Minority Influence, Divergent Thinking and Detection of Correct Solutions


Requests for reprints should be sent to Charlan J. Nemeth, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.


In many applied settings involving influence processes in small groups, the interest is in how such processes aid or hinder effective decision making and problem solving. In a recent formulation, Nemeth (1986) argued that exposure to opposing views emanating from a minority leads to divergent thinking, a process that involves a consideration of the problem from varying viewpoints. On balance, such influence would aid performance. Exposure to opposing majority viewpoints leads to convergent thought where Ss presumably concentrate on the proposed viewpoint to the exclusion of other considerations. On balance, this form of influence tends not to aid performance and may prove to be an impediment. In the present study, these hypotheses were tested in the context of anagram solutions. Results showed that subjects exposed to the minority viewpoint found more correct words and they achieved this superior performance by a usage of all possible strategies. Subjects exposed to the majority viewpoint initially used the strategy suggested by the majority to the detriment of other strategies and, in general, performed at the level of control subjects. These results are discussed in terms of potential contributions made by exposure to dissenting minority viewpoints in small group decision-making settings such as trial by jury and in society at large.