David G. Myers is the John Dirk Werkman Professor of Psychology at Hope College and author of psychology textbooks and of The Pursuit of Happiness among other books. In a discussion on group polarization, he describes the simple theory that opinion segregation plus conversation equals polarization. It’s interesting to think of this theory in terms of tech blogs, as sites like BlackBerryCool are exactly that: opinion segregation. This theory explains why sites such as this are great for brands, but actually terrible places for meaningful discussion as it polarizes opinion.
The background to this theory is based on social psychologists examining whether or not group interaction would increase risk or caution. The results of various studies concluded unanimously that group interaction tends to amplify people’s initial inclinations.
“This group polarization phenomenon was repeatedly confirmed. In one study, relatively prejudiced and unprejudiced students were grouped separately and asked to respond – before and after discussion – to racial dilemmas, such as a conflict over property rights versus open housing. Discussion with like-minded peers increased the attitude gap between the high- and low-prejudiced groups.”
Sound familiar? When you create a website around one specific topic or brand, you’re creating an insular community that drinks the Kool-Aid together and insulates itself against outside opinions. This has been particularly fervent in the BlackBerry community as talk about the company going out of business has led to a community feeling like it has to fight back and outsiders feeling emboldened by their opinions in light of it becoming increasingly mainstream.
The Internet will always be a diverse place filled with sites that range from the totally bias, to unbias and somewhere in between. The point being that sites that focus on a single product will be a great place for brands, as it will become a hotbed for turning out “fanboys”, but in terms of open, well-balanced dialogue, these sites are never going to become somewhere worth visiting. It’s simply not human nature.