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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An observational study of social influence processes in small group decision making Roed, Jon Christian


This research investigated a number of hypotheses concerning the form of social influence between factions in small group decision making. In an effort to avoid the bias which may result from the use of confederates in such research, the six person groups used in this study were composed entirely of experimentally naive subjects. Five specific hypotheses were investigated: a) that the influence of a faction depends upon the extent to which they are perceived as cohesive and consistent by the others (i.e., on their apparent solidarity); b) that as the size of a faction increases, that faction will be perceived by the others as being both more competent and less confident with respect to the issue at hand; c) that the faction which wins the first convert will exert more influence on the final decision; d) that disagreement will be solved by compromise; e) that the influence of a faction is a function of the frequency of communication by that faction. The problem discussed was a labour-management dispute. Eight to ten volunteer subjects whose responses to a wage settlement item on an opinion survey fell into either the range of 87o-127o or 307o-407o were scheduled to participate in a group, with this scheduling manipulated in such a way that there was a majority of "high" subjects assigned to each group. On arriving for the experiment, subjects were given a brief description of a labour dispute and asked to indicate their personal belief regarding the proper percentage wage increase. Six of the subjects were then selected to serve as the discussants, and the remaining subjects were asked to act as observers. Because the survey opinions proved to be unreliable indicators of the responses to the issue used in the experiment, the initial groups of eight to ten subjects often did not have a distinct "high" -"low" split, and for this reason the selection of the six discussants was done so as to maximize the polarization within the discussion group. The discussants were then given twenty-five minutes in which to simulate an arbitration of the dispute and to reach an agreement. During the discussion, the observer subjects and the two experimenters observed the group from an adjacent room through an observational glass. The discussion was recorded on audio tape and the two experimenters also independently coded each comment made by the subjects in terms of which person was speaking, to whom she spoke, and whether her comment favoured a "high" or "low" decision. When the group reached consensus (or at the end of the allotted time), all subjects completed a questionnaire concerning the course of the discussion, characteristics of the discussants, and opinions on a similar case. Fifteen discussion groups were used in the study. The results indicate: a) that compromise was not the means by which decisions were reached; b) that while the final decision did not always favour the faction which won the first convert, that faction was generally more influential; and c) that the other three hypotheses were unsupported. There are certain limitations to the generalizability of these data, based upon the combination of the small sample size and the amount of between group variability. The implications of these factors are discussed in detail, both with respect to the reliability of the obtained results and the problems for future research.

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