Was Clint Eastwood’s performance at the Republican National Convention the result of the “risky shift” that occurs in group behavior? Eastwood’s performance has been described as “weird”, “cringe-inducing”, and “bizarre”. Not surprisingly, no one in the RNC or in Mitt Romney’s inner circle wants to take credit for it.
So, how did it happen? Last week, I wrote about the risky shift in group behavior. When lines of authority are not clear, groups can veer off track, making riskier decisions than any individual in the group would make. This especially occurs in a temporary group where it’s not always clear who the boss is or how decisions should be made. When somebody proposes an action, other members of the group may think, “Well, it’s not what I would do but she seems to know what she’s talking about, so I’ll just go along“. Each member of the group can shift responsibility to the group itself. “Well, it wasn’t my fault. The group made the decision. I’m a team player so I just went along. ” This is why — according to the U.S. Air Force — fliers shot down behind enemy lines have a higher survival rate if they’re alone rather than in a group. A downed flier operating alone tends to make more conservative decisions that lead to more successful outcomes.
I don’t know exactly what happened at the RNC but here are two very plausible scenarios: