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Why Societies Need Dissent

Posted: 3 Sep 2003  

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)


This book discusses social influences on individual behavior and the risk of error stemming from conformity. Special attention is given to three phenomena: individual conformity to erroneous positions held by group members; informational and reputational cascades; and group polarization, by which individuals end up in a more extreme position in line with their predeliberation tendencies. Applications include legal precedent; terrorism; the effects of largely unenforced law; jury behavior; judicial behavior on panels; free speech; and affirmative action. New data, discussing how judicial votes are affected by judicial colleagues, attests to the pervasiveness of conformity and group polarization. Taken as a whole, the evidence suggests the importance of individual disclosure and dissent to prevent errors by a wide range of social groups.

Notes: This is a description of the book and not an actual excerpt.

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Why Societies Need Dissent. Sunstein, Cass R., WHY SOCIETIES NEED DISSENT, Harvard University Press, September 2003. Available at SSRN:

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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