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Majority-Minority Influence

Majority-Minority Influence: Identifying


Argumentative Patterns and Predicting
Argument-Outcome Links
By Rene A. Meyers, Dale E. Brashers, and Jennifer Hanner

In this paper, the authors investigate the argument activities of majority and minority factions in small group decision-making situations. We begin by identifying
patterns of argument that characterize majority and minority communication in
34 discussions and then test several subgroup-outcome and argument-outcome
links. Results indicate that winning and losing subgroups argue differently (as do
minority and majority subgroups overall) and that consistency in argument is a
strong predictor of subgroup success. Both theoretical and practical implications
for subgroup influence in group decision making accrue from these findings.

The study of majority and minority influence in small group decision making long
has held researchers interests. As early as 4 decades ago, Asch (1951, 1956) discovered that minority factions can be pressured to conform to an incorrect answer
regarding physical stimuli when confronted by a majority. Since Aschs initial
investigation, much scholarship has focused on the role and influence of majorities and minorities in group situations (see Abrams & Hogg, 1990; Alderton, 1981;
Alderton & Frey, 1983, 1986; Alvaro & Crano, 1996; Boster & Mayer, 1984;
Brandstatter et al., 1991; Crano & Hannula-Bral, 1994; Davis, 1973; DeDrue &
Vries, 1993, 1996; Gebhardt & Meyers, 1995; Kiesler & Pallak, 1975; Kruglanski &
Mackie, 1990; Maass & Clark, 1983, 1984; Martin, 1988a, 1988b, 1996; Moscovici,
1980; Moscovici & Faucheux, 1972; Moscovici, Lage, & Naffrechoux, 1969; Mugny,
1982; Nemeth, 1974, 1982, 1986; Nemeth & Rogers, 1996; Papastamou & Mugny,
1990; Wood, Lundgren, Ouellette, Busceme, & Blackstone, 1994; Zaleska, 1976,
1978, among others).
Much past research in this domain has utilized an input-output model, investigating how the distribution of majority-minority factions (inputs) affect the final

Rene A. Meyers (PhD, University of Illinois) is a professor in the Department of Communication at the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dale E. Brashers (PhD, University of Arizona) is an assistant
professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Illinois. Jennifer Hanner is
a trainer with New Horizons Computer Learning Company, Madison, WI. This paper was presented as
a top ranked paper to the Group Communication Division, National Communication Association, New
York, November, 1998.
Copyright 2000 International Communication Association
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Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

decision outcome (output). Other researchers have sought to explain the differential influence of minority and majority factions through such variables as social
pressure, consistency, immediacy, and strength in numbers (Latane, 1996; Latane
& Wolf, 1981; Levine & Russo, 1987; Moscovici, 1980; Moscovici et al., 1969; Nemeth
& Wachtler, 1974, 1983; Tanford & Penrod, 1984). Most recently, researchers have
begun to postulate cognitive and social explanations for the differential impact of
majority and minority factions (Alvaro & Crane, 1996; Baker & Petty, 1994; Latane
& Wolf, 1981; Mackie, 1987; Peterson & Nemeth, 1996; Wood et al., 1994).
Taken together, these studies offer valuable insights into how majorities and
minorities affect outcomes and provide several noninteraction-based explanations
for differential impact. But few investigations have focused on communication as
a central explanatory mechanism. As Mucchi-Faina, Maass, and Volpato (1991)
indicated, emphasis has generally been more on how the message is communicated (e.g., in a consistent or inconsistent, rigid or flexible way) than on what is
communicated (p. 195).
This oversight is somewhat puzzling since most majority/minority influence in
group decision-making situations occurs in interaction. Understanding more completely how majorities and minorities communicate in group decision-making
situations, and whether there exists a communication-outcome link, has both theoretical and practical significance. Theoretically, analysis of the communicative activities of these two subgroups will help us better identify their differential roles
and behavioral patterns. Once this descriptive work is accomplished, the communication activities of these subgroups can be used to predict and explain group
decision-making outcomes. In short, an input-process-output model can be formulated that could provide a more complete explanation of minority-majority
influence than has been available previously.
On the practical level, if we better understand what minority and majority
factions say in group decision-making situations, and eventually how these communicative activities are linked to group outcomes, we can begin construction of
a prescriptive model of influence as well. That is, if the goal of a majority or
minority faction is to influence the final outcome, and we know the communication activities that are most effective for attaining that goal, then group participants
who are aware of, and employ, those strategies may have a better chance of
having their proposal selected by the group. Such information may be particularly
useful to minority factions who usually have more difficulty affecting the final
decision proposal, but whose inputs are inherently important for producing quality decisions.
In this paper, we investigate the communication activities of majority and minority factions in small group decision-making discussions. Specifically, we focus
on one type of interaction integral to all group decision makingargumentand
its impact on final group outcomes. First, we overview past research (most of it
noninteraction based) related to three prominent findings regarding majority-minority influence. Second, the centrality of communication (specifically, argument)
to the majority-minority influence process is acknowledged, and relevant findings
from the Conversational Argument research program are briefly reviewed. Following this review, the three findings are reinterpreted from a communication per4

Majority-Minority Influence

spective, alternative interaction-based explanations are posited, and hypotheses


designed to test these reinterpretations are presented. Fourth, a set of 34 group
discussions is analyzed to confirm or disconfirm the hypotheses, and results of the
analyses are reported. Finally, the implications of the findings for continued research in this domain are explored.

Majority-Minority Influence Research


Many scholars have sought to describe and explain the impact of majority and
minority factions in small group decision-making situations. Although research
findings in this domain do not always cohere, and studies sometimes lack theoretical grounding, we think at least three prominent conclusions regarding majority-minority influence are evident. These include (a) the majority faction is more
often successful in influencing the final group outcome than is the minority faction; (b) for both subgroups, consistency in presentation is important to achieve
influence; and (c) majority and minority factions often produce differential forms
of influence. Research pertaining to each of these three conclusions is overviewed
in the next section.
Majority Is More Often Successful Than Minority
Findings show that majorities generally exert greater influence (i.e., win more
often) than minorities (Nemeth, 1986; Nemeth & Wachtler, 1983; Zaleska, 1976,
1978), and this is accomplished through considerable social pressure, sometimes
including ridicule and derision (Nemeth & Wachtler, 1983). Research on mock
juries, for example, has demonstrated that the position the majority favors prior to
group discussion becomes the verdict approximately 90% of the time (Davis,
1973; Nemeth, 1986). Boster and Mayer (1984) found that the arguments forwarded by a majority are actually seen as more correct and are rated higher in
quality than those forwarded by a minority faction. Latane and Wolf (1981) suggested that a group consensus that results from interaction between the majority
and minority will remain on the majority side of the issue, although it should be
less extreme than it would be if there were no minority position advocated
(p. 451).
Majority-Minority Consistency in Presentation
Moscovici et al. (1969) were among the earliest researchers to suggest that the
cause of majority influence was not the sheer number of members or social pressure per se, but instead the consistency demonstrated among majority members
comments. More recent research in communication on the Distributed Valance
Model (McPhee, 1994; McPhee, Poole, & Seibold, 1982) supports these findings.
McPhee et al. (1982) found that if a majority of the group members express clear
favor for an option, it tends to be adopted (p. 272). Likewise, in an investigation
of consistency as a communication variable, Gebhardt and Meyers (1995) found
that consistency plays an important role in explaining how majorities influence
group outcomes. They discovered (in a study of 16 decision-making groups) that
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Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

when the majority communicated consistently (especially in promotion of their


position), they had a strong impact on the final outcome.
Consistency in presentation appears to be even more important to minority
members arguments (Allen, 1975; Moscovici, 1976; Moscovici & Lage, 1976;
Moscovici et al., 1969; Nemeth, Mayseless, Sherman, & Brown, 1990; Nemeth &
Wachtler, 1974). Kruglanski and Mackie (1990) stated that The behavioral style,
and particularly the behavioral consistency, with which a minority position is
presented has been accorded a central determining role in successful minority
influence (p. 238). Nemeth (1982) suggested that if a minority subgroup was to
be influential, it must consistently maintain its position over time, and, secondly,
maintain the agreement of its members (p. 190). Early in the group deliberation,
minority group members are likely to encounter resistance from the majority;
however if the minority persists in a consistent, confident manner, members of the
majority may begin to show doubt in their position, or even convert to the minority view. Latane and Wolf (1981) contended that consistent behavior by a minority
forces the majority to attend to the discrepancy between its position and the
current state of the world, creating the conditions for a profound and often rapid
change in the status quo (pp. 451452). Finally, in a recent meta-analytic review,
Wood et al. (1994) concluded that consistent advocacy of the minority position is
important because it ensures that recipients do not simply derogate and dismiss
the message without consideration but instead recognize it as a feasible, although
not personally favored, viewpoint on the broader topic (p. 340).
Minority-Majority Differential Influence Effects
Other findings in this research domain indicate that subjects exposed to majority
or minority viewpoints experience differential influence. Exposure to majority
viewpoints moves listeners toward more convergent thought processes (Alvaro &
Crano, 1996; Axsom, Yates, & Chaiken, 1987; Chaiken, 1986; Legrenzi, Butera,
Mugny, & Perez, 1991; Maass, West, & Cialdini, 1987; Mackie, 1987; Martin, 1996;
Mucchi-Faina et al., 1990; Nemeth, 1974, 1986; Nemeth & Kwan, 1985, 1987; Nemeth
& Rogers, 1996; Nemeth & Wachtler, 1983; Van Dyne & Saavedra, 1996; Volpato,
Maass, Mucchi-Faina, & Vitti, 1990) and therefore, more conventional solutions
than do those subjects exposed to minority viewpoints. As Volpato et al. (1990)
found, minorities trigger divergent thought processes leading to the discovery of
new alternatives whereas the majority position is accepted without further elaboration beyond the majoritys message (p. 130). Nemeth and colleagues (Nemeth,
1986; Nemeth, Mosier, & Chiles, 1992; Peterson & Nemeth, 1996) concurred with
this assessment, stating:
Persons exposed to minority views are stimulated to attend to more aspects of
the situation, they think in more divergent ways, and they are more likely to
detect novel solutions or come to new decisions. . . . Persons exposed to
opposing majority views, by contrast, focus on the aspects of the stimuli pertinent to the position of the majority, they think in convergent ways, and they
tend toward adoption of the proposed solution to the neglect of novel solutions or decisions. (Nemeth, 1986, p. 25)
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Majority-Minority Influence

Hence when minority subgroup participants are successful in influencing group


opinion, they are more likely to cause participants to think about the issue as a
whole, rather than just the message received (DeDrue & DeVries, 1993; Trost,
Maass, & Kenrick, 1992). This is especially true if the receiver of the message has
high personal involvement in the issue being advocated (Trost et al., 1992).
A second distinction made in minority and majority influence effects is related
to public versus private opinion change (Aebisher, Hewstone, & Henderson, 1984;
Brandstatter et al., 1991; Clark & Maass, 1990; DeDrue & DeVries, 1993; Doms &
Van Avermaet, 1980; Maass & Clark, 1983, 1984, 1986; Martin, 1988a, 1988b;
Moscovici & Personnaz, 1980; Mugny, 1982; Mugny, Kaiser, Papastamou, & Perez,
1984; Mugny & Perez, 1991; Nemeth et al., 1990; Paicheler, 1988). Moscovici and
Lage (1976) indicated that majorities exert influence at the manifest or surface
level only and that minority subgroups who give in often secretly maintain their
own positions. Minority exposure, on the other hand, leads to more private acceptance of ideas by individual group members (Moscovici, 1980, 1985; Nemeth,
1986; but see Doms, 1984; Doms & Van Avermaet, 1985; and Wolf, 1987, for
dissenting opinions). As Trost et al. (1992) explained:
Moscovici hypothesized that a majority advocacy elicits a comparison process:
The targets attention is devoted to comparing the discrepancies between the
majoritys opinion and his or her own opinion. This focus on the discrepancy
engages shallow processing of the message and uncritical acceptance of the
majority position because the target has attended more to the self-presentational conflict with the majority than to the message arguments. Conversely, a
minority elicits a validation process: Attention is focused more generally on
the issue, eliciting a more active assessment of the message arguments and,
ultimately, internalization of the minority position. (p. 235)

In sum, this set of studies on majority and minority influence has provided
important insights into the differential impact of these two subgroups. Yet, as
communication researchers, we are puzzled by the peripheral role interaction
plays in these investigative and explanatory efforts. In the next section, we discuss
two limitations of this research and suggest reinterpretions of these three prominent
findings based on a view of communication as a central explanatory mechanism.
Limitations of Research
We find most past literature on majority-minority influence limited on at least two
counts. First, most of the research done on majority-minority influence outside the
communication field is conducted on aggregates of individuals or confederates
rather than intact groups. Tindale, Davis, Vollrath, Nagao, and Hinsz (1990) suggested that unfortunately, studies of social influence . . . have typically used fairly
restricted social environments (p. 439). Many investigations focus on the oneword responses of subjects faced by a majority or minority of confederate participants. These aggregates do not conform to traditional communication-based definitions of groups that include (at the very least) three or more members who (a)
think of themselves as a group, (b) are interdependent, and (c) communicate with
one another (Socha, 1997). As Smith, Tindale, and Dugoni (1996) noted:
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Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

assuming that influence is an interactive phenomenon, and that minority members will be influenced by majority members and vice versa, it is critical to use
actual members of each influence type in order to understand fully the impact
of majorities and minorities. (p. 139)

