Difference Between Group Polarization and Groupthink

Key Difference – Group Polarization vs Groupthink
 

Group polarization and groupthink are two terms that come in social psychology between which some difference can be identified. Before highlighting the difference, first let us define the two words. Group polarization refers to a situation where the attitudes or decisions of people in the group come out much stronger than in actuality. On the other hand, Groupthink refers to a condition in which members of a group arrive at conclusions based on the pressure from the group as they put their opinions and beliefs aside. The key difference between the two is that, in group polarization, the emphasis is on enhancing an opinion within a group but, in groupthink, the emphasis is on group unanimity. This article will explain this difference further.

What is Group Polarization?

Group polarization refers to a situation where the attitudes or decisions of people in the group come out much stronger than in actuality. Let us attempt to comprehend this in much simpler terms. Usually when people with different opinions of a topic come together, we expect that discussion of these differences is a suitable method of changing individual opinions through the presentation of facts and varied information. However according to social scientists, this is not what happens in such situations. On the contrary people tend to hold on to their opinion or belief in an ever stronger manner, which makes their stance much more extreme than in reality.

This can be understood through a simple example. For a discussion people who support abortion and those who are against abortion are put together. It has to be highlighted that all individuals have a moderate opinion at the beginning of the discussion. However at the end of the discussion it is clear that both parties take an extreme stance on the topic that was not there at the initial stage. Social psychologists highlight that group polarization is a direct result of conformity. Since human beings are social creatures the allure to be accepted and belonged to a group is very strong which can result in group polarization.

Difference Between Group Polarization and Groupthink

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink refers to a condition in which members of a group arrive at conclusions based on the pressure from the group as they put their opinions and beliefs aside. This can even involve keeping quiet and not voicing one’s personal opinion so that one does not have to oppose the group. This term was coined by the social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.  According to Janis, there are mainly eight symptoms of groupthink. They are illusions of invulnerability (excessive optimism of members), unquestioned beliefs (ignoring moral problems and group and individual acts), rationalization (stops the member from reconsidering his opinion), stereotyping (ignore the out-group members who have the potential to challenge the ideas of the group), self-censorship (hiding fears), mindguards (hiding information that have issues), Illusion of unanimity (creates a belief that everyone agrees) and direct pressure.

You may also have experienced this at some point in life. For instance, let us consider a group project that you had to do in school. There may have been situations where you did not voice your opinion although you realized that the plan was not very good. This is mainly because you did not want to upset anyone of the group or else to disrupt the harmony of the group.

Group Polarization vs Groupthink

What is the Difference Between Group Polarization and Groupthink?

Definitions of Group Polarization and Groupthink:

Group Polarization: Group polarization refers to a situation where the attitudes or decisions of people in the group come out much stronger than in actuality.

Groupthink: Groupthink refers to a condition in which members of a group arrive at conclusions based on the pressure from the group as they put their opinions and beliefs aside.

Characteristics of Group Polarization and Groupthink:

Personal views or opinions:

Group Polarization: In group polarization, people in the group end up having extreme views or opinions.

Groupthink: In groupthink, people go along with the group idea and discard their personal opinion.

 

Image Courtesy:

1. “America Speaks event – Flickr – Knight Foundation” by Knight Foundation – America Speaks event. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Commons

2. US Navy 030402-N-8005M-001 Chief Builder Joel Baldwin asks a group of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade students from Bel Aire Elementary School, what kinds of jobs they think the Seabees are performing while away from home By U.S. Navy photo by Bonnie L. McGerr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons