Metacognitive Beliefs About Groups

Kim Weaver, University of Michigan
Stephen M. Garcia, University of Michigan
Dale T. Miller, Stanford University
Norbert Schwarz, University of Michigan
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - We look to others to tell us how to think, feel, and act. Researchers have a detailed understanding of how group norms affect group members’ cognition, emotion, and behavior. Surprisingly, however, much less is known about how people actually construct their estimates of collective sentiment (for notable exceptions, see Hamil, Nisbett, & Wilson, 1989; McFarland & Miller, 1990; Miller & McFarland, 1987; Prentice & Miller, 1993). At the same time, however, we know that perceivers often misjudge public opinion (Prentice & Miller, 1993). In this paper, we examine one reason why by exploring the process by which perceivers integrate the information they have about the number of times they have heard a sentiment expressed and the number of people they have heard express the sentiment.
[ to cite ]:
Kim Weaver, Stephen M. Garcia, Dale T. Miller, and Norbert Schwarz (2005) ,"Metacognitive Beliefs About Groups", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, eds. Geeta Menon and Akshay R. Rao, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 307-308.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, 2005     Pages 307-308

METACOGNITIVE BELIEFS ABOUT GROUPS

Kim Weaver, University of Michigan

Stephen M. Garcia, University of Michigan

Dale T. Miller, Stanford University

Norbert Schwarz, University of Michigan

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

We look to others to tell us how to think, feel, and act. Researchers have a detailed understanding of how group norms affect group members’ cognition, emotion, and behavior. Surprisingly, however, much less is known about how people actually construct their estimates of collective sentiment (for notable exceptions, see Hamil, Nisbett, & Wilson, 1989; McFarland & Miller, 1990; Miller & McFarland, 1987; Prentice & Miller, 1993). At the same time, however, we know that perceivers often misjudge public opinion (Prentice & Miller, 1993). In this paper, we examine one reason why by exploring the process by which perceivers integrate the information they have about the number of times they have heard a sentiment expressed and the number of people they have heard express the sentiment.

We propose that people use two important pieces of information when making group opinion judgments. First, perceivers have a feeling of familiarity for how many times they have heard an opinion expressed in a group, namely the opinion’s frequency. Because the more an opinion has been expressed, the more familiar it seems, repeated statements increase perceivers’ sense of familiarity for the opinion even when the expressions come from one person. Second, perceivers have conscious information about the range of group members making the opinion statements, that is, information about the extensity of the opinion. To form accurate group opinion inferences, perceivers must appropriately integrate familiarity information with information about the number of group members making the statements. We investigate whether people faced with repetition from one group member are able to appropriately integrate this information or instead, whether perceivers use their feelings of familiarity for an opinion to make inferences about the opinion’s extensity.

Three studies examined people’s metacognitive theories about the relationship between feelings of familiarity for an opinion in a group and estimates of extensity, or the range of group members supporting the opinion. In Study 1, participants estimated a focus group’s stance after either reading three comments from three different individuals (3 persons / 3 statements condition), three comments from one person (1 person / 3 statements condition), or one comment from one individual (one statement control). As expected, an a priori contrast showed that participants in the 3 persons / 3 statements condition estimated more focus group support for the issue at hand (M=6.2) than participants in the one opinion control condition (M=4.7), F(1, 174)=62.0, p<.001. More important, however, an a priori contrast also showed that participants who read one person’s repeated statements in favor of the issue at hand (1 person / 3 statements condition) also estimated more focus group support for the issue (M=5.4) than participants in the one opinion control condition (M=4.7), F(1,174)=19.7, p<.001. Thus, the implication is that one individual repeating the same information can have almost as much influence as three different individuals each offering the same information.

Study 2 examined boundary conditions of this repetition effect. We manipulated whether the norms around an issue were well-known ("evaluable") versus unknown ("unevaluable"). We predicted that the repetition effect would transpire when opinion estimators did not have previous knowledge about the issue at hand (unevaluable norms). However, when the issue was evaluable, opinion estimators would be able to discount the phenomenological feeling of familiarity brought about by repeated statements and consequently would not infer greater group support for the issue after reading repeated statements from one person. The results confirmed our prediction.

Study 3 examined these differential effects of evaluable versus unevaluable norms in the presence or absence of a time delay. We predicted that after a time delay the repetition effect would transpire, even when participants had prior knowledge of the group’s stance. In a between-subjects design, we found that the repetition effect transpires among opinion estimators when the issue at hand is unevaluable in both the presence and absence of a time delay. More important, however, we found that when participants have previous knowledge of a group’s opinion (evaluable) they are initially able to discount the feeling of opinion familiarity brought about by one person’s repeated statements (replicating the effect in Study 2). However, after a time delay, even participants who had previous knowledge of the group norm are affected by the repeated statements of one individual.

Study 3 also investigated the relationship between observers’ estimates of group opinion and personal attitude change, and showed that when there was a time delay between exposure to one person’s repeated counter-normative statements and the opinion measure, students shifted their own personal opinions in the direction of the "norm" they had misperceived. Follow up mediational analyses indicated that this personal opinion shift was due to misguided social influence. That is, students’ own opinions appeared to be driven by their perceptions of overall student support rather than changed directly as a result of repetition. These results demonstrate that using phenomenological feelings of opinion familiarity as the basis for judgments about the extensity of an opinion in a group can have important consequences, and under some circumstances can even lead people to change their own opinions in what may be seen as a misguided direction.

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