Academic journal article Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences

GSS Anonymity Effects on Small Group Behavior

Academic journal article Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences

GSS Anonymity Effects on Small Group Behavior

Article excerpt


The study of Group Support Systems (GSS) as an aid to group decision-making in organizations is important to organizational researchers for practical and scientific reasons (DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987; Huber et al., 1993). GSS are a promising vehicle for better managing groups. When meeting as a group, group members bring with them external status characteristics, which are derived from their formal position within an organization's hierarchy, personal reputation, community or social status (age, sex, or race) (Berger et al., 1972). Some common problems experienced by decision-making groups include the extreme influence exerted by high-status members, the lack of acknowledgment of low-status members' ideas, and a low tolerance exhibited toward minority or controversial opinions (DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987). Group members with low external status characteristics have difficulty achieving influence over group decisions (Ridgeway, 1982). Some group members are often reluctant to contribute, because of their shyness, low status, and/or the controversial ideas being discussed (DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987).

In a GSS environment, anonymity plays an important role in enabling group members to better participate, making group meetings more productive (see for a review, Valacich et al., 1992a). The conceptual framework of GSS anonymity (Valacich et al., 1992a) defines anonymity as the extent to which group members' contributions are identifiable to the other group members or to others outside the group.

The theoretical model of GSS (Dennis et al,, 1988) describes several variables that affect group process and outcome, among them are GSS anonymity and group member status. The purpose of this research was to study how the anonymity component of a GSS and group member status interact to influence group productivity and group member satisfaction.


Many researchers studied GSS anonymity. Much of this research suggests the effects of GSS anonymity are positive (see, for example, Beauclair, 1987; Connolly et al., 1990; DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987; Jessup, 1989; Nunamaker et al., 1987; Nunamaker et al., 1988; Valacich et al., 1992a). Anonymity is believed to create an environment in which group members participate equally, vote their conscience, and participate more often than they might in a non-computerized environment where their contributions are more easily identified. With the anonymity component of a GSS, the fear of embarrassment, social disapproval, and the sanction of an ill-received remark may be greatly reduced. Anonymity thus enables group members to speak freely and contribute ideas openly and honestly without fear of direct reprisals, especially when participants feel concerned about their personal or professional security. In addition, anonymity promotes the honest, objective evaluation of contributions based solely on the merits of ideas and not authors. Consequently, participants should generate and better evaluate more ideas, and make better decisions.

Conversely, a fair amount of research on GSS anonymity suggests that the effects of anonymity may be negative (see, for example, DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987; Jessup, 1989; Jessup et al., 1990b; Nunamaker et al., 1988). Anonymity may enable participants to be overly caustic in their evaluations of others, and more blunt and assertive in their comments, which may heighten conflict within the group. Anonymity may afford a group member an opportunity to hide, masking the individual's effort or lack of effort. As a result, participants may loaf and let others do the work. In addition, anonymity may filter out some communication and cause some political information often obtained in meetings to be lost.

An explanation for these differing arguments can be seen when one compares the results of laboratory experiments of GSS anonymity with field studies. The results from laboratory experiments of GSS anonymity are mixed. …

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