Second, many of these studies use a methodology that precludes investigation


of actual group interaction. Zdaniuk and Levine (1996) decried the fact that many
of the experiments . . . do not involve interaction between group members. Rather,
subjects simply learn that a majority or minority of other people (in the same
room or the wider world) disagree with their position on some topic (p. 202).
Echoing those sentiments, Levine and Russo (1995) noted that:
It is surprising that so few efforts have been made to record and analyze the
communication that occurs between (and within) majority and minority factions as they struggle for dominance. By assessing who says what to whom at
different points in time, researchers could obtain valuable information about
the kinds of persuasive messages that majority and minority members use to
create disloyalty in their opponents and loyalty in their supporters. (pp. 311312)

With a few exceptions then, past studies of majority and minority influence
have ignored the role that communication plays in the persuasion process (for
some exceptions, see Alderton, 1981; Alderton & Frey, 1983, 1986; Garlick, 1993;
Garlick & Mongeau, 1992, 1993; Gebhardt & Meyers, 1995; Tindale et al., 1990),
and most explanations tend to be noninteraction based. We think there is perhaps
a more powerful explanatory force in the communication activities and patterns
that characterize majority and minority subgroups. For example, we think that
each of the three findings just reviewed can be reinterpreted within a communication-based framework. The framework we use for reinterpretation is the Conversational Argument program of research that has focused on understanding the
structure, form, and function of argument in decision-making groups.

Conversational Argument in Group Decision Making


Conversational Argument research has roots in structuration theory (Giddens, 1984)
and has focused on both small group and interpersonal argument (Brashers, Adkins,
& Meyers, 1994; Brashers & Meyers, 1989; Brossmann & Canary, 1990; Canary,
Brossmann, Brossmann, & Weger, 1995; Canary, Brossmann, & Seibold, 1987;
Canary, Weger, & Stafford, 1991; Meyers & Brashers, 1995, 1998; Meyers, Brashers,
Winston, & Grob, 1997; Meyers & Seibold, 1990a, 1990b; Meyers, Seibold, &
Brashers, 1991; Seibold, Meyers, & Sunwolf, 1996; Seibold, Poole, McPhee, Tanita,
& Canary, 1981). Early research attended to the construction and validation of the
Conversational Argument Coding Scheme (Canary et al., 1987; Canary, Ratledge,
& Seibold, 1982; Seibold, Canary, & Ratledge, 1983) that is grounded in the theories of Toulmin (1958), Perelman and Obrechts-Tyteca (1969), and Jackson and
Jacobs (1980). Woven together into a single scheme (see Seibold & Meyers, 1986,
for additional information regarding construction of the coding scheme), these
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Majority-Minority Influence

Table 1. Conversational Argument Coding Scheme


I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

Arguables
A. Generative mechanisms
1. Assertions: Statements of fact or opinion
2. Propositions: Statements that call for support, action, or conference on an ar
gument-related statement
B. Reasoning activities
3. Elaborations: Statements that support other statements by providing evidence,
reasons, or other support
4. Responses: Statements that defend arguables met with disagreement
5. Amplifications: Statements that explain or expound upon other statements in
order to establish the relevance of the argument through inference
6. Justifications: Statements that offer validity of previous or upcoming statements
by citing a rule of logic (provide a standard whereby arguments are weighed)
Convergence-seeking activities
7. Agreement: Statements that express agreement with another statement
8. Acknowledgment: Statements that indicate recognition and/or comprehension of another statement, but not necessarily agreement, to anothers point
Disagreement-relevant intrusions
9. Objections: Statements that deny the truth or accuracy of any arguable
10. Challenges: Statements that offer problems or questions that must be solved if
agreement is to be secured on an arguable
Delimitors
11. Frames: Statements that provide a context for and/or qualify arguables
12. Forestall/Secure: Statements that attempt to forestall refutation by securing
common ground
13. Forestall/Remove: Statements that attempt to forestall refutation by removing
possible objections
Nonarguablesstatements that are not related to the groups argument
14. Process: Non-argument related statements that orient the group to its task or
specify the process the group should follow
15. Unrelated: Statements unrelated to the groups argument or process (tangents,
side issues, self-talk, etc.)
16. Incompletes: Statements that do not contain a complete, clear idea due to
interruption or a person discontinuing a statement

Adapted from Canary et al. (1987; Canary et al., 1982; Seibold et al., 1983), with permission
from the Southern States Communication Association.

three perspectives allow identification of the structure and constituent elements of


formal argument (Toulmin), interactional patterns of group argument (Perelman &
Obrechts-Tyteca), and the sequencing, escalation, and surface features of argument convergence (Jackson & Jacobs). See Table 1.
Later research has described the character and structure of argument in groups.
Canary et al. (1987) discovered four argument structuressimple, compound,
eroded, and convergentthat were linked to consensus and dissensus group outcomes. Meyers et al. (1991) provided the first picture of the distribution of argument acts in 45 group discussions. They found that argument . . . was characterized primarilyand almost exclusivelyby Assertions, Elaborations, and Agreement (p. 60). Current research has centered on use of a multistage coding procedure (Meyers & Brashers, 1995) and development of a model of the group argument process (Meyers & Brashers, 1998). When this model was linked to group
outcomes and its predictive capacity tested, Meyers and Brashers (1998) found the
model to be a fairly accurate predictor of final group choices.
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Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

In the next section, we use the Conversational Argument research program as


a framework to construct communication-based reinterpretations of the three prominent findings regarding majority-minority influence: (a) the majority is successful
more often than the minority, (b) consistency in presentation is important for both
majority and minority subgroups, and (c) majority and minority subgroups produce differential influence effects. These reinterpretations allow us to connect two
bodies of literaturemajority-minority influence and argumentwhich, to date,
have remained separate, but when connected, provide a basis for identifying
communication as a central explanatory and predictive mechanism.

Reinterpretation of Findings and Hypotheses


Majority Is More Successful Than Minority
From a communication perspective, the fact that the majority more often wins
may not be due entirely to strength in numbers (as many noninteraction-based
explanations conclude) but may correlate instead with the majoritys use of differing (and perhaps more effective) communication strategies in discussion. Perhaps
winning factions offer more complete arguments, are better at getting members to
converge on a single proposal, provide more challenges and objections for the
opposition to overcome, or are able to more effectively frame the issues to favor
their proposal than are losing factions (see Table 1). If so, then perhaps communication (specifically, argumentative strategies), not mere number of members, is
a central and powerful explanation. In line with this communication-based reinterpretation, we pose the following hypotheses:
H1: The majority faction will win (predict the group-decision outcome) significantly more often than will the minority faction.
H2: Winning factions (majorities and minorities) will produce each argument
message (arguables, convergence-seeking messages, disagreement-relevant
intrusions, and delimitors) significantly more than will losing factions (majorities and minorities).

