Group Decision Making – Its Components and Downsides


One of the most important activities in group dynamics is groups decision making. Deciding on one out of several possible courses of action. Hence, Governments, corporations, and many other organizations entrust their key decisions to groups.

What is Group Decision Making?

Group decision-making (also known as collaborative decision-making or collective decision-making) is a situation faced when individuals collectively make a choice from the alternatives before them. Thus, the decision is then no longer attributable to any single individual who is a member of the group. This is because all the individuals and social group processes such as social influence contribute to the outcome.

Moreover, the decisions made by groups are often different from those made by individuals.

People often believe that groups reach better decisions than individuals. After all, they can pool the expertise of their members and avoid the biases and extreme decisions. But are such beliefs about group decision making accurate? Do groups really make better decisions than individuals?

In their efforts to address this issue, social psychologists have focused on three major questions:

(1) How do groups actually make their decisions and reach a consensus?

(2) Do decisions reached by groups differ from those made by individuals?

(3) Why do groups sometimes make disastrous decisions?

Group Polarization

A large body of evidence indicates that groups are actually more likely to adopt extreme positions compared to its members made those same decisions alone.

Groups show a tendency to shift toward views that are more extreme than the ones with which they initially began. (Burnstein, 1983; Rodrigo & Ato, 2002). This is known as group polarization.

APA defines Group Polarization as –‘the tendency for members of a group discussing an issue to move toward a more extreme version of the positions they held before the discussion began.’

Initial research on this topic (Kogan & Wallach, 1964) suggested that groups move toward riskier alternatives as they discuss important issues—a change described as the risky shift.

But additional research showed that the shift was not always toward risk—the shift toward risk only happened in situations where the initial preference of the group was risk. However, the shift could be in the opposite direction. Toward increased caution—if caution was the group’s initial preference.

Why do groups tend to move toward increasingly extreme views and decisions?

Two major factors are involved.

  • Social Comparison – We all want to be “above average” where opinions are concerned. Thus, it implies holding views that arebetter” than other group members. So, for example, in a group of liberals, “better” would mean “more liberal.” Among a group of conservatives, better would mean “more conservative.” For Example, In a terrorist group, extreme ideas to create chaos will be considered more worthy.
  • Majority’s View – Most arguments favor the group’s initial preference. As a result of hearing such arguments, members shift, increasingly, toward the majority’s view. Consequently, the proportion of discussion
    favoring the group’s initial preference increases, Ultimately, members convince themselves that this must be the “right” view (Vinokur & Burnstein, 1974).

Group Think

Irving L. Janis is a social psychologist who originated the concept of Group Think.

This is a strong tendency for decision-making groups to assume that the group can’t be wrong, There is a pressure for all members to support the decision strongly. And to reject any information contrary to the decision.

APA – a strong concurrence-seeking tendency that interferes with effective group decision making.

Symptoms include apparent unanimity, illusions of invulnerability and moral correctness, biased perceptions of the out-group, interpersonal pressure, self-censorship, and defective decision-making strategies.

Causes include group cohesion and isolation, poor leadership, and the stress involved in making decisions. (identified by Irving L. Janis)

Why does group think occur?

Research findings suggest that two factors are crucial.

  • High level of cohesiveness  – A very high level of cohesiveness among group members. But what does Cohesiveness mean? Group cohesion is the strength of the bonds that link members to the group as a whole. In fact, it is a sense of belongingness and community within the group. In addition to that it includes the feelings of attraction for specific group members and the group itself as experienced by individuals. And the degree to which members coordinate their efforts to achieve goals.
  • Emergent group norms – Norms suggesting that the group is infallible, morally superior. Therefore, there should be no further discussion of the issues at hand; the decision is final. And the only valid response is to support it as strongly as possible.

Closely related to these effects is a tendency to reject any criticism by outside sources. Criticism from outsiders is viewed with suspicion and attributed negative motives. The result? It is largely ignored, and may even tend to strengthen the group’s cohesiveness.


  • Baron, R. A. and Byrne, D. (1997). Social Psychology, 8th edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon

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