LINKAGES Group Processes in Problem Solving and Decision Making

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LINKAGES Group Processes in Problem Solving and Decision Making
Chapter 7 Thought, Language, and Intelligence
resolution, or preserving a moral principle (Arkes & Ayton, 1999; McCaffery & Baron,
2006; Zsambok & Klein, 1997). Often, decisions depend not just on how likely we are
to gain or lose a particular amount of something but also on what that something is.
A decision that could cost or save a human life may be made differently than one that
could cost or gain a few dollars, even though the probabilities of each outcome are
exactly the same in both cases.
Even the “goodness” or “badness” of decisions is often difficult to measure. Many
decisions depend on personal values (utilities), which can vary from person to person
and from culture to culture. People in individualist cultures, for example, may tend to
assign high utilities to attributes that promote personal goals, whereas people in collectivist cultures might place greater value on attributes that bring group harmony and
the approval of family and friends (Markus, Kitayama, & Heiman, 1996).
Do groups solve problems
more effectively than
individuals? (a link to Social
roblem solving and decision making
often take place in groups. The factors
that influence an individual’s problem
Group Processes in Problem
solving and decision making continue to
Solving and Decision Making
operate when the individual is in a group, but
group interactions also shape the outcome.
When groups are trying to make a decision, for example, they usually begin by considering the preferences or opinions stated by various members. Not all of these views
have equal influence, though. Views that are shared by the greatest number of group
members will have the greatest impact on the group’s final decision (Tindale & Kameda,
2000). This means that extreme proposals or opinions will usually have less effect on
group decisions than those that are more representative of the majority’s views.
Nevertheless, group discussions sometimes result in decisions that are more extreme
than the group members would make individually. This tendency toward extreme decisions is called group polarization (Rodrigo & Ato, 2002). Two mechanisms appear to
underlie group polarization. First, most arguments presented during the discussion
favor the majority view, and most criticisms are directed at the minority view. In fact,
confirmation bias leads group members to seek additional information that supports
the majority position (Schulz-Hardt et al., 2000). In this atmosphere, those who favor
the majority view find it reasonable to adopt an even stronger version of it (Stasser,
1991). Second, once some group members begin to agree that a particular decision is
desirable, other members may try to associate themselves with it, perhaps by suggesting an even more extreme version (Kaplan & Miller, 1987).
Are people better at problem solving and decision making when they work in groups
or on their own? This is one of the questions about human thinking that is studied by
social psychologists. In a typical experiment, a group of people is asked to solve a problem like the one in Figure 7.6 or to decide the guilt or innocence of the defendant in
a fictional court case. Each person is asked to work alone and then to join with the
others to try to agree on a decision. These studies have found that when problems have
solutions that can be easily demonstrated to everyone, groups will usually outperform
individuals at solving them (Laughlin, 1999). When problems have less obvious solutions, groups may be somewhat better at solving them than their average member, but
usually no better than their most talented member (Hackman, 1998). And because of
phenomena such as social loafing and groupthink (discussed in the social psychology
chapter), people working in a group are often less productive than people working
alone (Williams & Sommer, 1997).
Other research suggests that a critical element in successful group problem solving
is the sharing of individual members’ unique information and expertise (e.g., Stasser,
Stewart, & Wittenbaum, 1995). For example, when asked to diagnose an illness, groups
of physicians were much more accurate when they pooled their knowledge (Larson
et al., 1998). However, brainstorming, a popular strategy that supposedly encourages
group members to generate new and innovative solutions to a problem, may actually
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