Cass R. Sunstein on Communication - Dictionary of Arguments
Communication/argumentation/Habermas/SunsteinVsHabermas/Sunstein: Many have expressed the hope that the "casual power of the better argument" (1) will triumph.
SunsteinVsHabermas: unfortunately, this hope is often disappointed. Information pressure and social group pressure intensify errors, cascade effects and polarisation. Larger groups often act better than smaller groups in this respect. (See Democracy/Sunstein) (2).
In an experiment in Colorado in the summer of 2005, liberal and conservative groups were mixed together to discuss some issues such as whether the United States should sign a climate change agreement or whether affirmative action should be accorded to disadvantaged groups. (3)
The result was clear: in almost every group, the positions were more polarized after the discussions, with the respective starting positions of the groups being more strongly represented.
Ideal Speech Situation/Habermas/Sunstein: in Habermas' ideal speech situation all participants try to find the truth. They do not behave strategically, but accept a norm of equality. (4)
Sunstein: According to this viewpoint, communication does not simply involve the exchange of words and opinions, but imposes requirements and preconditions on the participants. Communication (deliberation) has (then) its own internal morality, which is supposed to overcome some harmful effects of consultations in the real world.
Sunstein: maybe this will work and produce better results. (...) Unfortunately, following such preconditions does not help with the problems I have in mind.
Group discussions/SunsteinVsHabermas: Group discussions suffer from four problems:
1. they reinforce the errors of their members
2. they do not bring to light the information that individuals have
3. they are victims of cascade effects in which blind people are led by blind people
4. they develop polarization tendencies that lead groups to move towards extremes.
(See Collective Intelligence/Sunstein).
Group polarization/polarization/Sunstein: arises for several reasons. (5)
1. informational influences: if there is an initial inclination in a group, most members of the group will be moved there.
2. Some people orientate themselves on what others have publicly expressed and thus occupy a dominant position.
3. There are strong links between trust, extremism and the affirmation of others. (6) When people gain confidence they will mostly be more determined in their views. Trust is in turn strengthened by the support of others, like-minded people.
Does group polarization lead to correct or incorrect results? There is no general answer here. It all depends on the tendency of the group, which existed before the start of consultations. (See also Internet).
1. See Habermas, “Between Facts and Norms: An Author’s Reflections,” 940.
2. Irving L. Janis, Groupthink, 2d ed., rev. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982), 7–9.
3. See Reid Hastie, David Schkade, and Cass R. Sunstein, “What Really Happened on Deliberation Day?” (University of Chicago Law School, unpublished manuscript, 2006).
4. Jürgen Habermas, “What Is Universal Pragmatics?,” in Communication and the Evolution of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979), 2–4, 32 (discussing preconditions for communication).
5. 54. See Brown, Group Processes, 212–22, 226–45; Baron et al., “Social Corroboration and Opinion Extremity,” 540.
6. See Baron et al., “Social Corroboration and Opinion Extremity,” 557–59 (showing that corroboration increases confidence and hence extremism)._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Cass R. Sunstein
Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge Oxford 2008
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#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media Princeton 2017