What is Groupthink?

Groupthink is a psychological theory that involves the idea of humans in groups conforming to an idea without having the facts. It is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives.

Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people. This desire creates a dynamic within a group whereby creativity and individuality tend to be stifled in order to avoid conflict.

In a business setting, groupthink can cause employees and supervisors to overlook potential problems in the pursuit of consensus thinking. Because individual critical thinking is de-emphasized or frowned upon, employees may self-censor and not suggest alternatives for fear of upsetting the status quo.

Some organizations have no clear rules upon which to make decisions. Groupthink occurs when a party ignores logical alternatives and makes irrational decisions.

Yale University social psychologist Irving Janis coined the term groupthink in 1972. Janis theorized that groups of intelligent people sometimes make the worst possible decisions based on several factors.

The eight traits of groupthink

The social psychologist identified eight signs, symptoms, or traits of groupthink, all of which lead to flawed conclusions. In summary, the group may have an illusion of invincibility and consider that nothing the group decides to do can go wrong.

  • Direct pressure: Groupthink divides groups into two camps: the in-group and the out-group. The in-group is in agreement with a decision, while the out-group raises questions or disagrees. The in-group can pressure the out-group to conform to groupthink or risk members viewing them as dissenters or disloyal.
  • The illusion of invulnerability: Lack of questioning or alternate opinions makes in-group team members feel overconfident, leading to greater risk-taking when making decisions.
  • The illusion of unanimity: Group members view the lack of questions regarding their decisions as a sign that everyone in the group agrees with them. The sense of a unified front makes it harder for others to present a dissenting opinion.
  • “Mindguards”: Individual members act as self-appointed gatekeepers, shielding the group leader and other members from different opinions. They keep out any outside influence that might negatively impact group identity.
  • Rationalizing: Groupthink encourages group members to dismiss any outside information, especially warnings or criticisms. Paying attention to this information might make them think deeper about or reconsider their opinions.
  • Self-censorship: Victims of groupthink will repress any ideas or opinions that put them at odds with the group. They may even come to doubt their thoughts and beliefs.
  • Stereotyping: In-group members may argue with and verbally abuse out-group members for their dissenting opinions. Negative biases, which paint them as ignorant, weak-willed, or morally corrupt, may also be part of stereotyping.
  • Unquestioned belief: Illusions of invulnerability, combined with the in-group’s unwavering belief in their own moral and ethical correctness, can lead to defective decision-making. It also causes group members to disregard any consequences for their actions.
See also  Robbers Cave Experiment
Groupthink’s Impact

Collectively, these behaviors may make members of a group be excessively optimistic about their success, ignoring any possible negative outcomes. Members are convinced their cause is right and just, so they ignore any moral quandaries of the group’s decisions.

The group body tends to ignore the suggestions of anyone outside the group.

Dissidents are pressured to come to a consensus. After applying the pressure, the members censor themselves to avoid further rejections and the group assumes the decisions made unanimously.

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