Groupthink

Article byKhalid Ahmed
Edited byprarthana Khot
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Groupthink Definition 

Groupthink or herd mentality refers to maintaining uniformity and cohesiveness in thoughts and action by every group member due to in-group pressures. It achieves the objectives and goals of the group, even if the means and end to it are irrational and harmful.

Groupthink
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Groupthink arises in a group to defend their common belief or faith from external interferences. It also safeguards common cultural heritage without any logical reasoning or critical thinking. A strong leader is the root cause of the masses’ belief in a particular ideology. People often conform to it to avoid conflict and struggles within a group. However, it destroys individual rational thinking and morality.

Key Takeaways

  • Groupthink refers to a force within a group that makes its members think of a common goal and action to promote cohesiveness, irrespective of the outcome and moral considerations.
  • Its primary causes are extreme group cohesiveness, popular and rigid leadership, and judgment stress.
  • It has many noticeable symptoms like- excessive confidence, blind faith in leaders, fake unity, professing self-censorship, in-group pressure, stereotyping, lack of morals, and lack of logic.
  • One can avoid it by employing critical assessment, forming autonomous sub-groups, having a healthy discussion with a confidante, taking expert help, and planting devil’s advocate.

Groupthink Theory Explained 

Groupthink is defined as a degradation of mental efficiency, the ability to distinguish good from bad, right & wrong, and objectivity to differentiate reality from the falsity of group members to maintain group cohesiveness. People tend to abide by the phenomenon of making consensus amongst themselves, overriding realistic assessment of outcomes and other means and actions.

American sociologist William H. Whyte Jr. gets the credit for groupthink, based on the novel named 1984 by George Orwell. One can say that groupthink is a naturally occurring psychological phenomenon in every human being.

Man, a social animal, tends to form groups and work to achieve a common goal. It can get attributed to the evolution where humans were weak, and other animals were powerful enough to kill them. Therefore, humans have learned that staying in groups is necessary to defeat attacks from wild animals and stay safe. Hence, the intrinsic nature of groupism developed to achieve the common good through consensus.

The consensus, later on, was deeply studied by researchers through various real-life incidents, after which the term groupthink was formed. Currently, social media has taken groupism to the next level. As a result, groupism has broken all barriers in every society, including houses, schools, colleges, universities, and offices.

People form groups based on common language, interests, likes, hobbies, political thoughts, and religion. All these groups and its member follow their groups to save unity and cohesiveness. Hence, groupism has badly affected the independent thought process of every individual who cannot think constructively, creatively, and critically to do morally right things. Therefore, they become blind followers of groups and participate in antihuman and anti-social activities without reason or logical thinking.

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Examples

Let us study some real-life incidents that serve as the best groupthink examples to help us understand the topic.

Example #1

The best example of groupthink is the Iraq war led by U.S. President George W. Bush Jr. on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction. Any agency did not prove that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Yet, the then United States president invaded Iraq as per groupthink.

The invasion of Iraq proved to be a disaster for the Iraqi people and the US military, which suffered huge casualties. The result was that Iraq got stabilized, and America had to suffer economic burdens and military casualties. Hence, groupthink did not allow objectivity and facts to prevail over false alarms of WMD.

Example #2

Another popular example is the Vietnam war. US administration under the newly elected US President L. B. Johnson fell prey to groupthink. He was made to believe by a group of senior government officials that control of communism in Vietnam would be detrimental to American interests.

Therefore, by 1964, groupthink had clouded his judgments, and he decided to send the American military despite opposition from the public and other officials. As a result, in 1973 US-Vietnam war took place, leading to huge losses of lives on both sides and a humiliating defeat to the American military.

Causes 

With a high degree of group cohesiveness, more conformation with its goal becomes the norm for its members. Hence, the difference between individual opinion and dissension dies, leading to groupthink bias.

It could be due to many causes in group members’ attitudes or leadership styles. However, psychology groupthink researchers discovered some well-known causes. They are the following:

#1 – Group Separation 

In most cases, those groups that become completely isolated from the outside world fall prey to this phenomenon. It is due to the lack of any criticism by any outsider that the group tends to slip towards groupism.

Popular and rigid leadership plays an important role in promoting such groupism through controlled discussions in favor of their opinions or views. In short, it stops members from expressing their opinions to thwart groupism.

#3 – Judgment Stress

If a group does not allow its members to make an appropriate decision per their own needs and beliefs, it pushes the group into groupism. It happens because a short period can not produce good decisions. As a result, the members feel obliged to obey the group’s collective decisions instead of individual decisions.

Groupthink Symptoms

There are certain symptoms associated with groupism, as mentioned below:

  • Excessive Confidence: Members show excessive confidence to the point where they forget that they are humans and can be defeated. As a result, they undertake unnecessary risks.
  • Blind Faith In Leaders: Associates show the blindest faith in their leaders that they get ready to sacrifice anything for the group’s sake on its leader’s call. They blindly follow their leaders even if they are wrong and immoral.
  • Fake Unity: Team members get a fake feeling of unity amongst themselves that they consider decisions made by them are correct and good for all.
  • Profess Self-Censorship: Group members hide their beliefs and thinking from the outside world by becoming a team’s self-censoring members.
  • In-Group Pressure: The group members apply undue pressure on non-complying members to suppress the thought of the group members who would otherwise revolt against them.
  • Stereotyping: Every member of such a group has a certain stereotypical image regarding their enemies and the outside world.
  • Lack Of Morals: Members often lack morals and believe in the upliftment and progress of the group and its member. As a result, they do not hesitate to undertake the route of violence or bully the enemies and individuals of other groups.
  • Lack Of Logic: The most important trait of such a special group is that all the members have zero logic in their words, opinions, and actions.

How To Avoid? 

Irvin Janis, a professor at Yale University, got to see the dangerous nature of groupthink. Hence, he proposed a slew of measures to be taken to avoid the phenomenon as below:

  • Each team member must become a critical evaluator.
  • Leaders shall abstain from expressing their views the majority of the time.
  • The group must do all team meetings without group leaders to avoid influencing the outcome of the meeting.
  • People must create many independent sub-groups to think and act on a particular problem.
  • Every member must discuss the issues with any of their trusted aides outside of the group
  • One must call experts into the group meetings to take their views 
  • Every group must have a devil’s advocate 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the common results of groupthink?

A common result of groupthink is that the group members modify their views to match the group consensus. It avoids any friction within the group and brings absolute homogeneity in the thoughts and actions of every group member. However, it may not mean their views or actions are justified or rational.

How to prevent groupthink ideology?

One could follow the below steps to avoid groupthink:
– All ideas need to be evaluated critically and rationally. 
– The group leader must first take input on a task from the group member and then declare their ideas on it.
– One should form smaller sub-groups to encourage free thinking and then club them all to make the best decision.
– The leader must invite an outsider to put his ideas across the group and discuss the group’s ideology.

Which of the following is not a symptom of groupthink?

Amongst the following options –
– Illusions of vulnerability
– Belief in inherent group morality,
– Applying direct pressure on deviants,
– Self-censorship by members
Only the illusions of vulnerability in groupthink are correct.

This article has been a guide to Groupthink and its meaning. Here, we explain its causes, examples, symptoms, and ways to avoid it. You can also go through our recommended articles on corporate finance –

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