[Audio] Groups Help Push People to Extremes

Aug 26, 2017


Credit murraystate.edu

Tracy Ross and Murray State University Department of Psychology faculty member Dr. Michael Bordieri discuss the psychology of groups on Sounds Good.


Humans are social beings with a need to belong and thrive in group settings, which Bordieri says can have both positive and negatives effects. On the positive side, people can accomplish more together than they can apart. However, when groups lack diversity, they can foster a dangerously exclusive atmosphere.

People like to be around others who are similar to themselves. “This might apply to if you’re a big fan of HBO Game of Thrones, you’re going to find an even more extreme liking of that show, talking about it more, and then buying into it and next thing you know you might be dressing up and what not,” Bordieri said. “And this also applies to political ideas and other things as well. When you’re with a group of people who already share some views, you might go even more to the extreme.”


Bordieri says diverse groups help bring out the best in us because our sense of the world must constantly adapt to include other group members’ perspectives. These groups accept dissent, emphasize consensus-building, and are often representative of a broader part of the population. On the other side, groups which emphasize agreement push out dissenting voices and tend to be less representative of the population. These groups often form a sense of moral superiority which can lead to even more dangerous extremes, Bordieri says.


An unfortunate tendency is that groups formed around compassion or community-building intentions are harder to sustain than groups formed around fear and hate. Bordieri says this is because humans evolved a tendency to fear and distrust those who are not like them as a method of survival, leading to innate in-group/out-group biases that is no longer helpful in the modern world.


“It just takes more effort and it takes a real willingness to sit with discomfort, to occasionally make mistakes, to be humbled. But to open ourselves to those experiences and really trying to understand people who have perspectives different than our own,” Bordieri said. “I think within that can be really powerful communities that form but they don’t come easily. And I think we need them now more than ever.”