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Having a Voice in Your Group: Field Experiments on Behavioral and Attitudinal Changes

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One of the founding assumptions of social psychology is that groups influence human behavior—in particular, that an attempt to change a person’s behavior will fail in the long run if it does not involve her group. There has been enormous research interest in how groups motivate behavior change, but debates exist about the types of group structures that motivate change, and causal evidence with real world groups is rare. I conduct two field experiments in different contexts and with different populations to test the influence of increasing the participatory nature of groups over long-term behavior and attitudes. Study 1 experiments with 65 work group (1,792 workers) in a multinational factory in China. Study 2 experiments with 32 staff groups (172 workers) in an elite university in the US. In each experiment, half of the groups were randomly assigned to a 20-minute participatory meeting once per week for six weeks, in which workers were invited to speak and supervisors mandated to listen. The other half of the groups continued with status quo meetings. Participatory meetings led to a 10.6% increase in treatment factory workers’ productivity, which endured for 9 weeks after the experiment. I found that the frequency of voice within the group, rather than information or goals, drove the behavioral change. The treatment also led workers to be less authoritarian and more critical about societal authority and justice, and more willing to participate in political, social, and familial decision-making. Results in study 2 replicated such findings. This research highlights the power of participatory group dynamics in changing behavior and generalized attitudes across different contexts, both for theoretical understanding and pragmatic intervention in behavioral and attitudinal change toward social institutions and hierarchy.

Dr Sherry Wu is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at UCLA Anderson School of Management

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This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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