Majority-Minority Consistency in Presentation


Similarly, consistency can be conceived as a communication-based variable utilized by subgroup members to persuade others (see Gebhardt & Meyers, 1995, for
one conceptualization). At the simplest level, consistency is maintenance of ones
position in interactionmore strongly advocating for ones favored proposal than for
any other proposal (Gebhardt & Meyers, 1995; Van Dyne & Saavedra, 1996). Hence,
minority-majority consistency is not mere repetition of a word in an aggregate, but is
a communication strategy that can be linked to final group outcomes. To test this
communication-based reinterpretation, we propose the following hypothesis:
H3: The subgroup (majority or minority) that is argumentatively most consistent in presentation of their proposal will predict best final individual and
group outcomes.

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Majority-Minority Influence

Differential Influence Effects


A plausible explanation for the finding that majority influence results in convergent thinking and minority influence results in divergent thinking may be that the
two subgroups overall produce different argumentative topics (content) in discussion. More confident in its ability to succeed, the majority may stick to one or two
proven argument topics, while the minority, facing a greater uphill battle, may
use more variety. Hence listeners, exposed to more convergent (majority) or divergent (minority) arguments, reflect that process in their thinking. To explore this
explanation, we pose the following hypothesis:
H4: The minority faction will produce significantly more different argument
topics than will the majority faction.

Additionally, perhaps majority influence results in public compliance rather


than private acceptance because majority members, recognizing that their odds of
winning are fairly good, do not focus on changing others opinions, but instead
merely seek to win the final vote through convergence-seeking messages. We
posit that:
H5: The majority subgroup will produce significantly more convergence-seeking messages than will the minority.

On the other hand, minority influence may result in more private acceptance
than compliance because this subgroup, knowing it has an uphill battle, may
work harder at changing the oppositions opinions by producing strong arguments to support their proposal, as well as disagreeing with, and qualifying, the
majority position. The following hypothesis is posited:
H6: The minority subgroup will produce significantly more arguables, disagreement-relevant intrusions, and qualifiers than will the majority subgroup.

Finally, we would predict that because the majority subgroup will focus primarily on convergence-seeking, minority members will remain unconvinced of the
merits of the majoritys proposal and will comply but show little private acceptance. On the other hand, we would predict that minority influence (comprised
primarily of data, claims, objections, and qualifiers) will result in more private
acceptance than public compliance. We hypothesize that:
H7: Majority influence will result in significantly more public compliance than
private acceptance, and minority influence will result in significantly more
private acceptance than public compliance.

Method
Participants
Participants were 73 male and female undergraduate students (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) enrolled in communication courses at a large Midwestern university. The project occurred at the end of a semester in which they had been

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Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

classmates and occasional group discussion partners, so groups were quasi-history, rather than zero-history, groups. Each received extra credit for his or her
involvement.1
Procedures
Group discussion task. As part of a larger study of argument and polarization
(risky and cautious decision making) in group interaction, each of 15 groups was
asked to complete three separate tasks (Kogan & Wallach, 1964; Stoner, 1968),
resulting in a total of 45 group discussions. The decision-making tasks entailed
problem scenarios concerning hypothetical actors facing serious life dilemmas
(tasks were identified as Mr. C., Mr. N., and Mr. R.). These problems were particularly relevant for this study because they were inherently argumentative in nature.
One of the scenarios (task Mr. R) follows:
Mr. R. is currently a college senior who is very eager to pursue graduate study
in chemistry leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree. He has been accepted by both University X and University Y. University X has a worldwide
reputation for excellence in chemistry. While a degree from University X would
signify outstanding training in this field, the standards are so very rigorous that
only a fraction of the degree candidates actually receive the degree. University
Y, on the other hand, has much less of a reputation in chemistry, but almost
everyone admitted is awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree, though the
degree has much less prestige than the corresponding degree from University X.
Imagine you are advising Mr. R. Check the lowest probability that you would
consider acceptable for Mr. R. to enroll in University X (more rigorous university) rather than University Y (less rigorous university).
_____1 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X. (Mr. R.
should enroll at University X even if there is a very small chance that he will
receive a degree).
_____2 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
_____3 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
_____4 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
_____5 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
_____6 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
_____7 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
1

The group sample in this study was fairly homogeneous as all participants in this study were college
sophomores, juniors, and seniors. It seems possible that in groups with more diversity, there may be
greater distinctions in argument patterns between subgroups. In addition, although the student participants in this study seemed to be quite involved in the task discussions (many of them relating it to
their own lives), it must be remembered that the decision task was a hypothetical scenario and had no
direct implications for the participants. Hence, the findings from this study, although providing important information about this group of participants, may not be completely generalizable to groups
where involvement in a decision-making task is greater.
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Majority-Minority Influence

_____8 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.


_____9 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X.
____10 in 10 that Mr. R. would receive the degree from University X. (Mr. R.
should NOT enroll in University X unless it is certain he will receive the
degree).

Instructions. Participants were assigned randomly to five-member groups prior


to the research session. Upon arriving at the session, each participant was given
one of the three tasks and asked to read it carefully and mark their prediscussion
choice. These prediscussion choices were collected, and fresh copies of the task
were given to each participant. The group was convened and members discussed
the task to consensus. These group decision choices were collected by the researcher, and each participant was given a final copy of the same task and asked
to mark their individual postdiscussion choice. Hence, all members provided an
individual prediscussion, group, and individual postdiscussion decision choice for
each of the three tasks (Mr. C., Mr. N., Mr. R.). Because 2 students failed to show,
13 groups of 5 members and 2 groups of 4 members were utilized. All group
discussions were videotaped. No time limits were imposed. Tasks were counterbalanced across individuals and groups to reduce potential order effects.
Unitizing discussion content. After transcriptions were made of all videotaped
group discussions (n = 45), discussion content was unitized by two judges working independently. The unit choice was any statement that functioned as a complete thought or change of thought (Auld & White, 1956; Hatfield & WeiderHatfield, 1978; Murray, 1956). In view of our focus on argument, it seemed more
appropriate to unitize transcripts into complete thoughts, rather than microanalytic words or overly comprehensive turns. Unit by unit intercoder reliability
(Scotts pi) for the three problems yielded estimates of .90, .90, and .89 (Krippendorff,
1980).
Coding Procedures
Multistage coding process. The coding scheme (see Table 1) utilized in this investigation was the Conversational Argument Coding Scheme developed by Canary,
Meyers, Seibold, and colleagues (Canary et al., 1987; Canary et al., 1982; Meyers &
Brashers, 1998; Meyers et al., 1991; Seibold et al., 1983; Seibold et al., 1981).
Because the Conversational Argument Coding Scheme is so complex, and because of past concerns with reliabilities obtained with the scheme, a multistage
process was utilized to code this data set (see Meyers & Brashers, 1995, for a fuller
account of this process). In brief, the coders made several iterative passes through
the data and identified different facets of the groups argument each time. In the
first stage, the coders parceled the data so as to provide an organizational framework for subsequent coding tasks. Coders first went through the 45 transcripts to
separate the argument-related from nonargument-related messages. Having completed that task, they returned to the data to code the risky-cautious valence of
each argument-related statement. In a third pass, the coders identified the argument content of each statement (i.e., argument topics).
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Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

