Group dynamics and decision making: backcountry recreationists in avalanche terrain
Bright, Leslie Shay
MetadataShow full item record
The purpose of this study was to describe and determine the prevalence of decision-making characteristics of recreational backcountry groups when making a decision of where to travel and ride in avalanche terrain from the perspective of individuals. Decision-making characteristics encompassed communication, decision-making processes, leadership, and group factors, including groupthink and bounded awareness. Additionally, the study sought information on decision outcomes and group attributes and explored relationships among the characteristics, outcomes, and attributes. As little empirical findings existed, this study sought to provide foundational knowledge regarding the dynamics and decision making of winter recreational backcountry groups traveling in avalanche terrain. This study utilized quantitative, cross-sectional survey research and a newly developed instrument. Participants were asked to complete the instrument online and reflect on one 2009-2010 backcountry outing in which they traveled with at least one other person in avalanche terrain. The study included 524 respondents with approximately 70% reporting an outing that occurred in Colorado. Scale scores were determined for communication, decision-making processes, groupthink, bounded awareness, and decision outcomes. The Cronbach's alphas ranged from .41 to .80. With Spearman's correlation coefficient, positive, significant relationships were found between each of the five decision-making characteristics and between the characteristics and decision outcomes. Associations between leadership and the other decision-making characteristics and decision outcomes ranged from .09 to .22. The associations between group decision outcomes and the decision-making characteristics ranged from .16 to .45, and the correlations between communication, decision-making processes, groupthink, and bounded awareness ranged from .59 to .78. Relationships were found between particular group attributes and the characteristics and outcomes. Notably, communication worsened and groupthink increased as groups got larger, and as respondents spent more days per season in avalanche terrain they reported their groups to have more thorough decision-making processes. The findings provide support for a variety of the suggested group behaviors presented in the literature as well as new insights on group dynamics and decision making. This study contributes to the avalanche hazard evaluation literature and educational resources and could positively impact the safety of those traveling in avalanche terrain.