Wednesday 31 July 2019

Watch conformity bias in action

I blogged yesterday about groupthink. Would you like to see this in action?

The video below is a startling example of how people will agree with a group even when they know the answer is wrong. This is known as Conformity Bias, the our tendency to take cues from the actions or judgments of others rather than exercise our own independent judgment. Conformity bias is a major enemy of Knowledge Management, as it means that group "knowledge" can remain unchallenged.

The video is of the "Asch conformity experiment" which placed a subject in a group of people primed to give obviously wrong answers. Much of the time, the subject agrees with the group even though he knows the answer is wrong, and you can see the consternation on his face has he does this (1 min 31) or the resignation as he "tells a lie" to fit in (2 min 12).

37% of the time the subject will give the wrong answer to fit in with the group, but this falls to 5% if there is a "partner" in the group who gives the right answer, thus destroying the group unanimity, and also if the subject is allowed to write their answer rather than say it.

So what's the lesson for Knowledge Management?

If you are facilitating a group KM session where knowledge is being exchanged, and they all seem to agree but you can see consternation, or discomfort, on some of the faces, then maybe there is groupthink at work. In this more extensive post on conformity bias I suggest some of the things you can do:

  1. Ask people to write down views then read them out, rather than "speaking out around the table"
  2. Press for the dissenting voice - "does anyone thing differently here? What about you Susan - you were looking concerned, do you have an alternative view?"
  3. Ask "who wants to be the devil's advocate here?
  4. Make dissent safe, both in groups and online
  5. Avoid using social responses as a form of crowdsourcing, unless you do this very carefully, as everyone is likely to agree with the first confident view. 

For a more modern version of this video, without the 1970s fashion sense, see here

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