Once the data had been parceled in this way, the coders applied the Conversational Argument Coding Scheme. Application of this scheme also occurred in
stages. First, the coders placed messages into the first-level categories (Arguables,
Convergence-Seeking Activities, Disagreement-Relevant Intrusions, Delimitors, and
Nonarguables). Second, they returned to the transcripts and coded statements
assigned to each first-level category into their respective second-level subcategories as follows: Arguables were classified as Assertions, Propositions, Elaborations,
Responses, Amplifications, or Justifications; Convergence-Seeking Activities were
categorized as Agreements or Acknowledgments; Disagreement-Relevant Intrusions were divided into Objections or Challenges; Delimitors were coded into
Frames, Forestall-Secure statements, or Forestall-Remove statements, and
Nonarguables were coded into Process, Unrelated, or Incomplete statements.
Nonarguables, however, were not analyzed in this investigation because we were
concerned primarily with argumentative messages.
Coder training sessions. Two different sets of individuals were trained for the
coding tasks. One set of four completed all the initial parceling tasks. A second set
of four completed the substantive argument coding tasks. Training was intensive
and averaged more than 40 hours for each set of tasks. Coders practiced on
transcripts extraneous to this study. After coding the practice transcripts for any
given coding task, they discussed and clarified differences. When reliability for all
four coders for any given task reached 80% agreement, training sessions were
terminated, and two pairs then independently coded half of the transcripts for the
relevant task. The coders utilized the transcripts for the initial coding, but checked
their assignments and designations against the videotape before making a final choice.
Intercoder reliability. Cohens kappa was utilized as the index of reliability for
each task. Estimates for relevant coding tasks were as follows: .86 for the argument-nonargument codes; .88 for the risky-cautious codes, .88 for content (argument topics) codes; .88 for first-level argument codes; .85 for second-level subcategory argument codes. All of these reliability levels are satisfactory (Fleiss, 1981).
Determining majority-minority subgroups. To determine majority/minority subgroups, prediscussion choice preferences were examined for each member of
each group on each decision task. Members were placed into one of two groups
(risky or cautious) depending on their prediscussion choice. In accord with earlier
research (Meyers & Brashers, 1998; Meyers et al., 1997), risky alternatives were
defined as choices 15 on the decision task, and cautious items were defined as
choices 610 on the decision task. Transcripts were also examined to verify how
members identified themselves (risky or cautious) during opening comments in
the discussion. Four-member groups in which a two-two split occurred were excluded from analysis. Groups in which all members favored the same choice (all
risky or all cautious) were also excluded. The final number of usable groups was 34.2
2

Of the 15 groups in the study, 8 were included for all three tasks, 3 were included for 2 tasks, and the
remaining 4 were included for 1 task. However, in only two instances did the same subgroups form
across more than one task for a group. In group 3 and in group 14, the same minority and majority
subgroups were formed in the Mr. R. and Mr. N. situations. In every other case in which groups were
used for more than one task, the subgroups were composed of different subsets of members. Because

14

Majority-Minority Influence

Determining consistency. All argument-related statements were coded as supporting either a risky or cautious position. For each group member, the measure
of argument consistency was calculated as the difference between a group members
arguments favoring that members original position (risky or cautious) and arguments favoring the alternative position (risky or cautious) divided by the total of
that group members arguments. The range of possible scores was 1 to +1. Consistency scores were averaged across members of the subgroup to produce a
single score for each minority and majority subgroup. Hence, subgroups with
scores closer to +1.00 were viewed as more consistent than subgroups with scores
closer to 1.00.
Outcomes. Outcomes were the final individual postdiscussion choice and the
final group decision choice provided to the researcher following each group discussion. Outcomes could range from 110 on the decision task scale.

Results
Majority vs. Minority Success
Hypothesis 1 focused on the success rate of majority and minority subgroups. This
was tested with a binomial test between (a) groups where the majority won and
(b) groups where the minority won. An expected frequency of 50% occurrence
for each group was utilized. The observed frequency for majority wins was 79%
and the binomial test was significant at p < .0001.3
Hypothesis 2 focused on determining if different argument messages would be
used by winning and losing majorities or minorities. We compared the argument
messages of (a) winning majorities versus losing majorities, (b) winning minorities
versus losing minorities, and (c) all winning coalitions versus all losing coalitions.
As shown in Table 2, there were differences in argument messages for all comparisons. To better discern those differences, we did follow-up tests comparing
each argument category to an expected value based on the overall proportion of
arguments for each group.
In the top portion of Table 2, winning majorities were less likely than losing
majorities to produce arguables, and more likely than losing majorities to produce

only two sets (for a total of four) of the 34 groups were indeed repeated, we chose to treat the analyses
as independent rather than as repeated measures across the groups.
3

This study included situation (i.e., Mr. C., Mr. N., and Mr. R.) as a random factor. Wherever possible,
we included situation as a random factor in analyses (see Jackson & Brashers, 1994). Because there is
no straightforward way to deal with random factors in some analyses, such as binomial tests and chisquare tests, we also conducted analyses to explore the pattern of results by situation. In general, those
results closely reflected the overall pattern of significance, although the size of the effects varied
somewhat from situation to situation. For example, the binomial test between (a) groups where the
majority won and (b) groups where the minority won was significant for all three situations (majority
won 85%, 70%, and 82%, respectively), as well as for the overall test (majority won 79%). A few tests
were nonsignificant by situation when the overall test was significant. For space consideration, we will
not report all of the separate analyses here. These results are available from the second author.

