The Problem of Normative Influence
A disadvantage of working in a small group, such as a classroom, is normative influence. Normative influence, defined by Kaplan and Wilke (2001) as the “influence to conform to the expectations of others” (p. 410), is a considerable barrier to creativity within small groups, including classrooms. Normative influence deters the free expression of ideas by individual group members, such as when the latter are reluctant to propose ideas because of the perception that these ideas run counter to those of higher status members (Tan, Wei, Watson, & Walczuch, 1998) or because of the fear that their contributions will be devalued or rejected when evaluated by others (Klein, 2003; Klein & Dologite, 2000). Idea generation, problem solving, and other interactions in small groups frequently result in the exertion of normative influence by some group members on others. Normative influence hinders the equal participation of all group members, constraining the creativity of lower status, junior, shy, or female members. For example, shy group members are frequently inhibited by other group members (Utz, 2000), thereby participating less in group discussion and thus generating fewer creative ideas along with fewer creative solutions.
In classrooms, from elementary to graduate schools, the reluctance of shy students to express themselves and make creative contributions during class discussions, “where the loudest and boldest often hold sway” (Sullivan, 1998, p. 3), leads to uneven participation and consequently to uneven creative idea generation. This point was well made by Hacohen (2000) in describing the philosopher Karl Popper’s “(in)famous” seminar at the London School of Economics: “[T]he atmosphere did not encourage free debate. Insecure or timid students found it difficult to contribute …” (p. 527). Not only will shy students tend to participate less, but also they may be subject to conformance pressures (LaForge, 1999). In fact, some teenage students “worry excessively about conformity and being accepted” (Shyness Centre, 8). This article suggests that shy students will participate less and will not contribute creative or controversial ideas because they are subject to the normative influence of dominant group members.
This disparity in participation rates of non-shy and shy students is in addition to a persistent gender gap, whereby girls have lower rates of participation across the entire curriculum (American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 1998; see also Fredericksen, 2000). According to Benbunan-Fich and Hiltz (2002): “Studies of gender inequity in traditional face-to-face classes tend to indicate that class participation is male dominated … However, with asynchronous computer-mediated communication [CMC], the tendency is toward more equal participation” (p. 3).