On Vision Studies and Evaluation Apprehension

This week’s book learning is from Quiet by Susan Cain and is part of a series on “Brainstorming and Peer Pressure”. (Part 1, 2)

Between the years 1951-56, psychologist Solomon Ashe conducted a series of experiments on “group influence.”

Student volunteers in a group were subjected to a straight forward vision test. 3 lines of varying lengths were shown and they were asked to indicate the longest and shortest lines. 95% answered correctly.
However, when Ashe planted actors in the group who confidently gave the same incorrect answer, the correct answers plunged to 25%.

This was staggering. 75% of the participants went along with the group’s wrong answer to at least 1 question despite the answer being painfully obvious.

Are groups really that detrimental to performance? Two separate studies seemed to indicate as much –
– During the 1988-89 basketball season, two NCAA basketball teams played 11 games without spectators owing to a measles outbreak leading to schools banning spectators. The players played much better on every measurable statistic, even when compared to their performance in front of adoring home fans.
– Participants who were tested on anagram puzzles performed much worse when someone was watching.

So, audiences may be rousing, but they are incredibly stressful.


Sketch by EB

This “evaluation apprehension” is one of the big reasons group brainstorming doesn’t result in creative ideas!

But, Ashe’s experiment took the question a step further – what exactly happened to the students when the actors started giving wrong answers? Did they consciously answer to “fit in?” Coming up next week..

Here’s to minimizing evaluation apprehension on critical tasks this week!