15

Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

Table 2. Comparison of Argument Acts for Winning vs. Losing Teams


Comparison of argument acts for winning vs. losing majorities
Majority (Won)
N
%
Arguables
2224
(73.3%)
Convergence
374
(12.3%)
Disagreement
303
(10.0%)
Delimitors
132
(4.4%)
Total
3033
(100%)
2
Overall X (3) = 29.81, p < .0001

Majority (Lost)
N
%
621
(80.8%) X 2 = 6.45, p < .01
93
(12.1%)
42
(5.5%) X 2 = 14.63, p < .001
13
(1.7%) X 2 = 12. 01, p < .001
769
(100%)

Comparison of argument acts for winning vs. losing minorities

Arguables
Convergence
Disagreement
Delimitors
Total
Overall X 2(3) = 9.08, p < .05

Minority (Won)
N
%
337
(78.0%)
39
(9.0%)
34
(7.9%)
22
(5.1%)
432
(100%)

Minority (Lost)
N
%
1074
(73.2%)
127
(8.7%)
194
(13.2%) X 2 = 8.08, p < .01
72
(4.9%)
1467
(100%)

Comparison of argument acts for winning vs. losing subgroups overall


Winning subgroup
N
%
Arguables
2561
(73.9%)
Convergence
413
(11.9%)
Disagreement
337
(9.7%)
Delimitors
154
(4.4%)
Total
3465
(100%)
Overall X 2(3) = 8.22, p < .05

Losing subgroup
N
%
1695
(75.8%)
220
(9.8%) X 2 = 4.79, p < .05
236
(10.6%)
85
(3.8%)
2236
(100%)

disagreement-relevant intrusions and delimitors. In the middle portion of Table 2,


winning minorities were less likely than losing minorities to produce disagreement-relevant intrusions. In the bottom portion of Table 2, winning teams in
general were more likely than losing teams to produce convergence markers.
Consistency in Presentation
Hypothesis 3 posited that the faction that was most consistent in presentation
would best predict the final group decision choice. To test Hypothesis 3, mixed
model ANOVAs were conducted with the proportion of arguments favoring the
group members prediscussion choices (i.e., argument consistency) as the dependent measure (see Table 3) and situation as a random factor. The range of possible
scores for the dependent measure was 1 to +1. Comparisons were made between (a) winning majority subgroups (n = 27, M = 0.62, SD = 0.4) versus losing
minority subgroups (n = 27, M = 0.20, SD = 0.6l), and (b) winning minority subgroups (n = 7, M = 0.90, SD = 0.12) versus losing majority subgroups (n = 7, M =
0.00, SD = 0.7). Additional analyses were used to compare (a) winning majority
subgroups versus losing majority subgroups and (b) winning minority subgroups
versus losing minority subgroups.
16

Majority-Minority Influence

Table 3. Argument Consistency for Majority and Minority Subgroups


Consistency index
Majority

Minority

Winning subgroup

+0.98 (3)
+1.00 (4)
+0.27 (4)
+0.48 (4)
+0.16 (3)
+0.47 (4)
+0.72 (4)
+0.79 (4)
+0.61 (4)
+0.16 (3)
+0.71 (4)
+0.63 (4)
+0.74 (4)

+0.58 (1)
-1.00 (1)
+0.71 (1)
+0.58 (1)
+0.62 (1)
-0.20 (1)
-0.83 (1)
-0.16 (1)
+1.00 (1)
+0.91 (2)
-0.83 (1)
-0.36 (1)
-0.54 (1)

Majority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Minority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Minority
Majority
Majority
Majority

+0.21 (4)
+1.00 (4)
-0.42 (3)
+0.50 (3)
+0.20 (3)
+0.39 (3)
+0.88 (3)
-0.28 (4)
+0.22 (4)
+0.49 (4)

-0.11 (1)
-1.00 (1)
+1.00 (2)
+0.58 (2)
+0.35 (2)
+0.41 (2)
+0.13 (2)
+1.00 (1)
+0.40 (1)
+0.95 (1)

Majority
Majority
Minority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Minority
Majority
Minority

+0.58 (4)
-0.24 (3)
+0.82 (4)
+0.89 (3)
+0.86 (3)
+0.56 (4)
+0.44 (3)
+0.77 (3)
+0.07 (3)
+0.76 (3)
+0.27 (3)

+0.56 (1)
+0.91 (2)
+0.50 (1)
+0.89 (2)
+0.00 (2)
-0.14 (1)
+0.46 (2)
+0.13 (2)
+0.85 (2)
+0.27 (2)
+0.48 (2)

Majority
Minority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Majority
Minority
Majority
Majority

Task Mr. R.
Group
1
3
4
5
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
Task Mr. N.
Group
2
3
5
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
Task Mr. C.
Group
2
3
4
5
6
8
9
10
11
13
14

Note: Number of subgroup members is given in parentheses. Range is from 1 (not at all
consistent) to +1 (completely consistent).

In these comparisons, winning minority subgroups had a higher proportion of


arguments favoring their prediscussion choice (i.e., more consistent) than did
losing majority subgroups [F(1, 2) = 39.18, p < .05]. Winning majority subgroups
were not different from losing minority subgroups on argument consistency. In
17

Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

Table 4. Argument Acts Across Groups


Majority

Minority

2845
467
345
145
3802

(74.8%)
(10.5%)
(9.1%)
(3.8%)
(100%)

1411
166
228
94
1899

(74.3%)
(8.7%) X 2 = 15.93, p < .001
(12.0%) X 2 = 9.67, p < .01
(4.9%)
(100%)

Assertions
1447
Propositions
312
Elaborations
933
Responses
1
Amplifications
144
Justifications
8
Agreements
437
Acknowledgments
30
Objections
141
Challenges
204
Frames
128
Forestall/Secure
14
Forestall/Remove
3
Total
3802
Overall X 2(12) = 38.06, p < .0001

(38.1%)
(8.2%)
(24.5%)
(0%)
(3.8%)
(0.2%)
(11.5%)
(0.8%)
(3.7%)
(5.4%)
(3.4%)
(0.4%)
(0.1%)
(100%)

707
128
503
1
69
3
159
7
103
125
86
7
1
1899

(37.2%)
(6.7%)
(26.5%)
(0.1%)
(3.6%)
(0.2%)
(8.4%) X 2 = 13.35, p < .001
(0.4%)
(5.4%) X 2 = 6.99, p < .01
(6.6%)
(4.5%) X 2 = 4.30, p < .05
(0.4%)
(0.1%)
(100%)

First-order categories
Arguables
Convergence
Disagreement
Delimitors
Total
Overall X 2(3) = 29.08, p < .0001
Second-order categories

addition, winning majority subgroups had a higher proportion of arguments favoring their prediscussion choice than did losing majority subgroups [F(1, 2) =
74.83, p < .05], and winning minority subgroups had a higher proportion of arguments favoring their prediscussion choice than did losing minority subgroups
[F(1, 2) = 57.38, p < .05]. Across all of the mixed model ANOVAs, none of the
situation main effects or interactions with situation were significant.
In addition, we correlated argument consistency with two measures: private
acceptance and public compliance. An individuals movement to the group outcome can be conceptualized as total change, which is the absolute value of the
group outcome minus the individuals prediscussion score. This total change represents two components: (a) private acceptance, which is the absolute value of
the individuals postdiscussion score minus the individuals prediscussion score;
and (b) public compliance, which is the difference between total change and
private acceptance. For example, if a group member with an original (prediscussion)
choice of 2 was in a group that chose 7 as its final group decision choice, and the
group member chose 5 as his or her final (postdiscussion) individual choice, the
members private acceptance score would be 3 (absolute value of the difference
between individual postdiscussion and individual prediscussion scores), and his
or her public compliance would be 2 (absolute value of the difference between
total change [groupprediscussion] and private acceptance [postdiscussion
18

