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Groupthink

 

Explanations > Theories > Groupthink

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

Groups sometimes fall into a style of thinking where the maintenance of the group’s cohesion and togetherness becomes all-important and results in very bad decision-making.

Janis (1972) defines it as "a way of deliberating that group members use when their desire for unanimity overrides their motivation to assess all available plans of action."

The eight primary symptoms of groupthink are:

  • Illusions of invulnerability where the group think it is invincible and can do no wrong.
  • Collective efforts to rationalize or discount warnings.
  • Unquestioned belief in the moral correctness of the group.
  • Stereotyped views of the out-group, often as too evil, weak or stupid to be worth bothering with.
  • Self-censorship as people decide not to rock the boat.
  • Pressure to conform.
  • A shared illusion of unanimity (everyone always agrees with everyone else).
  • Protecting the group from contrary viewpoints, by self-appointed ‘mind-guards’.

As a result, groups 'suffering' from group think are more likely to:

  • Be dogmatic.
  • Justify irrational oor decisions.
  • See their actions as highly moral.
  • Stereotype outsiders.

Groupthink happens most often when the group is already cohesive, is isolated from conflicting opinions and where the leader is open and directive. The lack of a formal decision process is also common.

Problem-solving and task-oriented groups are particularly susceptible.

Resulting decisions are often based on incomplete information and fail to consider alternatives and risks.

Example

The most famous example of Groupthink is the presidential advisory group who almost led Kennedy into invading Cuba and potential nuclear war in the Bay of Pigs affair.

The Challenger disaster was another effect where NASA officials disregarded engineer’s concerns and decided to launch the shuttle.

For an enjoyable example, watch the movie 'Twelve Angry Men', which is about blind agreement and dissent on a jury.  

So what?

Defending

The leader should avoid being too directive and be vigilant for groupthink effects. External opinions should be taken seriously or even having external people included in meetings. The group should be split into subgroups for reporting back and discussion. Individuals should be privately polled for personal opinions.

See also

Group Locomotion Hypothesis, In-Group Bias, Pluralistic Ignorance

 

References

Janis (1972, 1982), Schafer and Crichlow (1996)

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