Author: Cass R. Sunstein

Conformity and the Dangers of Group Polarization

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from Conformity: The Power of Social Influences by Cass R. Sunstein, 198 pages, NYU Press (May 28, 2019) When people talk to one another, what happens? Do they compromise? Do they move toward moderation? The answer is now clear, and it is not what intuition would suggest: members of deliberating groups typically end up in a more extreme position, consistent with their tendencies before deliberation began. This is the phenomenon known as group polarization. Group polarization is the usual pattern with deliberating groups, having been found in hundreds of studies involving more than a dozen countries, including the United States, France, and Germany. It helps account for many terrible things, including terrorism, stoning, and “mobbing” in all its forms. It follows that a group of people who think that immigration is a serious problem will, after discussion, think that immigration is a horribly serious problem; that those who approve of an ongoing war effort will, as a result of discussion, become still more enthusiastic about that effort; that people who …