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Group Influence on Individual Risk Taking

Bem, Daryl J.; Kogan, Nathan; Wallach, Michael A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Decision Making, Group Behavior, Group Dynamics, Risk, Risk Taking Behavior


Does group interaction lead to greater conservatism or to greater risk taking in decisions than would obtain were the decisions arrived at individually--or is there an averaging effect? This question was investigated with a procedure in which the protagonist in each of 12 everyday life situations must choose between two courses of action, one of which involves considerably more risk than the other but also is much more rewarding if successful. The subject must decide on the lowest level of probability for the success of the risky alternative that she would deem sufficient to warrant its choice. It was found that (1) group decisions exhibit greater risk taking than appears in pre-discussion individual decisions; (2) post-discussion private decisions exhibit the same increase in risk taking as occurs in the group decisions; (3) the increase in risk taking resulting from the discussion process is still maintained after a subsequent period of two to six weeks has elapsed; (4) no shift in risk taking level occurs over time in the absence of the discussion process; and (5) degree of risk taking in pre-discussion individual decisions and degree of judged influence within the group are positively related. Two interpretations of these findings were suggested, either or both of which may apply: (1) the knowledge that one's decisions are being made jointly with others leads to a diffusion of personal responsibility, the outcome of which is an increased willingness to take risks; (2) high risk takers are more likely to take the initiative in social situations, with the result that they become more influential in the group.

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