Group processes and solving antagonistic conflicts:
Is the idea of deliberative democracy a psychologically feasible proposition?
Polish Academy of Sciences & Warsaw School of Social Psychology
Social psychological research suggests that under certain conditions social
groups can engender powerful "synergic tendencies" that facilitate development
of shared cognitions among group members. As a result of these processes, the
groups can reach an agreement. The purpose of this research was to identify
these conditions and test their effects.
The research consisted of a series of group debates concerning important issues
that evoked strong controversies among the participants, i.e. parents of school
children who discussed sex education in schools (20 debates, 195 participants),
politicians representing right wing and left-wing parties who discussed the same
topic (7 debates, 35 participants), and residents of a county at the east part of
Poland who argued about the site of a garbage collection (10 debates, 100 participants).
Six to 13 persons took part in each debate, which usually lasted 100-110 minutes.
The debates were conducted by a facilitator according to specially prepared scenarios.
Before and after the debate, participants filled out special questionnaires measuring
their attitudes and some psychological variables. The debates were recorded on videotape.
The obtained data support the contention that social groups tend to engender synergic
forces inducing group members to seek agreements in spite of differences. They also
indicate that under specific conditions (perceived importance of common tasks,
induction of deliberative norms, group authority that supports the task and the norms)
the groups can reach agreements even in situations of serious ideological conflict
or conflict of interests. The experience of working for agreement can influence
participants' attitudes not only toward the debated issues but also toward the
more general strategies of dealing with political disagreements.
On the basis of the obtained data a general model of the relationship between
synergic and antagonistic tendencies in groups has been formulated.
Key words: conflict, deliberation, democracy, norms, social group, social identity,