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Why we are here

This site and app is here for a reason: Irving James identified and wrote, in 1982, of a syndrome common to many groups called ‘groupthink’. This phenomenon, he found, can cause groups to be prone to poor decision making. He described it as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternate courses of action”. Subsequently, then law professor at the University of Chicago, Cass Sunstein, picked apart what goes on in such situations: In a 1999 draft paper “The Law of Group Polarization” he identified two kinds of groupthink. The first, polarization, occurs when people join groups of like minded people. In such cases, he found, they tend to move ‘ toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by the predeliberative judgment’. For example, a group of people tentatively in favour of more gun control, on forming a group to discuss it, will inevitably leave such a meeting supporting a hardened approach to gun control. He also found – and this was confirmed in various social experiments – that in some cases it mattered not whether a person had any tendency toward a certain view at all before they joined a group – they will just ‘go with it’. This he described a ‘social cascade’. Here is an example of a social cascade – D is asked whether a toxic waste dump is hazardous to people who live nearby. He does not know the answer at all. If he is not provided with further information, but is asked the question in the presence of A, who strongly believes this is true, he will tend toward the direction of thinking of A. If he is asked in the presence of A, B and C, all of whom are convinced this is the case, he is very likely to become of their view, in the absence of any compelling evidence to the contrary. So there exist two confirmed kinds of groupthink, whereby people may make decisions based on others, rather than on independent information – polarization, and social cascade. Having identified the primary culprits causing groupthink, Sunstein investigated whether these phenomena can be overcome. He surmised that groups could perform more rationally where they were provided with ‘argument pools’ (competing ideas), before individuals in it made a decision. Referring to the work of James Fishkin, he cites a study where participants in a group, asked about punishment for crime, were provided with material on sentencing alternatives to prison. The provision of this information led the surveyed group to lower its collective belief that ‘sending more offenders to prison’ is an effective way to prevent crime, from 58% to 38%. This was the opposite reaction to that predicted by groupthink. Without the material, he suggested, the expected response of the group would have been to polarise in the other direction. This finding suggested that polarization could be overcome with information. Sunstein also supposed that social cascading could be overcome, and he reasoned that this would be avoided by diversity. In a thought experiment, he asks us to imagine a deliberating body consisting of all citizens in the world. In such a circumstance, he postulated, predeliberation prejudices would be so diverse that any effect of groupthink would be nullified. Here, he surmised, a tendency of an individual toward a certain view, even if held by others, would not be an example of polarization, or social cascading. In that circumstance, it will more likely represent their actual position as compared to that of other individuals. It is for this reason that the developers of GD developed this site and app. It will take a long time to be widely used, and, over time it will develop in many ways, but it will never be commercial and it will always be a place you can post an idea that will be available to be seen by the world, and voted on if the world wishes. GD team
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