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Effects of Norm-Oriented Group Discussion on Individual Risk Taking and Conservatism NICHD

Alker, Henry A.; Kogan, Nathan
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Behavior Change, Conservatism, Group Discussion, Group Influence


In prior research, group discussion of risk-relevant material has led to systematic shifts in the direction of greater risk taking by the participants. The initial purpose of the set of studies presented here was to determine whether discussions of risk-irrelevant material would produce comparable risky shifts. In Study I, individual risk-taking levels were assessed in 97 females (constituted as 24 small groups) both before and after a discussion of current women's fashions. There was no risky shift. A near-significant conservative shift obtained, possibly due to the normative influences implicit in the group discussions. These influences were made explicit in Study II by providing intervening discussion materials consisting of ethical conflicts pitting universalistic ethical norms against particularistic obligations to friends or indulgent self-interest. Subjects (N = 60 females constituted as five-person groups) unanimously favored the ethical norms and subsequently, shifted in a consistently conservative direction. In Study III (N = 55 females constituted as five-person groups) the discussions dealt with the same ethical conflicts but were focused on recommending a particular course of action. Under these altered conditions, no overall significant shift in either direction occurred. However, groups converging on unethical alternatives subsequently became more risky, those converging on norm-maintaining alternatives became more conservative. Implications for future research are considered.

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