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Study: Group Thinking Clouds Clear Decision-Making

People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests.

Scientists exposed study participants to one brand of soft drink, then asked them to think of alternative brands.

Alone, they came up with significantly more products than when they were grouped with two others.

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The finding could be good news for advertisers who buy spots during big events like the Super Bowl, since consumers often view those commercials with others.

The clouded thinking might also extend into corporate boardrooms.

"When a group gets together, they can miss out on good options," study team member H. Shanker Krishnan told LiveScience.

This could mean ordering from a pizza place advertised on television even if there's a better option, or making a poor decision in the boardroom. "Whether it's with family or a group of co-workers, we could very quickly fixate on things and all come up with the same options."

The research appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers speculate that when a group of people receives information, the inclination is to discuss it. The more times one option is said aloud, the harder it is for individuals to recall other options, explained Krishnan, associate professor of marketing at Indiana University.

Another contributing factor is variation in learning and memory styles. People store and retrieve information in myriad ways, so in a group situation, the conversation could cause individuals to think about the cues differently than they would if they were alone.

Krishnan said individuals, whether students, executives or football fans, should take time to consider the facts on their own before coming to a consensus.