From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search


Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group.[1] During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.

[edit] Origin

William H. Whyte coined the term in 1952, in Fortune magazine:

Groupthink being a coinage—and, admittedly, a loaded one—a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity—it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity—an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.[2]

Irving Janis, who did extensive work on the subject, defined it as:

A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.[3]

[edit] Causes of groupthink

Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink[clarification needed]. The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions that might break the cohesion. Although Janis sees group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that it will not invariably lead to groupthink: 'It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition' (Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972). According to Janis, group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present:

  • Structural faults in the organization: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Provocative situational context: high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas.

Social psychologist Clark McCauley's three conditions under which groupthink occurs:

  • Directive leadership.
  • Homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis.

[edit] Symptoms of groupthink

To make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms indicative of groupthink (1977).

  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
  6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink, resulting from the symptoms listed above, results in defective decision making. That is, consensus-driven decisions are the result of the following practices of groupthinking:

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of prefered choice
  4. Failure to reevaluate previously rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selection bias in collecting information
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans.

[edit] Groupthink and de-individuation

Cults are also studied by sociologists with regards to groupthink and its effect on deindividuation. The textbook definition states deindividuation as the loss of self-awareness and evaluation apprehension; occurs in group situations that foster anonymity and draw attention away from the individual (Myers, 305)

[edit] Preventing groupthink

According to Irving Janis, decision making groups are not necessarily destined to groupthink. He devised seven ways of preventing groupthink (209-15):

  1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  2. Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  3. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  4. All effective alternatives should be examined.
  5. Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  6. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  7. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil's advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.

By following these guidelines, groupthink can be avoided. After the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco, John F. Kennedy sought to avoid groupthink during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[4] During meetings, he invited outside experts to share their viewpoints, and allowed group members to question them carefully. He also encouraged group members to discuss possible solutions with trusted members within their separate departments, and he even divided the group up into various sub-groups, to partially break the group cohesion. JFK was deliberately absent from the meetings, so as to avoid pressing his own opinion. Ultimately, the Cuban missile crisis was resolved peacefully, thanks in part to these measures.

[edit] Recent developments and critiques

In 2001, Ahlfinger and Esser described the difficulties of testing Janis' antecedants, specifically those related to government groups, stating in abstract:

"Two hypotheses derived from groupthink theory were tested in a laboratory study which included measures of the full range of symptoms of groupthink, symptoms of a poor decision process, and decision quality. The hypothesis that groups whose leaders promoted their own preferred solutions would be more likely to fall victim to groupthink than groups with nonpromotional leaders received partial support. Groups with promotional leaders produced more symptoms of groupthink, discussed fewer facts, and reached a decision more quickly than groups with nonpromotional leaders. The hypothesis that groups composed of members who were predisposed to conform would be more likely to fall victim to groupthink than groups whose members were not predisposed to conform received no support. It is suggested that groupthink research is hampered by measurement problems."[5][6]

After ending their study, they stated that better methods of testing Janis' symptoms were needed.

In a broad 2005 survey of post-Janis research Robert S. Baron contends that the connection between certain antecedents Janis believed necessary have not been demonstrated, and that groupthink is more ubiquitous and it's symptoms are "far more widespread" than Janis envisioned. Baron' premise is "that Janis’s probing and insightful analysis of historical decision-making was correct about the symptoms of groupthink and their relationship to such outcomes as the suppression of dissent, polarization of attitude and poor decision quality and yet wrong about the antecedent conditions he specified...not only are these conditions not necessary to provoke the symptoms of groupthink, but that they often will not even amplify such symptoms given the high likelihood that such symptoms will develop in the complete absence of intense cohesion, crisis, group insulation, etc." As an alternative to Janis' model, Baron presents a "strong ubiquity" model for Groupthink:

"...the ubiquity model represents more a revision of Janis’s model than a repudiation. The social identification variable modifies Janis’s emphasis on intense-high status group cohesion as an antecedent condition for groupthink. Similarly, low self efficacy amplifies Janis’s prior consideration of this factor. The one major shift is that the ubiquity model assumes that when combined, social identification, salient norms and low self efficacy are both necessary and sufficient to evoke “groupthink reactions.” Such reactions include Janis’s array of defective decision processes as well as suppressed dissent, selective focus on shared viewpoints, polarization of attitude and action and heightened confidence in such polarized views. Note that such elevated confidence will often evoke the feelings of in-group moral superiority and invulnerability alluded to by Janis."[7]

Baron says in conclusion that the pervasiveness of “groupthink phenomena” has been underestimated by prior theoretical accounts.[8][9]

We're all afloat in a boundless sea, and the way we cope is by massing together in groups and pretending in unison that the situation is other than it is. We reinforce the illusion for each other. That's what a society really is, a little band of humanity huddled together against the specter of a pitch black sea. Everyone is treading water to keep their heads above the surface even though they have no reason to believe that the life they're preserving is better than the alternative they're avoiding. It's just that one is known and one is not. Fear of the unknown is what keeps everyone busily treading water. All fear is fear of the unknown. If someone in such a group of water-treaders betrays the group lie by speaking the truth of their situation, that person is called a heretic, and society reserves its most awful punishments for heretics. If someone decides to stop struggling and just sink or float away, every possible effort is made to stop him, not for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the group. To deny at all costs the truth of the situation.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^
  2. ^ Safire, William (August 8, 2004). "Groupthink". New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-11-02. "If the committee's other conclusions are as outdated as its etymology, we're all in trouble. Groupthink (one word, no hyphen) was the title of an article in Fortune magazine in March 1952 by William H. Whyte Jr. Groupthink is becoming a national philosophy, he wrote. Groupthink being a coinage -- and, admittedly, a loaded one -- a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity -- it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity -- an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well. Whyte derided the notion he argued was held by a trained elite of Washington's social engineers." 
  3. ^ Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972, page 9.
  4. ^ Janis, Irving L. Ibid., page 148-149.
  5. ^ Richardson Ahlfinger, Noni, and James K. Esser. "Testing the Groupthink Model: Effects of Promotional Leadership and Conformity Predisposition." Social Behavior and Personality (2001). 31-42.
  6. ^ Esser, James K.; Richardson Ahlfinger, N. (2001-02-01). "Testing the groupthink model: Effects of promotional leadership and conformity predisposition". Social Behavior and Personality: an International Journal (Scientific Journal Publishers Ltd.) 29 (1): 31–41. doi:10.2224/sbp.2001.29.1.31. Retrieved on 2008-05-29. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Baron, R. S. (2005). So Right It's Wrong: Groupthink and the Ubiquitous Nature of Polarized Group Decision Making. In Zanna, Mark P (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 37. (219-253). San Diego. Elsevier Academic Press.
  9. ^,M1

[edit] Bibliography

  • Amidon, M. (2005). Groupthink, politics and the decision to attempt the Son Tay rescue. Parameters US Army War College Quarterly, Autumn 2005, pp. 119-131.
  • Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, and Richard P. Appelbaum. Essentials of Sociology. New York. W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
  • McCauley, Clark. "The Nature of Social Influence in Groupthink: Compliance and Internalization." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 57-2 (1989). 250-260.
  • Schafer, M. and Crichlow, S. (1996). Antecedents of groupthink: a quantitative study. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 415-435.
  • Vaughan, Diane. The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. Chicago. University of and Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Whyte, G. (1989). Groupthink reconsidered. The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), pp. 40-56.
Personal tools