To Become An Extremist, Hang Around With People You Agree With

CasssunsteinCass Sunstein in The Spectator:

Some years ago, a number of citizens of France were assembled into small groups to exchange views about their president and about the intentions of the United States with respect to foreign aid. Before they started to talk, the participants tended to like their president and to distrust the intentions of the United States. After they talked, some strange things happened. Those who began by liking their president ended up liking their president significantly more. And those who expressed mild distrust toward the United States moved in the direction of far greater distrust. The small groups of French citizens became more extreme. As a result of their discussions, they were more enthusiastic about their leader, and far more sceptical of the United States, than similar people in France who had not been brought together to speak with one another.

This tale reveals a general fact of social life: much of the time groups of people end up thinking and doing things that group members would never think or do on their own. This is true for groups of teenagers, who are willing to run risks that individuals would avoid. It is certainly true for those prone to violence, including terrorists and those who commit genocide. It is true for investors and corporate executives. It is true for government officials, neighbourhood groups, social reformers, political protestors, police officers, student organisations, labour unions and juries. Some of the best and worst developments in social life are a product of group dynamics, in which members of organisations, both small and large, move one another in new directions.