The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘group polarization’

The Situational Benefits of Outsiders

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 31, 2009

Dwight Schrute Bobblehead - from Dan H on FlickrFrom BYUNews:

Nobody wants to share a cubicle with a new hire like Dwight Schrute. The beet-farming volunteer sheriff’s deputy/paper salesman creates many awkward moments because of his differences with co-workers on NBC’s “The Office.”

But according to new research co-authored by a Brigham Young University business professor, better decisions come from teams that include a “socially distinct newcomer.”  That’s psychology-speak for someone who is different enough to bump other team members out of their comfort zones.

Researchers noticed this effect after conducting a traditional group problem-solving experiment. The twist was that a newcomer was added to each group about five minutes into their deliberations. And when the newcomer was a social outsider, teams were more likely to solve the problem successfully.

The research is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“One of the most-cited benefits of diversity is the infusion of new ideas and perspectives,” said study co-author Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management. “And while that very often is true, we found the mere presence of a newcomer who is socially distinct can really shake up the group dynamic. That leads to discomfort, but also to a better process that ultimately yields superior outcomes.”

The key factor is simply whether newcomers are distinct in some way from the other group members.

“Remember, socially ‘distinct’ doesn’t necessarily mean socially ‘inept,'” says Liljenquist, whose co-authors on the paper are Northwestern’s Katherine Phillips and Stanford’s Margaret Neale. “Dwight’s upbringing and past work history – in addition to his bobblehead doll collection – all contribute to the measure of diversity he brings to ‘The Office’ melting pot.”

The paper adds a new wrinkle to the wealth of research on teams, says Melissa Thomas-Hunt, associate professor at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management.

“[This research] is groundbreaking in that it highlights that the benefits of disparate knowledge in a team can be unleashed when newcomers actually share opinions of knowledge with old-timers but are socially different,” Thomas-Hunt says. “It is the tension between social dissimilarity and opinion similarity that prompts heightened effectiveness in diverse teams.”

What explains the results?

According to Liljenquist, newcomers in the experiment didn’t necessarily ask tougher questions, possess novel information, or doggedly maintain a conflicting point of view. Just being there was enough to change the dynamic among old-timers who shared a common identity.

When a member of the group discovered that he agreed with the new outsider, he felt alienated from his fellow old-timers – consequently, he was very motivated to explain his point of view on its merits so that his peers wouldn’t lump him in with the outsider.

The person who found himself disagreeing with the in-group – and instead agreeing with an outsider – felt very uncomfortable. An opinion alliance with an outsider put his social ties with other team members at risk.

“Socially, that can be very threatening,” Liljenquist says. “These folks are driven to say, ‘Wait, the fact that I disagree with this outsider doesn’t make me weird. Something more is going on here; let’s figure out what’s at the root of our disagreement.’ The group then tends to analyze differing opinions and critical information much more thoroughly, and that facilitates much better decision-making results.”

Another revelation

The experiment also revealed a fallacy in the assumptions we make about our own effectiveness in groups. The subjects in the experiment were members of different fraternities and sororities. In general, when the newcomer was from the same sorority or fraternity as the other team members, the group reported that it worked well together, but was less likely to correctly solve the problem.

In contrast, when the newcomer was a member of a rival sorority or fraternity, the opposite was true – these groups felt they worked together less effectively, yet they significantly outperformed socially homogenous groups.

“What’s really distinct about this research is that, from a self-reporting perspective, what people perceive to be beneficial turns out to be dead wrong,” Liljenquist says. “The teams that felt they worked least effectively together were ironically the top performers!”

In the workplace

Common “social distinctions” in today’s workplace, Liljenquist says, would include:

  • One employee from accounting working on a team in which everyone else is from sales
  • An employee of a company that had just been bought out finding herself on a team of people from the acquiring firm
  • An out-of-stater finding himself on a team full of natives of the company’s home state

To help employees in those situations cope, managers would be wise to explain that such conflict can actually generate better results.

“Without that information people just assume, ‘This is really uncomfortable. My team obviously must not be working effectively,'” Liljenquist says. “The experience in diverse teams may not always be a feel-good session, but if employees know that from the outset, they can better deal with inevitable conflicts and recognize the potential benefits – that the affective pains can translate to real performance gains.”

Although Liljenquist acknowledges many other cases for diversity in the workplace, she contends that “reaping the benefits of diverse workgroups doesn’t necessarily require that newcomers bring unique perspectives or expertise to the table. Simply having people around us who differ on some dimension ­- whether it is functional background, education, race or even a different fraternity – drives a very different decision-making process at a group level because of the social and emotional conflict we experience in their presence.”

