Groupthink makes the mind stink.

Posted on September 26, 2015

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Irving Janis, author of Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, has defined group think as,

the deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures. (p.9)

There are several common characteristics that emerge from groupthink:

  1. The Illusion of Invulnerability. Group members collectively believe they are invincible, thus creating excessive optimism that encourages the taking of extreme risks.
  2. Collective Rationalization. Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. The Tendency to Moralize / Stereotyped Views of Out-Groups. Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. Opposition to the group’s position is viewed as weak, evil, or unintelligent.
  4. Feeling/Illusion of Unanimity. While members may have reservations, rather than appearing weak, they keep dissenting views to themselves. This indicates how the pressure toward group solidarity can distort the judgment of individual members. The majority view and judgments are therefore assumed to be unanimous.
  5. Pressure to Conform / Self-Censorship. Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed because divergent views are discouraged.
  6. Self-Appointed “mindguards.” Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

In other words, “groupthink makes the mind stink.”

Solution:

  1. Encourage the group to state objections and doubts.
  2. Leaders should avoid taking sides or (prematurely) endorsing a particular course of action.
  3. Break the group into subgroups to work on the same problem and then share the proposed solutions with the group.
  4. Invite in outside experts to give feedback on group processes and proposed solutions.
  5. Assign a group member to play “devil’s advocate” sot hat important objections are raised.