Structuring Conflict in Individual, Face‐to‐Face, and Computer‐Mediated Group Decision Making: Carping Versus Objective Devil's Advocacy

Joseph S Valacich, Charles Schwenk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Researchers and practitioners have long been interested in the effects of cognitive conflict techniques on individual and group decision making. One widely used and studied technique, devil's advocacy (DA), has been found to enhance decision‐making performance for both individuals and groups. Devil's advocacy begins with a recommended decision, followed by a critique of the decision that questions its assumptions. Researchers have not yet examined the effects of the objectivity of the devil's advocacy comments in computer‐mediated environments. This paper reports the results of a laboratory experiment that focused on this question by comparing the effects of an objective, nonemotional DA to an emotional, “carping” DA within individuals and groups using either computer‐mediated or face‐to‐face communication. In a manner consistent with prior research, both DA treatments were operationalized through the use of paper‐based consulting reports. The results suggest that individuals and computer‐mediated groups develop and consider more solution alternatives than face‐to‐face groups, and that subjects given the objective DA treatment produce higher quality decisions than those given the carping DA treatment. Face‐to‐face groups in the carping DA treatment considered the fewest alternative solutions in their decision‐making process, reached the lowest solution quality, yet reached decision consensus in the fewest voting rounds. The practical implications of the results suggest that questioning statements made by a devil's advocate should be objective, regardless of group communication condition. Carping devil's advocacy appears to stifle group decision outcomes when groups are using face‐to‐face communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-393
Number of pages25
JournalDecision Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1995


  • Experimental Design
  • Group Decision Support Systems
  • and MIS/DSS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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