Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

In this article, we are going to define the phenomenon of groupthink. We are going to know the main characteristics of group thinking, a concept that tries to explain the errors or biases that we make when we make group decisions.

What is Groupthink?

Do you think you decide better when you are alone or when you are in a group? The researcher Irving Janis observed that when we are in a group we tend to make wrong decisions, and he called this phenomenon group thinking.

Group formation, groupthink and decision-making in them have been widely studied phenomena in social psychology. 

Also, when one is in group he experiences self-loafing, which affects their performance, as well as the group’s performance.

What is a group?

A group is a unit made up of several separate organisms that have a collective perception of their whole, and that can act.

The group usually acts effectively together concerning its environment.

Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

Group polarization

Group polarization is a concept that we need to understand beforehand to understand what group thinking is. This appears in group processes and consists of an accentuation of the initially dominant position due to group discussion.

Myers encountered this phenomenon in a wide range of contexts, such as stereotypes, prosocial and antisocial behaviour, gambling, negotiations, etc.

Janis later spoke of group thinking as an extreme form of group polarization. Let’s see what this new phenomenon consists of.

Group thinking according to Janis

Irving Janis (1972) described group thinking when observing that many groups with similar mentality (for example councils, committees, …), ended up making incorrect or irrational decisions due to belonging to their group. In other words, the members of the groups influenced each other in such a way (rather, their thinking) that they ended up making mistakes in their decisions.

Thus, group thinking appears when, in the decision-making process, a very cohesive or similarly minded group is so conditioned by the search for consensus that its perception of reality deteriorates.

Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

Characteristics

The 5 fundamental characteristics of group thinking are as follows.

1. Illusion of invulnerability

It is the belief shared by group members that nothing bad will happen to them as long as they stay together. It is believed that the group will not fail if it acts together or together.

2. Uniformity pressure

It is the pressure to “be all the same”, which in turn causes four other symptoms:

2.1. Pressure on dissidents

Criticisms directed towards the group or its way of acting are rejected. The greater the cohesion and relevance of the problem, the greater is the rejection of the members of the group towards the non-conforming.

2.2. Self-censorship

Group members do not express their doubts about the group’s decisions.

2.3. Illusion of unanimity

It consists of the tendency to overestimate the degree of agreement that exists between the members of the group.

2.4. The appearance of the Guardians of the Mind

It occurs when group members try to maintain group orthodoxy (group norms) and for this they report possible deviations, trying to protect the group from adverse information.

3. Rationalization

They are the posterior justifications, when it has already been decided, instead of a previous, careful and careful analysis of the problems that affect the group. In other words, the group skips the analysis of the problem and replaces it with justifications resulting from their wishes and motivations (conscious or unconscious).

4. The belief that the group is inherently moral

The members of the group perceive in an exaggerated way that their approaches as a group are moral and upright.

5. Stereotyping of outgroups

There are a homogeneous, uniform and generally pejorative image of the members of the outgroups (the “other” groups). This image includes stereotypical ideas of the behaviour and thinking of outgroup members.

Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

How is group thinking reinforced?

Group thinking is reinforced if a series of conditions are met:

  • That the group is highly cohesive.
  • That you are deprived of other alternative sources of information.
  • That the leader supports a certain option.

Thus, these conditions promote a scenario where group discussions are characterized by attempts to rationalize among all; actions that are consistent with the option are taken, while discordant information is ignored or disqualified.

How is it reduced?

Some of the strategies to reduce group thinking are these.

1. Assign the critical evaluator role to all group members

It is about prioritizing the objections of the group members. The leader will have to be able to withstand criticism.

2. Impartiality of leader

Another strategy is for the leader to maintain an impartial attitude when making decisions or supporting or not certain opinions.

3. Open discussions

It is about promoting open discussions, where all members of the group can speak freely, without pressure or censorship.

Why are groups formed?