Majority-Minority Influence

Table 5. Arguments Acts Across Groups Groups Where Majority Won


Majority
Arguables
Convergence
Disagreement
Delimitors
Total
Overall X 2(3) = 22.02, p < .0001

Minority

2224
374
303
132
3033

(73.3%)
(12.0%)
(10.0%)
(4.4%)
(100%)

1074
127
194
72
1467

(73.2%)
(8.7%) X2 = 12.98, p < .001
(13.2%) X 2 = 9.31, p < .01
(4.9%)
(100%)

671
93
42
13
769

(80.8%)
(12.1%)
(5.5%)
(1.7%)
(100%)

337
39
34
22
432

(78.0%)
(9.0%)
(7.9%)
(5.1%) X 2 = 10.96, p < .001
(100%)

Groups where minority won


Arguables
Convergence
Disagreement
Delimitors
Total
Overall X 2(4) = 16.76, p < .01

prediscussion]). In the case of private acceptance, the smaller the discrepancy


score, the less opinion change. In the case of public compliance, the greater the
discrepancy score, the less the individual moved toward the groups choice as his
or her own.
Overall, argument consistency was correlated negatively with private acceptance (r = 0.45, p < .01), indicating that as consistency went up, there was less
opinion change for pre- to postindividual choice. Argument consistency was not
correlated with public compliance however (r = 0.05, ns). For losing subgroups,
argument consistency correlated negatively with private acceptance (r = -0.45, p <
.01) and correlated positively with public compliance (r = 0.34, p < .01). These
correlations indicate that, in losing subgroups, as consistency went up, there was
less pre- to postdecision change, and also less public compliance. For winning
subgroups, argument consistency was not correlated with any of the measures of
opinion change (with individual opinion change, r = -0.11, ns; with private acceptance r = -0.18, ns; with public compliance, r = -0.02, ns).
Differential Influence Outcomes
Hypothesis 4 focused on determining whether the minority would produce significantly more different argument topics in group interactions than the majority.
A comparison was made between majority subgroups (n = 34, M = 4.50, SD =
1.39) and minority subgroups (n = 34, M = 4.00, SD = 2.01). The main effect test
between majority and minority subgroups was not significant. There was a significant main effect for situation [F(2,62) = 8.55, p < .001], indicating that the number
of argument topics used by groups varied across the three situations (Mr. R., M =
3.55, SD = 1.41; Mr. C., M = 3.97, SD = 1.60; Mr. N., M = 5.34, SD = 1.73).
Hypotheses 5 through 7 focused on determining whether the majority and
minority produced different argument messages in group interaction. These hy19

Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

potheses were tested by comparing argument acts for majorities and minorities
across groups. As shown in Table 5, majorities and minorities produced different
patterns of argument. As predicted by Hypothesis 5, majorities were more likely
than minorities to use convergence markers. Hypothesis 6 was partially confirmed.
There were no significant differences between majorities and minorities in their
use of arguables, but minority subgroups did produce significantly more disagreement-relevant intrusions and qualifiers than did majority subgroups.
In an additional test, we compared argument acts for majorities and minorities
in groups where the minority won and in groups where the majority won. As
shown in Table 5, majorities and minorities produced different patterns of arguments across these two situations. For groups in which majorities won, majorities produced more convergence markers and fewer disagreement-relevant
intrusions than expected when compared to minorities. For groups in which
minorities won, minorities produced more delimitors than expected when
compared to majorities.
Finally, Hypothesis 7 posited that minority subgroup influence would more
often result in majority members private acceptance and majority subgroup influence would more often result in minority members public compliance. H7 was
tested using a mixed model ANOVA with type of change (private acceptance and
public compliance) as a between-subjects factor and situation as a random withinsubjects factor. For majority subgroups, private acceptance (M = 1.42; SD = 1.05)
was significantly different from public compliance (M = 0.40, SD = 1.03; F [1,2] =
139.45, p < .01). For minority subgroups, private acceptance (M = 2.34, SD = 1.78)
was not different than average public compliance (M = 0.50, SD = 1.07, F [1,2] =
5.38, ns). Moreover, for this test, the means were opposite the direction suggested
by the hypothesis. For minority subgroups, there was a significant Type of Change
x Situation interaction, F(1, 32) = 4.15, p < .05.

Discussion
Overall, the results of this study suggest that (a) majorities tend to win more often
than minorities, (b) there are differences overall in how subgroups argue, as well
as differences in winning or losing subgroups, and (c) consistency in argumentation is an important predictor of subgroup success. In addition, majority subgroups (but not minority subgroups) showed significant differences in private
acceptance and public compliance. Each of these conclusions is elaborated in the
following section.
Majority Dominance
Past research has demonstrated that majorities have the advantage when confronting minority subgroups. As expected, majority subgroups won more often than
did minority subgroups (27 of the 34 discussions in this study). Scholars have
explained this finding using social decision schemes (i.e., majority rules, see Davis,
1973) or norms of fairness and democracy (McPhee, 1994). Most common, how-

20

Majority-Minority Influence

ever, has been an explanation of numeric superiority. Certainly, numeric superiority may be a explanatory factor in our findings as well. For example, in some
groups the minority subgroup consisted of one member. Research shows that
subgroup size can be an important factor in minority influence (Arbuthnot &
Wayner, 1982; Bray, Johnson, & Chilstrom, 1982; Tindale et al., 1990). Clark and
Maass (1990) suggest that the 2:4 ration between minority and majority frequently
recorded in the minority influence literature may actually represent an optimal
ratio for minority influence to occur . . . a decrease in the minority to majority
ration may clearly be detrimental (pp. 115116).
From a communication perspective, however, relying on numeric superiority
as an explanation masks the more interesting question. How does numeric superiority (or lack of same) translate into communicative influence? For example,
does the numerically superior subgroup (i.e., the majority) utilize different argumentative strategies than the minority subgroup in interaction? Do subgroups who
win (usually the numerically superior majority) employ different communicative
strategies from subgroups who lose? Does the mode of transmission of arguments (i.e., consistency) differ across majorities and minorities? Discovering answers to these questions, as we have in this paper, provides a more complete
explanation of the process of subgroup influence, and helps us better understand
the communicative activities of these two subgroups.
Argumentative Differences
There were differences in majority and minority argument messages. Overall,
majorities were more likely than minorities to use convergence statements (agreement) and less likely to use disagreement-relevant intrusions. Past research has
shown that repetitive agreement with members of ones own subgroup is an
indicator of tag-team argument (Brashers & Meyers, 1989) and may produce a
perception of communicative unity that is especially persuasive (Canary et al.,
1987). In fact, because agreement among members is impossible for token minority members, this strategy may be especially effective for the numerically superior
majority subgroup. On the other hand, minorities may use more disagreementrelevant intrusions to (sometimes successfully) counteract this unified offense. Their
strategy is to defend their position while attacking the majority position. In
short, it appears that minorities are often on the defensive against a unified
majority offense.
In addition, we found differences in argumentative strategies among winning
and losing subgroups. Winning majorities, as compared to losing majorities, appeared to engage more actively in critical argument, using disagreement-relevant
statements such as challenges or objections and statements that provide a context
(frames) or forestall refutation. The dissembling (Canary et al., 1987) and framing of arguments appear to be important strategies for majority success. However,
winning majorities were still less likely than losing minorities to use disagreementrelevant intrusions (as discussed above).
Finally, these differences in winning-losing subgroup argument (i.e., the different patterns across the three levels of Table 2) is an interesting fact in itself. A

