Groupthink

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Groupthink is a mode of thought whereby individuals consciously or unconsciously conform to what they perceive to be the consensus of the group. Groupthink may cause the group (typically a committee or large organization) to make bad or irrational decisions which each member might individually consider to be unwise.

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[edit] Origin

The term was coined in 1952 by William H. Whyte in Fortune<ref>William Safire, NYTimes Magazine (August 8 2004)</ref>:

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. <ref>[1]</ref>

Irving Janis, who did extensive work on the subject,

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. <ref>[2]</ref>

The word groupthink was intended to be reminiscent of Newspeak words such as "doublethink" and "duckspeak", from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

[edit] Groupthink

Irving Janis originally studied how groupthink affected the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Vietnam War, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Groupthink, and its related dysfunctional group behavior, the Abilene paradox, wherein groups agree to pursue goals with which the individual members do not agree, continue to fascinate researchers in the field of Social sciences. The reason for this fascination is that these theories appear to explain the observed behavior of individuals and groups in many social contexts. For example, some researchers point to the Bay of Pigs Invasion as the archetype of the groupthink phenomenon. They note that the decision to execute this disastrous military campaign was made with almost unanimous agreement by President John F. Kennedy and his advisors. These advisors were, almost without exception, very similar in background to the President and lacked military command experience. General David M. Shoup, Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time and not part of the group, predicted failure for the invasion, which went forward with disastrous results.

Many other kinds of social organizations, such as businesses, have likewise been cited as examples of "groupthink." While some of this is undoubtedly just an example of revisionist history, or a search for scapegoats to explain past failures, it has nonetheless been observed many times that individuals sometimes produce strikingly better solutions to certain problems than groups of those same individuals do, and that the dissenting lone voice (even within a "groupthinking" organization), is the one that, retrospectively speaking, probably should have been followed. A prime example of this is the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster where an engineer warned the O-ring would fail but was overruled by his peers, although they harboured similar concerns.

It is important to observe that terms such as "groupthink" are generally intended to describe the decision process that resulted in an inferior decision, not to the inferior decision itself nor necessarily to the particular group that made a particular decision. Likewise, the phrase is never used to describe the same decision process if it resulted in glorious success. The term "groupthink" is generally used in a derogatory manner, being generally attached to poor decisions and not to collective successes, and usually post facto.

[edit] Causes and symptoms of groupthink

Janis's "antecedent conditions" likely to encourage groupthink:

  • High stress from external threats with low hope of a better solution than the one offered by the leader(s)
  • High group cohesiveness
  • The persuasive strength of the group's leader

His/Her eight symptoms indicative of groupthink:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability
  2. Unquestioned belief in the inherent morality of the group
  3. Collective rationalization of group's decisions
  4. Shared stereotypes of outgroup, particularly opponents
  5. Self-censorship; members withhold criticisms
  6. Illusion of unanimity (see false consensus effect)
  7. Direct pressure on dissenters to conform
  8. Self-appointed "mindguards" protect the group from negative information

His/Her seven symptoms of a decision affected by groupthink:

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of preferred choice
  4. Failure to re-appraise initially rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selective bias in processing information at hand (see also confirmation bias)
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans

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

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

[edit] Preventing groupthink

One mechanism which management consultants recommend to avoid groupthink is to place responsibility and authority for a decision in the hands of a single person who makes the decision in private and can turn to others for advice. Others advise that a preselected individual take the role of disagreeing with any suggestion presented, thereby making other individuals more likely to present their own ideas and point out flaws in others' and reducing the stigma associated with being the first to take negative stances (see Devil's Advocate).

Anonymous feedback via suggestion box or online chat has been found to be a useful remedy for groupthink. Negative or dissenting views of proposals can be raised without any individual being identifiable by others as having lodged a critique. Thus the social capital of the group is preserved, as all members have plausible deniability that they raised a dissenting point.

Institutional mechanisms such as an inspector general system can also play a role in preventing groupthink as all participants have the option of appealing to an individual outside the decision-making group who has the authority to stop non-constructive or harmful trends.

Another possibility is giving each participant in a group a piece of paper, this is done randomly and without anyone but the receiver being able to read it. Two of the pieces of paper have "dissent" written on them, the others are blank. People have to dissent if the paper says so (like a Devil's Advocate), no-one is able to know if the other person is expressing dissent because they received a pre-marked "dissent" piece of paper or because it's an honest dissent. Also, as with every Devil's Advocate, there exists the possibility that the person adopting this role would think about the problem in a way that they wouldn't have if not under that role, and so promoting creative and critical thought.

Another way which is of special use in very asymmetric relations (as in a classroom) is to say something which is essentially wrong or false, having given (or being obvious that the persons that may be groupthinking know about that) the needed information to realize its inconsistency previously, if at the start of the class the teacher told the students that he would do so and not tell them when he did until the end of the class, they would be stimulated to criticize and "process" information instead of merely assimilating it.

An alternative to groupthink is a formal consensus decision-making process, which works best in a group whose aims are cooperative rather than competitive, where trust is able to build up, and where participants are willing to learn and apply facilitation skills.

[edit] Criticism

Recent research suggests that the observed phenomena are better accounted for by other theories. An excerpt from Professor Robert S. Baron’s 2005 review:

A review of the research and debate regarding Janis's groupthink model leads to the conclusion that after some 30 years of investigation, the evidence has largely failed to support the formulation's more ambitious and controversial predictions, specifically those linking certain antecedent conditions with groupthink phenomena. Moreover, research in the years since the theory's inception indicates that most of the "groupthink" phenomena described by Janis occur in a far wider range of group settings than he originally envisioned. Collectively, these data strongly suggest that Janis erred when identifying the necessary and sufficient antecedent conditions for groupthink. A ubiquity model of groupthink is introduced that specifies a revised set of antecedent conditions to explain why groupthink-like behavior occurs in mundane, temporary, and even minimal groups and yet is not an invariant feature of group decision making.

[edit] Notes

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[edit] References

  • 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. (pp. 219-253). San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.
  • Janis, I. 2nd edition (June 1982). Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-31704-5
  • Janis, I. (1972). Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-14044-7
  • Janis, I. & Mann, L. (1977). Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice and Commitment. New York: The Free Press.
  • Schwartz, John & Wald, Matthew L. Smart People Working Collectively can be Dumber Than the Sum of their Brains: "Groupthink" Is 30 Years Old, and Still Going Strong. New York Times March 9 2003. Full Reprint here.

[edit] See also

asperger's syndrome

[edit] External links

es:Pensamiento de grupo fr:Pensée de groupe nl:Groepsdenken ja:集団思考 no:Gruppetenk pl:Syndrom grupowego myślenia zh:團體迷思

Groupthink

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