Now that we have the definition of group in mind, we can glimpse some of the reasons why they are formed. These can be very diverse.

Sometimes they are formed to achieve a common objective and that otherwise would be much more complicated. But, also, we can join them to satisfy some individual need, because of the need for affiliation or simply because we like the type of activities they carry out or because we share their objectives.

The group formation process can be divided into six phases, at least if we follow Worchel’s cyclical model. Thanks to this model we can observe the group’s formation and development process. Before starting with each of the phases, we must bear in mind that these do not have a certain duration and that we are referring to a circular process. With this in mind, let’s find out what the stages are:

First stage: the period of discontent

In this phase, dissatisfaction with the group is very high since it no longer meets the needs that can be promoted by the low participation in the tasks. This situation ends up triggering individuals to end up leaving it.

Second stage: precipitating event

This phase refers to the fact that it causes the formation of a new group, as well as the abandonment of the previous one.

Third stage: identification with the group

With the origin of the new group, strong barriers are formed against others, we can find public demonstrations of loyalty to the new group, compliance with its rules and some competition concerning the other groups.

Stage Four: Group Productivity

Characterized by fighting for group objectives, even going so far as to cooperate with other groups to achieve them. Besides, equality rules are established.

Fifth stage: individualization

This phase focuses on achieving individual goals, equity is emphasized, the formation of subgroups begins. Also, cooperation with other groups is sought, valuing the option of becoming members of them.

Stage Six: Group Decline

In the sixth stage doubts and mistrust begin with the group, group fear disappears and those members whose abilities are valued by other groups, will end up leaving it to join this group.

Conclusions

In this article, we have defined the phenomena of groupthink. We have discussed the main characteristics of group thinking, a concept that tries to explain the errors or biases that we make when we make group decisions.

Groupthink appears when, in the decision-making process, a very cohesive or similarly minded group is so conditioned by the search for consensus that its perception of reality deteriorates.

Group formation, groupthink and decision-making in them have been widely studied phenomena in social psychology.  A group is a unit made up of several separate organisms that have a collective perception of their whole, and that can act. The group usually acts effectively together concerning its environment.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know.

Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

FAQ on Groupthink

What is the groupthink theory?

Irving Janis described group thinking when observing that many groups with similar mentality (for example councils, committees, …), ended up making incorrect or irrational decisions due to belonging to their group. 

Why is groupthink bad?

Groupthink is considered bad because it can lead to bad decisions. Criticisms directed towards the group or its way of acting are rejected. The greater the cohesion and relevance of the problem, the greater is the rejection of the members of the group towards the non-conforming.

Can groupthink be positive?

Groupthink can be a positive phenomenon if the intentions are positive. Groupthink encourages the belief in others and in a support network. 

What are the 8 symptoms of groupthink?

The 8 symptoms of groupthink according to Irving Janis are: 

  • Invulnerability. 
  • Rationale.
  • Morality
  • Stereotypes.
  • Pressure. 
  • Self-censorship.
  • The illusion of Unanimity and
  • Mind Guards.

What causes groupthink?

There are several causes of groupthink, among them: group leadership, stress, group cohesiveness or overall group isolation. 

Further Reading

Groupthink: A Study in Self Delusion, by Mr Christopher Booker

Groupthink: An Impediment to Success, by Clifton Wilcox 

Victims of groupthink; A psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes, by Irving Janis

Groupthink in Science: Greed, Pathological Altruism, Ideology, Competition, and Culture H, Allen, David M., Howell, James W

Global Warming: A Case Study in Groupthink: How science can shed new light on the most important ‘non-debate’ of our time: Volume 28, by Christopher Booker 

Bibliographic references

Hogg, M. (2010). Social psychology. Vaughan Graham M. Panamericana.

Marin, M. (2012). The social psychology of group processes. Pyramid.

Psychologytoday.com – Groupthink

Mindtools.com – Avoiding Groupthink

Groupthink (what it is & how it influences us?)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.