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Polarization is a tendency to reason only in terms of extremes or opposites. The most common type of polarization is group polarization. Group polarization in general refers to the notion that judgments made by a group tend to be more extreme than judgments made by individual members. The concept of group polarization developed from a notion of the “risky shift.” It was originally thought that after group discussion, individuals would make riskier decisions than before. However, researchers then realized
tendency could also be to the other extreme; that decisions could shift to a more cautious judgment. Group polarization is an important phenomenon to study because it is relevant to our everyday lives. When people with similar opinions begin to talk about an issue, conflicts can increase because of the intensity of opinions. Group interaction is in our daily lives, thus it is extremely important to understand group polarization in order to understand and avoid dangerous situations. There are three theories that explain this principal: the persuasive arguments theory, the social comparison theory, and the social identity theory. The persuasive arguments theory generally states that group polarization results from an exchange of information, ideas, or facts among group members, thus providing each member more support for his or her position in the form of new ideas and arguments. Group members’ opinions will change if they are exposed to a variety of different opinions assuming it fits into the person’s preexisting opinions and how logical the information represents reality. The social comparison theory generally states that people change their opinions in order to conform to the social norms of the group. This theory compares self with others and a desire for acceptance. If group members find out others have the same opinions, they will usually intensify their views. People want to be socially accepted so they will constantly try to present themselves favorable to others. People do not only want to be accepted, but also want to be perceived more favorable than the other group members. This leads to group members altering opinions to better each other, thus leading to a more positive or negative outcome than would have happened individually. The social identity theory states that there are three steps to group polarization. The first step involves social categorization, this occurs when a person sees him/herself and others into diverse social groups. The second step is after this categorization people determine the characteristic qualities of each group, thus the third step of polarizing and each member adopts the stereotyped attributes of the group.
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Today polarization is in opposite directions in our two party system, thus eliminating even the possibility of compromise since failure means loss.
We are in a group situation on a daily basis whether it is in a classroom, family, team, at work, or a group of friends, groups are key parts of our lives. Thus it is extremely important to understand group polarization and to correct polarization. In order to correct polarization we need to beware of other decisions besides the two extremes. We need to be our own person and learn that middle ground is sometimes best!