Cognitive interference

Cognitive interference occurs when the ideas generated by other participants interfere with an individual’s own idea generation activities (Pinsonneault & Barki, 1999; Straus, 1996). Cognitive interference may be due to the need to attend to ideas presented by others as they appear (e. g. , in verbal brainstorming, a spoken idea disappears as soon as it is uttered so a missed idea is a lost idea).

Cognitive interference may also be due to the content of the ideas contributed by others because ideas from others serve to stimulate cognitive activity in one area while limiting the flexibility of idea production (Nijstad, Diehl & Stroebe, this volume); that is, brainstorming may suffer from cognitive inertia by focusing idea generation on only one aspect of the overall task (Dennis & Valacich, 1993; Pinsonneault & Barki, 1999).

The effect of cognitive inertia is strengthened by social influence processes and social convergence (Festinger, 1954; Larey & Paulus, 1999). When there is not a strong performance incentive, they tend to converge at the level of the least productive members (Camacho & Paulus, 1995; Larey & Paulus, 1995; Paulus & Dzindolet, 1993). Process losses in verbal brainstorming groups due to cognitive interference should increase with group size, because more people are contributing more ideas which increase potential interference.

Electronic brainstorming is less susceptible to cognitive interference because ideas are stored in the system as they are contributed so participants need not attend to them as they arrive, but instead can generate ideas as they choose and only interrupt their individual idea generation process when they desire the stimulation from other’s ideas. While electronic brainstorming may still suffer from cognitive inertia, the ability to provide for — or to intentionally induce — multiple simultaneous dialogues or threads of conversation means that it is quite unusual for groups to focus on one narrow set of ideas (Dennis et al., 1997; Dennis, Valacich, Connolly, & Wynne, 1996).

In other words, EBS allow group members to carry on multiple, potentially unrelated conversations concurrently. Group members are thus free to choose when and if they participate in each conversation stream. The ability of EBS to structure and direct participants’ cognitive focus may be one of its most powerful contributions. Communication speed is another potential process loss that is found in EBS and to some extent in nominal group brainstorming. Communication speed is influenced by the need to type or write rather than speak.

For most people, speaking is faster than typing or writing (Williams & Karau, 1991) so the need to type may inhibit idea generation by slowing down communication (Nunamaker et al. , 1991). To date, no studies have examined this potential process loss of GSS in detail. It should be noted that in prior studies, sometimes members of nominal groups have written their ideas, sometime they have typed their ideas, and sometimes they have spoken their ideas. Members of EBS groups can either type or speak their ideas, although in practice all research studies have required participants to type their ideas.

Summary of GSS Advantages Group support systems have several advantages over traditional group communication processes. While traditional group communication processes support serial communication, where each participant speaks in turn, GSS allows simultaneous entry into group communication. Any or all participants can enter the conversation simultaneously without queuing for their turn to speak. Another unique feature of group support systems is the support of groups that are not co-located geographically or temporally.

Although the original GSS were room-based, the rise of the net-enabled organization and the Internet has enabled the formation of groups that were not conceivable thirty years ago. GSS enable groups to form and operate without ever experiencing face-to-face communication. These so-called “virtual teams” (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997) have been the focus of extensive research (for a review of recent work see Saunders, 2000). Additionally, GSS avoid the communication problems associated with peer evaluation (Camacho & Paulus, 1995) by allowing anonymous involvement of participants.

With anonymous participation, group members are able to evaluate communication without regard to the source. Another benefit is that GSS support parallelism or multiple simultaneous communication processes. This eliminates the competition for speaking time that burdens interactive groups (Diehl & Stroebe, 1991). Because GSS are enabled by networked computers they support the automatic storage of all communications. All communications that occur during the group session are automatically recorded by the computer for later review and analysis.

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