Groupthink

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We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity — an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well. ~ William H. Whyte, Jr.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. A sense of loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the "ingroup" produces an "illusion of invulnerability" (an inflated sense of certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the "ingroup" significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the "outgroup").

Quotes[edit]

I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to 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. ~ Irving Janis
Alphabetized by author
  • Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place.
    • Susan Cain, in "The Rise of the New Groupthink," Opinion section of The New York Times, (online 13 January 2012; in print 15 January 2012).
  • I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to 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. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell used in his dismaying world of 1984. In that context, groupthink takes on an invidious connotation. Exactly such a connotation is intended, since the term refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures.
    • Irving Janis, in "Groupthink", in Psychology Today (November 1971), p. 43.
  • The main principle of groupthink, which I offer in the spirit of Parkinson's Law, is this: The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups.
    • Irving Janis, in "Groupthink", in Psychology Today (November 1971), p. 43.
  • All mass movements, as one might expect, slip with the greatest ease down an inclined plane represented by large numbers. Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true; what the many want must be worth striving for, and necessary, and therefore good.
  • Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.
  • Once, I remember, I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option. I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one's conscience.
    Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it — the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers — felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials. Clearly, too, the public did not regard them as criminals, but rather as upright and conscientious men.
    The idea came to me then, vaguely but unmistakably, that if the primary intention of government was not to abolish crime but merely to monopolize crime, no better device could be found for doing it than the inculcation of precisely this frame of mind in the officials and in the public; for the effect of this was to exempt both from any allegiance to those sanctions of humanity or decency which anyone of either class, acting as an individual, would have felt himself bound to respect — nay, would have wished to respect. This idea was vague at the moment, as I say, and I did not work it out for some years, but I think I never quite lost track of it from that time.
  • The common characteristics of "groupthink" include: an illusion of invulnerability; an unquestioned belief in the group's inherent morality; collective efforts to discount warnings; stereotyped views of the enemy as evil; self-censorship of deviations from group beliefs; a shared illusion of unanimity; suppression of dissent; and the emerge of self-appointed mind-guards who screen the group from dissidents.
    • Connie Peck, in The United Nations As a Dispute Settlement System (1996), p. 32; at the end of this quote Peck is referring to (Janis 1972.1986).
  • It becomes clear that the Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo experiments replicated, in a compressed time, the dynamics of authority and groupthink that play a critical role in our socialization. Asch showed that once the standard is set, people will adopt it and go along with it, even if it is illogical. When the stakes are raised, as they were in Milgram's work, people may struggle with unethical commands, but the majority still obey. And when authorities set parameters but leave the decision-making to the rest of us, we still have a tendency to impose strict control on those we consider deviant. All of these findings affirm the power of culture, socialization, and our widespread fear that we will be judged and punished.
    Since human beings have a desperate need for safety, approval, and belonging (which yields access to group resources), the worst kind of punishment is ostracism. This shunning may be subtle or extreme.
    • Toni Raiten-D'Antonio, in Ugly as Sin : The Truth about How We Look and Finding Freedom from Self-Hatred (2010), Ch. 8 : Difference as Deviance p. 89.
  • Groupthink is characterized by a shared "illusion of invulnerability," an exaggerated belief in the competence of the group, a "shared illusion of unanimity" within the group, and a number of other symptoms
    • Fredric Solomon and Robert Q. Marston in The Medical Implications of Nuclear War (1986), p. 544.
  • Thinking things through is hard work and it sometimes seems safer to follow the crowd. That blind adherence to such group thinking is, in the long run, far more dangerous than independently thinking things through
  • Groupthink being a coinage — and, admittedly, a loaded one — a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity — an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.

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