Groupthink - Orientation

What is it?
Why should we care about it?
What can we do about it?
What is groupthink?
• groupthink occurs when
a group makes faulty
decisions because
group pressures lead to
a deterioration of
“mental efficiency,
reality testing, and
moral judgment” (Irving
Janis, 1972, p. 9).
Why should we care about
Examples In the Last Fifty Years
Bay of Pigs Fiasco in 1961
US Escalation of the
Vietnam War
Failed Rescue Attempt of
Hostages at US Embassy in Iran
Challenger Disaster
1987 Market Crash
1989 Japanese Stock Market
2000 US Stock Market Bubble
2000 US Stock Market Bubble
Financial Bubbles
US Invasion of Iraq: Groupthink
Predetermined Policy
Decision about Iraq and
Saddam Hussein
• Discount warnings
and do not
reconsider their
assumptions even
as other countries
challenge them
Symptoms of Groupthink
Illusion of invulnerability
Collective rationalization
Belief in inherent morality
Stereotyped views of out-groups
Direct pressure on dissenters
Illusion of unanimity
Self-appointed ‘mindguards’
Illusion of Invulnerability
• Creates excessive
optimism that
encourages taking
extreme risks.
Collective Rationalization
• Members discount
warnings and do not
reconsider their
Belief in Inherent Morality
• Members believe
in the rightness
of their cause
and therefore
ignore the ethical
or moral
consequences of
their decisions.
Stereotyped Views of
• Negative views of
“enemy” make
effective responses
to conflict seem
Direct Pressure on Dissenters
• Members are under
pressure not to
express arguments
against any of the
group’s views.
• Doubts and
deviations from the
perceived group
consensus are not
Illusion of Unanimity
The majority view
and judgments
are assumed to
be unanimous.
Self-appointed ‘mindguards’
• Members protect the
group and the
leader from
information that is
problematic or
contradictory to the
cohesiveness, view,
and/or decisions
Remedies for Groupthink
• The leader should assign the role of critical
evaluator to each member
• The leader should avoid stating preferences
and expectations at the outset
• Each member of the group should routinely
discuss the groups' deliberations with a
trusted associate and report back to the
group on the associate's reactions
More Remedies for Groupthink
• One or more experts should be invited to
each meeting on a staggered basis and
encouraged to challenge views of the
• At least one member should be given the role
of devil's advocate (to question assumptions
and plans)
• The leader should make sure that a sizeable
block of time is set aside to survey warning
Dealing with Dissenters
• pressure not to
express arguments
against any of the
Imminent Danger from
Weapons of Mass Destruction
• selective bias in
information at hand
Limited Examination of Risks
of Actions
• failure to work out
contingency plans
Self-appointed ‘mindguards’?
Janis’ Antecedent Conditions
• very strong group cohesion was the primary
antecedent condition for group think
– normative and informational social influence
should both be very powerful forces.
• complemented by
– group antecedent conditions
– situational antecedent conditions
Group Antecedent Conditions
• the insulation of the group from outside
• the lack of a tradition of impartial
leadership (i.e., directive leadership)
• lack of group norms favoring methodical
search procedures
• homogeneity of member attitude or
Situational Antecedent
• high stress from an external threat,
• group insulation from critics
• low situational member self esteem
– due to recent failure
– de to complexity of the current decision
Symptoms of Groupthink
• overestimation of the in-group (as strong, smart,
invulnerable, morally superior)
• corresponding negative stereotyping regarding the
outgroup (as weak, immoral, vulnerable, stupid,
and wrong)
• close-mindedness (e.g. rationalization of doubt)
• pressures for uniformity (via mindguards, self
censorship, illusion of unanimity)
Defective Decision-making
• inadequate contingency plans for failure
• inadequate information search, biased assessment
of risks, costs, benefits and moral implications
(e.g. inadequate consideration of worst case
• incomplete consideration of the full range of
decision options
• failure to reconsider the extent to which
original/fundamental objectives were served by
the advocated action.
• Experimental failure to verify Janis'
Baron's Ubiquity Model of
• social identification with the collection of
individuals they are among.
– linked by some common purpose, history,
shared fate, or emotional orientation
– Common allegiance and social identity
• self-definition, and self esteem are strongly affected
by one’s social allegiances
– ingroup members share their vested interests,
values, limitations and frames of reference.
Ubiquity Model
• Social identification
– deviance may threaten one’s self categorization
as an in-group member
– use of
• cognitive distortion
• semantic reinterpretation in an effort to minimize
perceptions of social deviance and will
– show drops in self esteem when such cognitive
avoidance is difficult.
Ubiquity Model
• First antecedent
– Social identification
• Second antecedent
– Group interaction and discussion must produce or
reveal an emerging or dominant group norm
• Third antecedent
– low situational self efficacy in which group members
generally lack confidence in their ability to reach
satisfactory resolution of the conundrum facing them
Affect Control Theory
• Institutions are created to reinforce
significant social identities based upon
fundamental shared affective orientations
Fundamental Emotions
What can we do about it?
Knowledge is Power
• Access a variety of media sources from around the
• Think carefully and deeply about actions, policy,
and their underlying assumptions
Think About Underlying
Assumptions and Implications
Challenge Others to Think
• Critical Philosophy
– Death and ostracism as the punishment for
disagreement with the group mind
• Dogmatic Philosophy
– Reinforces the existing order
The Crisis of Our Time
• Our time is similar to the times of Plato
– The end of the Classical period
– The end of the Athenian Empire
• End of a major cycle
– The end of a 200-year philosophy of
competitive individualism
– The end of the American Empire
The Crisis of Our Times
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