Conformity and Group Decisions
Social groups vary in size, purpose, and goals. While some groups form spontaneously, such as a group of friends, others form for a specific purpose. A common group function is that of making decisions to which the group is bound.
This paper will examine the group decision-making process and the role of personal conformity leading to the decisions made. It will also discuss the impact of consensus-based decisions on a group as a whole, on individuals within a group, and on the unintended negative impacts of group decisions on people outside the group.
Group decision-making has up to four general phases. The first phase is problem identification. Once identified, the group assesses candidate solutions. Ideally, this phase should include interactive solicitation of different viewpoints among group members. If all members are in agreement, the decision is unanimous, and the group goes forward with the decision. If not, the decision is most often made and implemented in accordance with previously agreed to rules. The fourth step, if necessary, is to restore group harmony between the majority and the dissenters.
Personal conformity plays a vital role in leading groups to consensus-based decisions. In chapter-7 we learn that a difference between a social grouping and a crowd of people, who share no common interest, is a set of shared norms. Group norms tell us what we "should" or "ought" to be thinking, feeling, or doing if we want to fit in with a particular group. It follows that group norms influence the decision-making process.
Conformity is group consensus and can involve changing personal attitudes, opinions, or behaviors to match the attitudes, opinions, or behaviors of the group.
Group conformity can be informational-believing in the intrinsic worth of the group’s collective opinion-or normative-conformity because of group pressure rather than personal feelings. Obedience is a third kind of conformity, conformity because an individual accepts the expectations of the leader, real or imagined.
Group boundaries separating in-groups, to which one belongs, from out-groups, to which one does not belong and are at best, somewhat suspect, are yet another factor. A positive self-image gained as a member of the in-group could be lost when not in step with other group members.
Another factor that leads to group decision conformity is that of reducing individual risk. Group decisions serve to insulate individuals from assuming personal responsibility or blame from outside the group for bad decisions. This dynamic offers protection to the individual, but does not always work.
Most people appear to conform to norms without much thought as to why. We allow norms to guide our behavior in both formal and informal group settings, which includes decisions made by the group. It seems the pressures to act as other people, sometimes despite one’s true feelings and desires, are a common everyday occurrence. This is due to the implied and spoken rules of the situation.
If a group member involved in the making of a collective decision believes it is right, or has faith in the group’s opinions – informational conformity – the chance of personal doubt as to which way things are going is minimal. When there are doubts about the decision made one may find that adopting a consensus position because it puts them in a satisfying relationship with the group with whom they are identifying.
Afterwards, they may believe in the opinions adopted, though not very strongly, or, they feel badly about agreeing to something not believed, in the first place.
This has a negative effect on our individual self-image and can also lead to post-decision divisions within the group, which damages group cohesiveness and could destroy the group itself.
It is bad enough if a decision made by a group of which one is a member has an unintended negative impact on an outside group, it is worse when one goes along with the decision only because of social pressures.
Group decisions are not always right. Sometimes a group decision that involves conformity can have a negative result. Take for example, when my parents were vacationing in Savannah and they left me home alone. It was Friday afternoon and a group of friends and I discussed where to party this weekend. April suggested that I throw a party at my house since my parents were out of town, Amy and Kristi agreed. In the end, I went along with the group decision because I felt that my friend’s attitude towards me would change if I said no. This is a classic example of normative conformity, namely, going along with the group norms through social pressure.
Ultimately, the decision did not pay off. I was miserable throughout the whole party. All I could think about was- what are my parents going to say when they find out. Moreover, it was inevitable that I confess due to the wrecked house.
The group decision that "we" made fell on "my" lap. Of course, my friends were all happy that I threw the party, but I knew my parents would be disappointed. It never even occurred to me of the impact that my decision would have on my parents or the tension it would cause between us. Eventually my parents and I restored our initial peace and the tension ceased. In the end, if I made the decision as an individual instead of as a group, I would have been better off.
People go along with group decisions for a variety of reasons. At times, it is important to analyze the underlying cause for group conformity, how decisions come about as a group effort, and what are both the positive and negative drivers behind the decision. This is especially important for decisions that affect people outside the group and particularly decisions that have a personal impact.
It is even more important for the individual to look deeper into why they went along with a decision they were not comfortable with from the start. The individual must evaluate their personal convictions against remaining a member of a group and ask if the received reward outweighs the possibility of a negative outcome.