Groupthink - Definition
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What is Groupthink?
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon occurring within a cohesive group of individuals wherein the independent and/or critical opinions of individual group members are disregarded in an effort to maintain conformity and unity within the group.
The motive behind such an exercise is to preserve the collective status quo of the group by ensuring that there exists no outside influences and no conflict of opinion within the group.
As such, groupthink suppresses any creative suggestions that may arise from independent and rational thinking as long as they differ from the general consensus. Consequently, such an approach often leads to sub-optimal decisions and irrational actions.
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A Little More on What is Groupthink
The term groupthink was introduced in the November 1971 issue of Psychology Today in an article by Irving Janis, a social psychologist at Yale University.
According to Janis, groupthink is a phenomenon wherein a group makes sub-optimal decisions owing to group social pressures. Janis formulated the following eight symptoms indicative of groupthink:
- Overestimations of the groups power and influence excessive and unjustifiable optimism and a flawed sense of invincibility, often leading to unwarranted risk-taking.
- Unquestioned confidence in the groups morality, leading members to shun responsibility for their actions .
- Rationalization of counterproductive behavior and decisions and an utter disregard for any suggestions that seek to challenge the group's assumptions.
- Collective prejudice against individuals with critical opinions, often stereotyping such individuals as partisan, malicious and incompetent.
- Censorship of ideas or opinions that deviate from the general consensus apparently reached within the group.
- Delusion of unanimity within the group, with silence being equated with agreement and consent.
- Strong-arming members with critical opinions to conform with the groups decisions, often using threats of declaring such members as disloyal.
- Mindguarding a phenomenon wherein certain members of the group take it upon themselves to shield the group from dissenting information.
How to Prevent Groupthink?
Several proposals have been put forward that seek to either prevent groupthink or minimize its risks. These are:
- Allocating sufficient time for a full and thorough discussion of issues and allowing as many group members as possible to share their ideas.
- Introducing multiple channels for dissent in the decision-making process, with the view that encouraging dissent actually reduces the likelihood for occurrence of groupthink.
- Adopting various mechanisms that seek to preserve the accessibility and heterogeneity of a given group.
- Educating the group about common cognitive biases and how to identify them.