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Updated 01.31.1999

GROUPTHINK*

Symptoms

Groupthink is a psychological terminology used to describe the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.  It refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures.

The symptoms of groupthink arise when the members of decision-making groups become motivated to avoid being too harsh in their judgments of their leaders' or their colleagues' ideas.  People would adopt a soft line of criticism and avoid conflict, even in their own thinking.  At meetings, all members are amiable and seek complete concurrence, which is likely to be recognized erroneously as consensus, on every important issue. 

The groupthink type of conformity tends to increase as group cohesiveness increases.  Groupthink involves nondeliberate suppression of critical thoughts as a result of internalization of the group's norms.  The more cohesive the group, the greater the inner compulsion on each individual to avoid creating disunity, which inclines him/her to believe in the soundness of whatever proposals are promoted by the leader or by a majority of the group's members.  However, this is not to say that all cohesive groups necessarily suffer from groupthink.  All ingroups may have a mild tendency toward groupthink, displaying from time to time one or another of eight interrelated symptoms.  But it need not be so dominant as to influence the quality of the group's final decision.  The eight groupthink symptoms are:

Pressure:  Victims of groupthink also apply direct pressure to any individual who momentarily expresses doubts about any of the group's shared illusions, or who questions the validity of the arguments supporting a policy alternative favored by the majority.
Self-censorship:  Victims of groupthink avoid deviating from what appears to be group consensus.  They keep silent about their misgivings and even minimize to themselves the importance of their doubts.
Unanimity:  Victims of groupthink share an illusion of unanimity within the group concerning almost all judgments expressed by members who speak in favor of the majority view.  When a group of persons who respect each other's opinions arrives at a unanimous view, each member is likely to feel that the belief must be true.   This reliance on consensual validation within the group tends to replace individual critical thinking and reality testing.
Invulnerability: 
Most or all of the members of the ingroup share an illusion of invulnerability that provides for them some degree of reassurance about obvious dangers and leads them to become over-optimistic and willing to take extraordinary risks. 
Rationale:  No only do victims of groupthink ignore warnings, but they collectively construct rationalizations in order to discount warnings and other forms of negative feedback that, taken seriously, might lead the group to reconsider their assumptions each time they recommit themselves to past decisions.
Morality:  Victims of groupthink believe unquestioningly in the inherent morality of their ingroup.  To the extreme end, this belief could incline the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. 
Stereotypes:  Victims of groupthink hold stereotyped views of the leaders of "enemy groups," that "They are so evil that genuine attempts at negotiating differences with them are unwarranted," or that "They are too weak to too stupid to deal effectively with what ever attempts we makes to defeat their purposes."  Organizations where competing groups co-exist should be cautious about this symptom because the damage of inter-group attack and/or mis-communications can counteract the totality of productivity of all groups.
Mindguards:  Lastly, victims of groupthink sometimes appoint themselves as mindguards to protect the leader and fellow members from adverse information that might break the complacency they shared about the effectiveness and morality of past decisions. 
 

Remedies for Groupthink

 

*Source:   Adapted from
Groupthink, by Irving L. Janis
Published in Psychology Today, Nov. 1971