Research has shown that both processes specified by Social Comparison Theory and in Persuasive Arguments Theory are involved in group polarization. Based on process models of persuasion it is argued that their role in determining group polarization is contingent on individuals' processing ability and motivation. In particular, the impact of information regarding others' positions on group polarization should be higher given low (versus high) processing ability or motivation. In contrast, the impact of persuasive argumentation should be higher given high (versus low) processing ability or motivation. In the first two experiments, group information was presented to individuals. Results showed, as predicted, that early presented brief information regarding others' average attitude (high versus low group average) affected group polarization given low (versus high) processing ability or motivation. Later presented lengthy persuasive argumentation (high versus low argument persuasiveness), in contrast, affected group polarization given high (versus low) ability or motivation, and only in these cases did thought valence reflect argument persuasiveness and predict polarization scores. In a third experiment, a more naturalistic group discussion was implemented in which individuals' processing motivation was manipulated. Again, brief information regarding others' positions determined polarization in lowly motivated individuals. For highly motivated group members, in comparison, the ratio of pro to con arguments (i.e., more complex information) predicted group polarization. Taken as a whole, results of these three experiments confirmed the view derived from process models of persuasion that individuals' processing ability and motivation moderate the impact of information regarding others' positions and persuasive argumentation on group polarization. Implications are discussed.
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