* * *

Read the rest of the summary here.   For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” “‘Us’ and ‘Them,'” “The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract,” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “History of Groupthink,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Political Situation of Judicial Activism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 10, 2008

Thomas Miles and Cass Sunstein recently published their important new paper, “Depoliticizing Administrative Law ,” on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

* * *

A large body of empirical evidence demonstrates that judicial review of agency action is highly politicized, in the sense that Republican appointees are significantly more likely to invalidate liberal agency decisions than conservative ones, while Democratic appointees are significantly more likely to invalidate conservative agency decisions than liberal ones. These results hold for both (a) judicial review of agency interpretations of law and (b) judicial review of agency decisions for “arbitrariness” on questions of policy and fact. On the federal courts of appeals, the most highly politicized voting patterns are found on unified panels, that is, on panels consisting solely of either Democratic or Republican appointees. On the Supreme Court, politicized administrative law is also unmistakable, as the more conservative justices show a distinctive willingness to vote to invalidate liberal agency decisions, and the more liberal justices show a distinctive willingness to vote to invalidate conservative agency decisions. Indeed, it is possible to “rank” justices in terms of the extent to which their voting patterns are politicized. The empirical results raise an obvious question: What might be done to depoliticize administrative law? Three sets of imaginable solutions have promise: (1) self-correction without formal doctrinal change, produced by a form of “debiasing” that might follow from a clearer judicial understanding of the current situation; (2) doctrinal innovations, as, for example, through rethinking existing deference principles and giving agencies more room to maneuver; and (3) institutional change, through novel voting rules and requirements of mixed panels. An investigation of these solutions has implications for other domains in which judges are divided along political lines, and indeed in which nonjudicial officials show some kind of politicized division or bias.

* * *

Cass Sunstein published a great post, “The Partisanship Awards,” summarizing parts of that research last week on The Washington Independent. Here are some excerpts from that post.

* * *

Who are the real activists on the U.S. Supreme Court? Do Republican appointees differ from Democratic appointees? How much? Are federal judges political?

I have been studying these issues with several colleagues, including Thomas Miles, an economist and lawyer at the University of Chicago Law School, for a number of years now. One big question: Do judges show a political bias? We also wanted to see what any bias might tell us about how judges might rule in the future –- under, for example, an Obama or McCain administration. We catalogued thousands of judicial decisions — well over 20,000 — to analyze this. We looked for partisan bias by studying whether and when judges vote to uphold decisions of federal agencies, in areas including environmental protection, labor, telecommunications, discrimination and occupational safety.

We investigated which members of the Supreme Court are the most partisan — in that they are more likely to vote in favor of conservative agency decisions than liberal ones. (Because Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have been on the court only a short time, we did not include them because we had too little data.) We wanted to see if some justices are more political in their voting patterns than others – and also learn something about how future administrations are likely to fare in the Supreme Court.

We used a simple test to decide whether an agency’s decision should be counted as liberal or conservative. If a decision was challenged by a public-interest group, like the Sierra Club or Environmental Defense, we counted it as conservative. If it was challenged by a corporation, like Exxon or General Motors, we counted it as liberal.

We used this method because the relevant question is not whether an agency’s decision is liberal or conservative in the abstract — it is how and why that decision is challenged in its context. . . .

We wanted to know: Is it true that liberal justices are more partisan than conservatives? Who is the most partisan member of the Supreme Court? Who the most neutral?

Our answers: Justice Clarence Thomas wins the Partisanship Award. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wins the Neutrality Award.

Here are the results:

Table 1: Partisan Voting on the Supreme Court

Justice Gap between liberal and conservative agency decisions
(in percentage points)
Type of Agency Decision Favored
Clarence Thomas 46 Conservative
John Paul Stevens 40 Liberal
Antonin Scalia 27 Conservative
Stephen Breyer 26 Liberal
Ruth Bader Ginsburg 23 Liberal
William Rehnquist 21 Conservative
Sandra Day O’Connor 14 Conservative
David Souter 14 Liberal
Anthony Kennedy 1

This information does not tell us everything we need to know. Thomas shows the strongest partisan bias, but is he also an activist? Does he vote to strike down agency decisions at a high rate? To test for judicial activism and judicial restraint, we examined all the data to find which justices are most likely to strike down agency decisions.

It turns out that Breyer wins the award for Judicial Restraint. Surprisingly, the award for Judicial Activism goes to . . . Justice Scalia. Here are the results:

Table 2: Activism and on the Supreme Court

Justice Rate of upholding agency decisions (percentage points)
Breyer 82
Souter 77
Ginsburg 74
Stevens 71
O’Connor 68
Kennedy 67
Rehnquist 64
Thomas 54
Scalia 52

While the Supreme Court gets the most attention, the lower courts are also important in determining the meaning of national law and shaping national policy.

* * *

To read the rest of Sunstein’s post, which examines how Republican and Democratic appointees on the lower courts approach decisions of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board and which summarizes three important lessons of the research, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 12, 2008

Image by jurvetson - FlickrCass Sunstein and Reid Hastie have posted their new paper, “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Many groups make their decisions through some process of deliberation, usually with the belief that deliberation will improve judgments and predictions. But deliberating groups often fail, in the sense that they make judgments that are false or that fail to take advantage of the information that their members have. There are four such failures. (1) Sometimes the predeliberation errors of group members are amplified, not merely propagated, as a result of deliberation. (2) Groups may fall victim to cascade effects, as the judgments of initial speakers or actors are followed by their successors, who do not disclose what they know. Nondisclosure, on the part of those successors, may be a product of either informational or reputational cascades. (3) As a result of group polarization, groups often end up in a more extreme position in line with their predeliberation tendencies. Sometimes group polarization leads in desirable directions, but there is no assurance to this effect. (4) In deliberating groups, shared information often dominates or crowds out unshared information, ensuring that groups do not learn what their members know. All four errors can be explained by reference to informational signals, reputational pressure, or both. A disturbing result is that many deliberating groups do not improve on, and sometimes do worse than, the predeliberation judgments of their average or median member.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 850 other followers

%d bloggers like this: