in turn to speak. Groups that brainstorm electronically via computer or similar device can
produce more ideas than non-electronic groups or nominal groups.
o Heterogeneous groups – if the group itself possesses a diverse knowledge of the topic of brainstorming, this
may actually create a stimulating environment that alleviates the effects of production blocking. Stroebe and
Diehl suggest that if production blocking is also reduced by other means, then the heterogeneous
brainstorming group may outperform even heterogeneous nominal groups.
So if there is no evidence to suggest that brainstorming face-to-face actually improves creativity, why then do so many
people believe firmly in the idea of brainstorming and continue to adopt it today? Stroebe and Diehl (1991) suggest that
this paradox stems from the existence of an illusion of group effectivity which is an experience-based belief that we
perform better and generate more ideas when in a group.
This illusion may be generated by at least three processes:
1. Brainstorming is generally fun; people enjoy brainstorming in groups more than alone and feel more satisfied
with their performance afterwards.
2. People are aware that they often do not call out ideas because someone else has already said them. While this
is most likely the case for the entire group, we do not know the unspoken ideas of others and therefore tend
to see others as having relatively low productivity of ideas as compared to our own ‘high’ latent productivity.
As a result, the group is seen to have confirmed or enhanced our own high level of performance.
3. Although nominal groups produce more original and useful ideas than groups, groups have a tendency to
produce more ideas in general overall. Thus, we are exposed to more ideas in a group than we are alone. We
also tend to lose track of which ideas we actually produced (latently or otherwise) and those which we did not,
contributing to our tendency to over exaggerate our own contribution. We often unknowingly feel as though
we have been more productive and were more facilitated by the group than we actually were.
Another important dimension of group decision making is the ability to recall information. An example of this
importance could be in the juries when remembering key facts about a case or in selection panels where a group of
judges need to remember the defining characteristics of each candidate.
Clark and Stephenson (1989, 1995) concluded that groups remember more than any one individual within the group.
The reason why groups recall more information than individuals is because its members communicate their collective
memories and the group recognises information that is true when it hears it.
Group superiority over individuals varies depending on the task. On simple tasks such as remembering nonsense words
for example, the group performs better. However on more complicated tasks such as remembering a story, the group’s
performance is markedly less. This could be explained by the notion of ‘process loss’ in which the group focuses too
much on the recollection of complex information that it fails to employ appropriate recall and decision strategies
amongst themselves, resulting in a failure to utilise the groups full resources and potential.
Group memory is not simply regurgitation, however, but is instead a constructive process in which it filters the
contributions of members until that which is considered to be true memory is reached.
Wegner (1987) has proposed a different perspective on group memory. Here, he believes that individuals who are a
member of a couple or group have what is called a transactive memory which is greater than the individuals’ memories
alone. Essentially, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This means that each individual may be particularly better at remembering certain details than the other members of
the group, and as a result the members share the load of remembering amongst themselves so that individuals are
responsible for the memory of different things. Each member of the group knows who is responsible for remembering
Transactive memory is a shared system for encoding, storing and retrieving information. It allows the group to
remember more than it would if there was no transactive memory present.
Because transactive memory cannot exist outside of a group context for the individual, it is related to McDougall’s
(1920) theory of the group mind.
When groups or couples first form, the allocation of transactive memory typically falls to social categorisation. For
example, in heterosexual couples it may be the case where the woman is responsible for remembering things related to
cooking and the male is responsible for car-related memories. Category-based transactive memory is the default
mode; however as groups progress they may develop more sophisticated memory-assignment systems.
o Groups can negotiate responsibility – for instance, couples can decide through discussion who will be
responsible for paying bills, shopping for groceries, servicing the car etc.
o Groups can assign domains on the basis of expertise – for instance, a committee may assign a specific domain
to a person with prior experience of background that could relate to that domain.
o Groups can assign domains on the basis of information access – for instance, this same committee may assign
its publicity and advertising domain to someone with contacts and access to information related to advertising. There is however, a significant pitfall to transactive memory – when a member of the group leaves, they take with them
a portion of the memory which was necessary to the group. This can cause a crisis but is usually quickly filled when
another person can replace them. In the case of couples, however, there is no replacing the partner who leaves. It is
possible then that the depression typically caused by separation can be attributed to – at least in part – the loss of
memory. Happy memories are lost, our sense of who we are is undermined by lack of information and we are left with
the responsibility of remembering a variety of things that we did not need to remember before.
Moreland et al. (1996) argue that transactive memory systems develop more rapidly and operate more efficiently when
group members learn together rather than individually. Therefore, new members of organisation or trainee groups
should be trained together rather than apart.
The analysis of group memory in terms of the way groups remember and transactive memory can be viewed as part of
a broader analysis of socially shared cognition and group culture.
When we think of culture we tend to imagine the traditions and customs of ethnicities across the globe, however
Moreland et al. (1996) argue that culture is an instance of group memory and therefore can exist in smaller groups such
as sporting teams, organisation, work group and families etc.
Sometimes groups produce poor decision making procedures which inhibit quality decision making. The consequences
of such decisions can be disastrous. Janis (1972) coined the term groupthink to describe such decision making
processes. Groupthink is defined as a mode of thinking in which the desire to produce a unanimous decision overrides
the motivation to adopt proper rational decision-making procedures.
The principle cause of groupthink is thought to be excessive group cohesiveness, howev