A new song plays on the radio…catchy, nice tune, but sometimes takes a few listens to appreciate it. This in part because we begin to memorize the lyrics. Somehow, as we’re able to sing along, our we gain greater appreciation. As human beings, we are, in a way, hardwired with a preference for information that is processed more easily,or fluently, judging it to be truer or more beautiful. Back to the example of hearing a new song, we gain greater appreciation when it has become familiar because it is more easily processed.
From an organizational perspective, it has been shown that diversity — both inherent (e.g., race, gender) and acquired (experience, cultural background) — is associated with business success (Rock, Grant, & Grey, 2016). In a eye-opening study conducted in 2009 and published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the workings of diverse and homogeneous groups were put into play. Members of various fraternities and sororities (groups that convey a powerful group identity, much like political or religious affiliation) were asked to solve a murder mystery. First, students were individually given 20 minutes to study the clues and pinpoint the likely suspect. Next, they were placed into teams of three with fellow members from the same Greek house and given 20 minutes to discuss the case together and provide a joint answer. Five minutes into the discussion, however, they were joined by a fourth team member, someone from either their own house or another one.
After collectively naming their suspect, members individually rated aspects of the discussion. More diverse groups — those joined by someone from outside their own fraternity or sorority — judged the team interactions to be less effective than did groups joined by insiders. They were also less confident in their final decisions.
Intuitively, this makes sense: On a homogeneous team, people readily understand each other and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive. In this study, however, their judgments were glaringly wrong. Among groups where all three original members didn’t already know the correct answer, adding an outsider versus an insider actually doubled their chance of arriving at the correct solution, from 29% to 60%. The work felt harder, but the outcomes were better. In fact, working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it is harder.
As it relates to multiculturalism, multiculturalism can be a very good thing as it has been shown to increase diversity of ideas, which creates a broader range of solutions to issues, in turn increasing the likelihood that the best solution is found (PSY 533, n.d.). One 2009 study looked at support for multiculturalism versus color blindness in nearly 4,000 employees in 18 work units at a large U.S. health care firm. The more that workers agreed that “employees should recognize and celebrate racial and ethnic differences” and the more they disagreed that “employees should downplay their racial and ethnic differences,” the more that minorities in those units reported feeling engaged in their work (Plaut, Thomas, & Goren, 2009).
The fluency heuristic leads many people to believe that confronting opinions you disagree with might not seem like the quickest path to getting things done, but working in diverse groups reaps an array of benefits. Rather than people glossing over differences among each other for the sake of group harmony, differences should actually be taken seriously and highlighted.
Plaut, V. C., Thomas, K. M., & Goren, M. J. (2009). Is multiculturalism or color blindness better for minorities? Psychological Science, 20(4), 444-446. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02318.x
PSY 533 (n.d.). L12 Multiculturalism. [Online Lecture Notes] Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1896721/pages/l12-multiculturalism?module_item_id=23792061
Rock, D., Grant, H., & Grey, J. (2016, September 22). Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable — and That’s Why They Perform Better. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/09/diverse-teams-feel-less-comfortable-and-thats-why-they-perform-better