21

Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

focus on an overall table of group argument would mask differences that become
apparent when we look at majority versus minority teams. By examining subgroups, we see patterns that may result from, and be unique to, the minority or
majority status of group members.
Consistency in Presentation
This study also confirms the hypothesis that consistency in presentation (in this
case, argumentation) is an important predictor of subgroup success in intragroup
influence situations (Gebhardt & Meyers, 1995; Meyers & Brashers, 1998; Wood et
al., 1994). It especially may be the case that minorities must remain consistent in
order to win. The more consistent the minority subgroup, the less likely were its
members to change their pre- to postdiscussion decision and the less they moved
toward the groups final decision. In short, the greater the consistency in argument, the more subgroup members maintained their original stance and resisted
influence from the majority.
Across winning and losing majorities and minorities, winning minorities were
the most consistent subgroup of all (with a mean consistency index of .90) followed by winning majorities (with a mean consistency index of .62). Losing majority members were the least consistent in their arguments (with a mean consistency index of .00). In each of the seven interactions in which a minority subgroup won (see Table 2, Mr. R., groups 7 & 12; Mr. N., groups 5, 12, & 14; Mr. C.,
groups 2 & 11), the minority was more consistent than the majority in their arguments. Moreover, in each of these groups, the majority had a consistency index
less than .50, and the minority had a consistency index of greater than .60. Thus,
it appears that the minority must sustain a consistent line of argument, and the
majority must be inconsistent for the minority to win.
As an additional test of the impact of argument consistency, we correlated the
index of consistency with measures of opinion change. Across groups, argument
consistency was negatively related to private acceptance. That is, the more consistent group members were in their arguments, the less likely they were to change
from their original position.
For losing subgroups, argument consistency was negatively related to private
acceptance and positively associated with public compliance. Again, consistent
argument was related to decreased pre- to postdecision opinion change and increased discrepancy between the individual and the group outcome. That is, the
more consistent a member of a losing subgroup remained in discussion, the more
likely that s/he would report a final outcome different than the winning subgroups
preferred proposal. Thus, for a losing but argumentatively consistent subgroup
member, any opinion change served as a marker of compromise rather than private acceptance. Put another way, private postdiscussion opinions tended to be
influenced more by the individuals prediscussion opinion that was argued consistently throughout the discussion than by actual influence of the winning subgroup.
For winning subgroups, argument consistency was unrelated to individual opinion change, public compliance, or private acceptance. This was surprising, especially given the substantial correlation between these variables for losing sub22

Majority-Minority Influence

groups. It may be that low variability in opinions expressed by winning subgroups suppressed an effect for argument consistency.
Differential Impact of Majorities and Minorities
Finally, we found no differences in the argument topics produced by majority and
minority subgroups. We think that our measure of argument topics may have been
too simplistic to demonstrate significant differences. Our analysis showed that all
subgroups produced similar argument topicsalbeit some produced them more
frequently than others. Perhaps future research needs to look more closely at how
these argument topics are developed or maintained in discussion, or both. It may
be that subgroups who produce higher quality, developed argument topics will
affect the most change in subgroup members opinions.
Moreover, we found differences in private acceptance and public acceptance
for majority subgroups, but not for minority subgroups. Based on past research,
we expected that losing majorities (minority influence) would be influenced more
to private acceptance than to public compliance. Our data supported that portion
of the hypothesis. We also expected that losing minority subgroups (majority
influence) would be persuaded more to public compliance than private acceptance. The finding of no difference may have been the result of the low power of
that test; however, it is also the case that the means were in the opposite direction
than was predicted by the hypothesis. This latter finding deserves further exploration in subsequent investigations.
Directions for Future Research
Much work still remains if we are to fully understand the communicative nature
and force of minority and majority subgroup argumentation. Future research might
adopt a more receiver-oriented perspective, seeking to understand receivers motivational characteristics (DeDrue & DeVries, 1996; Trost et al., 1992). Kruglanski
and Mackie (1990) speculated that motivational factors determine what information is considered relevant to the judgment of the advocacys validity, what will be
attended to and how it will be processed, and whether the individual will conform
or resist, internalize or merely comply with an advocacy (p. 257).
Or, researchers might focus more on the sender-receiver interact in the argumentative interaction (Clark, 1990; Tindale et al., 1990). Levine and Russo (1995)
suggested that:
group members use of simple vs. complex argument may be influenced by
the type of argument that their opponents use. Members may assume that
opponents are most susceptible to the types of arguments that they themselves employ, which in turn might produce imitation of opponents arguments. (p. 314)

Finally, scholars might examine more carefully the quality of argumentative


messages. Moskowitz (1996) suggested that when messages are of high quality
minorities can exert a positive persuasive impact (p. 58). Garlick and Mongeau
(1993) indicated that the quality of the minoritys arguments may potentially
determine how behavioral consistency is evaluated (p. 303).
23

Journal of Communication, Autumn 2000

Conclusion
Theoretically, this study advances our understanding of influence patterns by examining actual arguments constructed by minority and majority subgroups and
the association of those arguments with final individual and group outcomes. By
analyzing the actual interaction that occurs in group decision-making discussions,
this investigation allows us to move beyond confederates and aggregate groups,
to more fully understand the differences, similarities, and impact of majority and
minority influence as it occurs in actual decision-making interaction. Findings
from this investigation support the idea that minority and majority subgroups
argue differently, and that consistency in argument is a strong predictor of subgroup success.
Pragmatically, results from continued research on the argumentative patterns of
majority and minority subgroups could be used to teach group decision makers
how to create arguments that will be persuasive (a skill that may be particularly
useful for minority subgroups). Simultaneously, such information could help group
decision makers learn how to process minority subgroup arguments, so that social
justice, rather than dominance, prevails in the decision-making situation. Attending to minority subgroups arguments could have many positive results, including
better decision outcomes, more commitment among members, greater cohesion,
and increased learning. Understanding more completely both how to construct,
and how to respond to, quality arguments is inherently important to all group
decision making.
The findings of this study provide a foundation for continued investigation of
the centrality, and importance, of communication to the majority-minority influence process. Theoretically and pragmatically, such efforts are essential to a complete understanding of majority and minority influence in decision-making groups.

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