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The Roles of Information, Discussion, and Consensus in Group Risk Taking

Wallach, Michael A.; Kogan, Nathan
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Science Foundation (NSF), Decision Making, Group Discussion, Group Dynamics, Risk Taking Behavior


What situational elements can account for the enhanced risk taking typical of group relative to individual decision making? The three elements investigated were: provision of information about the risk-taking levels favored by peers, with the implication of judgmental comparison; group discussion, with the affective involvement it can generate; and achievement of consensus, with its possible centering of commitment upon the group. The subjects were 360 undergraduates, 180 of each sex, randomly assigned within sex to one of three experimental conditions, all involving five-person groups. The group members in the respective conditions reached decisions concerning matters of risk through discussion to a consensus, through achievement of consensus without discussion, or through discussion without the requirement of consensus. For both male and female groups, discussion with or without consensus produced substantial shifts toward greater risk taking, while consensus without discussion yielded an averaging effect. Hence, the occurrence of group discussion is both necessary and sufficient for generating the risky-shift effect.

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