Written 10/96 for CA266On Friday, November 1, my group took part in an experiment that studied various aspects of the group decision--making process. The situation was this: we were district attornies trying to decide who was the best person to prosecute in a murder case. We were told that the information we were given might be different, and we were told that it would be a judgemental task, that there was no ``right'' answer.
We entered the discussion room and waited for the signal to begin. The first thing we did was state who each one of us thought was the best person to prosecute. I expected that we had been given different information, so I was surprised when three out of our four agreed that Tim was the best to prosecute.
I voiced my surprise, saying ``I thought we were going to get different information'' and Jess replied that we evidently all got the same information. During the period before discussion, I had tried to prepare myself by memorizing the important parts in what I thought was my unique set of information. I was expecting that the group decision--making process to be harder requiring me to accurately present my information to the group. I consciously did not want my presentation of material to be affected by the group dynamics.
At this point, Jess, Brandon, and myself agreed that Tim was the best choice. We listed as many points which made Tim look guilty as we could; there were many more for him than there were for any other suspect. Andy cleared up his position by saying that Tim was too obvious to be guilty. This brought forth comments from other members that they also thought Tim was too obvious to be guilty; someone hoping for a successful murder would try to hide evidence which pointed to their guilt. Tim had an abundance of evidence against him. Jess cleared up this matter by reminding us that we were not trying to decide who was guilty, but rather who would be the best to prosecute. At this point, we all agreed.
We reached consensus within about three minutes, as predicted by previous research on groups with full information. When individuals have all the information at their command, they do not have to rely on other group members to get the full picture; there is no new information offered during the meeting.
Another factor which made our discussion short was that we were told it was a judgemental task. People tend to spend a longer time discussing problems that they believe have correct answers. Conversely, when it is not known that there is a right answer, less time is spent because there is no way to judge the decision's correctness.
Research predicts that shared information dominates discussion. This was also the case during our discussion. We revolved around the evidence against Tim. We did, however, consider and dismiss other choices.
The experiment was a study of a hidden profile problem, in which each member brings some unique information which is vital to the group finding the correct answer. Our group was one of the control groups in that each of us had all the information. Research shows that just about all fully--informed groups can find the correct answer, and less than 20 percent of groups with a hidden profile find the correct answer (Stasser, 1992).
There are several modes of failure for the hidden--profile groups. The first is incomplete discussion, which occurs when vital unshared information remains unshared throughout the discussion. Another method is bias from initial preferences, which happens several ways. Entrapment occurs when someone stubbornly sticks to his or her initial decision even though there is evidence that a better choice exists. The initial choice someone makes can influence the way he or she interprets information presented by other group members. Information which is presented by more than one person tends to have more effect than information from only one source. People also tend to only remember facts which are consistent with their position. The final way in which initial ideas can influence choice is that people tend to avoid discussing information inconsistent with their position (lecture notes).
There are several ways to increase the success of a hidden--profile group. The first is to emphasize that it is an intellective task (lecture notes). People will spend more effort searching out the best answer if they believe a correct answer exists. Another way to increase success is to reduce social loafing in the group by motivating the group members. Finally, groups with more unshared information tend to be more successful than groups with less unshared information because they realize they each have radically different data and adapt discussion to reveal all.
In conclusion, we had already made up our minds before coming into the meeting. Each of us had all the information and did not have to discuss to gain new information from other group members. The only change that occured was a clarification of the problem, which changed Andy's mind.
REFERENCESStasser, G. (1992). Pooling of unshared information during group discussion. Small Group Decision Making (pp. 48 -- 67).