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Group Decision Making

2 February, 2016 - 17:20

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain factors that can lead to process gain in group versus individual decision making.
  2. Explain how groupthink can harm effective group decision making.
  3. Outline the ways that lack of information sharing can reduced decision-making quality in group contexts.
  4. Explain why brainstorming can often be counterproductive to sound decision making in groups.
  5. Describe how group polarization can lead groups to make more extreme decisions than individuals.
  6. Explore important factors that lead juries to make better or worse decisions.

In the previous section, we explored some of the important ways that being in a group affects individual group members’ behavior, and, in turn, influences the group’s overall performance. As well as achieving high levels of performance, another important task of groups is to make decisions. Indeed, we often entrust groups, rather than individuals, with key decisions in our societies—for example, those made by juries and political parties. An important question to ask here is whether we are right to trust groups more than individuals to reach sound decisions. Are many heads really better than one?

It turns out that this question can be a hard one to answer. For one thing, studying decision making is hard, because it is difficult to assess the quality of a decision on the basis of what was known at the time, independently of its outcome. This is particularly challenging as we naturally tend to look too much at the outcome when we evaluate decision making, a phenomenon known as the outcome bias. Moreover, studying decision making in laboratory environments has generally involved providing group members with more information than they would typically have in the real world (Johnson & Johnson, 2012), and so the results may not always generalize here.

Nevertheless, with these caveats in mind, it is possible to draw some tentative conclusions about when and why groups make better decisions than individuals, and also when and why they may end up making worse ones.