Groupthink

Groupthink is a suspension of critical thinking that often occurs in groups of people. It is a defensive reaction that preserves group cohesion at the expense of both individual members and group outsiders. Groups may make decisions that individuals would never support, and groups engaged in groupthink are frequently unable to competently evaluate alternative possibilities to the ones prescribed by the group.

Characteristics of Groupthink

Psychologists Irving Lester Janis originally proposed the term groupthink in 1972. He argued that eight traits were characteristic of groupthink:

  1. Denial of vulnerability – group members may not be willing to acknowledge their own fallibility or vulnerability
  2. Rationalization of decisions to minimize objections
  3. Belief in the absolute goodness of the group
  4. Intense dislike of outsiders – stereotyped and misleading portrayals of outside members and those who have left the group
  5. Group protectors – the spontaneous emergence of individual members who protect the group from conflicting information and perceived threats
  6. Strong peer pressure on all group members, particularly those who question group decisions
  7. Censorship of any disagreements within the group
  8. Belief that the group is unanimous and cohesive, even when some members object to the behavior of the group

Examples of Groupthink

Groupthink can occur in a variety of groups ranging from small peer groups to business corporations to entire nations. Groupthink poses a danger when it allows immoral actions to occur. A common everyday example of groupthink is the unwillingness to speak out against unfair practices within a business and the rationalization of such practices from within.

Preventing Groupthink

Groupthink  is more common when a group feels under threat. For example, a corporation that is being sued is more likely to engage in groupthink. It is less likely to occur when each member is encouraged to think critically about the group. To prevent groupthink, members should discuss ideas outside of a group, should carefully consider alternatives to options proposed by the group, and should invite outside experts into a group. Organizations that establish independent groups within the group are less likely to struggle with groupthink, though groupthink may still permeate the independent groups. However, it is less likely to infect the group as a whole in these instances.

References:

  1. Bénabou, R. (2009). Groupthink: Delusions in organizations and markets. Cambridge, MA: NBER.
  2. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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