Boundless Sociology: "6.5: Group Dynamics: Groupthink"

This short reading explains the nature of groupthink as a deterrent to participatory decision making in groups.

Groupthink

In groupthink, each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what he or she believes is the consensus of the group.

LEARNING OBJECTIVE

  • Explain why groupthink occurs and how it can be minimized


KEY POINTS

    • "Groupthink" is a term coined by Yale research psychologist Irving Janis.
    • Groupthink describes a process by which a group can make poor or irrational decisions.
    • Groupthink tends to occur on committees and in large organizations.

TERMS

  • consensus

    A process of decision making that seeks widespread agreement among group members.

  • groupthink

    A process of reasoning or decision making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to a perceived majority view.

EXAMPLE

    • Groupthink occurs in both everyday and extraordinary circumstances. Even in group projects for school, individual members are disinclined to speak up against the group's consensus, creating a situation in which the final product is something no group member prefers. When group think happens in levels of high management, disasters can occur, such as the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. In 1986, the American spacecraft blew apart 73 seconds into its flight, resulting in the deaths of its astronauts. NASA management had been divided about whether or not to proceed with the launch when they discovered that the temperatures on the morning of the launch were low enough to emperil the spacecraft, but management decided to proceed. Ultimately, the group decided to go through with the launch, despite individual concerns, with disastrous consequences.

FULL TEXT

"Groupthink" is a term coined by Yale research psychologist Irving Janis to describe a process by which a group can make poor or irrational decisions.

In a groupthink situation, each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group. While this may seem like a rational approach to decision making, it can result in the group ultimately agreeing upon an action that each member individually might consider to be unwise.

Janis originally defined the term 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. " The word "groupthink" was intended to be reminiscent of George Orwell's coinages in his novel, 1984, from the fictional language Newspeak, such as "doublethink" and "duckspeak. "

Groupthink tends to occur on committees and in large organizations, and Janis originally studied the groupthink phenomena in historical cases, such as the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Vietnam War, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Managing Groupthink

Management consultants often recommend putting in place a variety of mechanisms to minimize groupthink. One common method is to place responsibility and authority for a decision in the hands of a single person who can turn to others for advice. Another mechanism is to pre-select an individual to take the role of disagreeing with any suggestion presented. This makes other individuals more likely to present their own ideas and point out flaws in others and reduces the stigma associated with being the first to take negative stances.

Anonymous feedback via a suggestion box or online chat has also 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. In this way, group solidarity is preserved, as all members have plausible deniability that they raised a dissenting point.

Last modified: Monday, October 14, 2019, 3:33 PM