Explanation of Group Polarization with Real Life Examples

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Ever wonder how riots are caused? Well, trouble usually arises when an angry mob has assembled and their actions are a representation of group polarization. Here is an explanation of group polarization to help you understand the concept better.


What is group polarization?

This phenomenon discusses how groups resort to making decisions that are more extreme in nature as compared to separate entities. It highlights how the thoughts and actions of a group are more impactful than the views and ideas of individual team members. For instance, if the members of a group are cautious, the final decision is likely to be incredibly conservative. Or say, if most of the group members comprise of people who indulge in risky behavior, the final consensus may be a risky outcome.

How does group polarization occur?

Various theorists have worked together to explain how this phenomenon takes place. The two theories mentioned below explains how the process occurs:

Normative Influence

According to this theory, people tend to change their ideas and opinions in a group because they want to fit in and be accepted. In fact, individuals first take out the time to analyze and evaluate groups to extract popular opinions. After doing so, individuals mimic popular behavior or possess leadership qualities in an extreme form. The loop continues as other members of the group also follow the lead.

Informational influence

This theory states that people usually gather information for both sides of an argument before entering a discussion. People are likely to alter their opinion depending on the information they have processed. This usually happens when people aren’t sure about which side to go for. People then support opinions that make more sense to them.


Real Life Examples of Group Polarization

To help you gain a better understanding, here are a few real-life examples of group polarization:

Example 1

Sally is a middle-aged woman who doesn’t like smoking because it’s unhealthy. Currently, this opinion of hers is mild and doesn’t her normal routine. However, when Sally is placed in a group where the subject is under discussion, she is likely to respond aggressively with the other team members. Being a part of a group will strengthen Sally’s opinions which may result in drastic outcomes. For example, this may cause Sally to form a protest group to ban smoking in her workplace.

Example 2

Group polarization can also be observed in cyber wars and online discussions. When Pepsi posted the infamous Kendall Jenner commercial, the celebrity was instantaneously bombarded with criticism on social media. So much so that people who previously did not care much about racism were also riled up because of the ad. Research has shown that people are likely to show more adversely when they are a part of an anonymous environment and are unable to see each other face to face. Group polarization is probably why things become viral on the internet.

 Example 3

While there are many factors that led to the Holocaust, group holocaust is said to be among the most notable ones. Hitler used media to propagate hate speech which eventually led to the formation of many extremists groups. In its full potential, these extremists groups were capable of carrying out the most inhumane actions, something a single individual would not be able to do alone. This is why media plays an important role in propagating ideas during wartimes.

Example 4

Have you ever wondered why there are so many human right activist groups as opposed to people who are working independently to make a difference? Well, it’s all because of group polarization. Individually, a person may hold a mild opinion about issues but when these people form a group, their opinions transpire into actions and become more powerful.

Example 5

The chaos caused by an angry mob is a clear example of group polarization. Being part of a group can push people into exhibiting violent behavior. Whereas most of these people probably wouldn’t be capable of mimicking the same behavior individually. This is why law enforcers try their best to break mobs to prevent further damage.

Other real-life group polarization examples include mob mentality, acts of terrorism, peer pressure and collective decisions made by a jury.

How to Overcome Group Polarization

The effects of this phenomenon can be curtailed assembling a diverse group. Additionally, participants should not have already been indoctrinated to support a specific point of view. This can be done by including members of different age groups, ethnic backgrounds, and disciplines.

Can you think of any other real-life examples of group polarization? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

Picture Credits: YouTube