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Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. During Groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight. This article does not cite any references or sources. ...



The term was coined in 1952 by William H. Whyte in Fortune: William Hollingsworth Holly Whyte (1917- January 12, 1999) was an American sociologist, journalist, and peoplewatcher. ...

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.

Irving Janis, who did extensive work on the subject: Irving L. Janis (1918-1990) was a research psychologist at Yale University and a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley most famous for his theory of groupthink which described the systematic errors made by groups when taking collective decisions. ...

A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. [1]

The word groupthink was intended to be reminiscent of Newspeak words such as "doublethink" and "duckspeak", from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwells novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. ... Doublethink is an integral concept in George Orwells dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, and is the act of holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously, fervently believing both. ... In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, duckspeak is a Newspeak term meaning literally to quack like a duck. ... This article is about the Orwell novel. ...

Causes of groupthink

Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink. The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions to break the cohesion. Although Janis sees group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that it will not invariably lead to groupthink: 'It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition' (Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972). According to Janis, (a) group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present: (b) Structural faults in the organisation: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members' social backround and ideology. (c) Provocative situational context: high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas.

Social psychologist Clark McCauley's three conditions under which groupthink occurs: Clark Richard McCauley is an American psychologist. ...

  • Directive leadership.
  • Homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis.

Symptoms of groupthink

In order to make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink (1977).

  1. A feeling of invulnerability creates excessive optimism and encourages risk taking.
  2. Discounting warnings that might challenge assumptions.
  3. An unquestioned belief in the group’s morality, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyped views of enemy leaders.
  5. Pressure to conform experienced by members of the group who might otherwise disagree.
  6. Shutting down of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. An illusion of unanimity with regards to going along with the group.
  8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting opinions.

Classic cases of groupthink

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Please see the discussion on the talk page.

Two classical cases studies by sociologists and psychologists are NASA prior to the Challenger disaster and the presidential cabinet during crisis periods. Both of these cases were government organization under extremely high stress, with direct leadership, a situation some theorists have stated contributes to groupthink. NASA actually funded sociologists in the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster to examine how the groups failed in preventing the disaster (Giddens 114-15). Image File history File links Unbalanced_scales. ... The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an agency of the United States government, responsible for the nations public space program. ... Space Shuttle Challenger (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099) was NASAs second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service. ...

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (1986)

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster is a classic case of groupthink. The Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986 (Vaughan 33). The launch had been originally scheduled for January 22, but a series of problems pushed back the launch date. Scientists and engineers throughout NASA were eager to get the mission underway.[2] The day before the launch an engineer brought up a concern about the o-rings in the booster rockets. The iconic image of Space Shuttle Challengers smoke plume after its breakup 73 seconds after launch. ... The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an agency of the United States government, responsible for the nations public space program. ... Typical O-ring and application An O-ring is a loop of elastomer with a round (o-shaped) cross-section used as a mechanical seal. ... The Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) is the rocket that provides 83% of liftoff thrust for the Space Shuttle. ...

Several conference calls were held to discuss the problem and the decision to go ahead with the launch was agreed upon. The group involved in making the Challenger decision exhibited several of the symptoms of groupthink. They ignored warnings that contradicted the group’s goal. The goal was to get the launch off as soon as possible. They also suffered from a feeling of invulnerability, and therefore failed to completely examine the risks of their decision. Another factor that had suppressed the few engineers who were "going against the grain" and "sounding the alarm" was that all eyes were on NASA not to delay the launch and that Congress was seeking to earmark large funding to NASA given the large amount of publicity on the Teacher in Space program. These misjudgments led to the tragic loss of several astronauts, and a huge black mark on the space shuttle's (then) near perfect safety record. Type Bicameral Houses Senate House of Representatives President of the Senate President pro tempore Dick Cheney, (R) since January 20, 2001 Robert C. Byrd, (D) since January 4, 2007 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, (D) since January 4, 2007 Members 535 plus 4 Delegates and 1 Resident Commissioner Political... Logo of the Teacher in Space Project The Teacher in Space Project (TISP) was a NASA program designed to educate students and spur excitement in math, science, and space exploration. ...

Bay of Pigs invasion (1959-1962)

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Another closely-studied case of groupthink is the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion [3]. The main idea of the Bay of Pigs invasion was to train a group of Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and spark a revolution against Fidel Castro’s communist regime. Image File history File links Circle-question. ... Combatants Cubans trained by Soviet advisers Cuban exiles trained by the United States Commanders Fidel Castro José Ramón Fernández Ernesto Che Guevara Francisco Ciutat de Miguel Grayston Lynch Pepe San Roman Erneido Oliva Strength 51,000 1,500 Casualties various estimates; over 1,600 dead (Triay p. ... Map showing the location of the Bay of Pigs. ... Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (born on August 13, 1926) is the current President of Cuba but on indefinite medical hiatus. ...

The plan was fatally flawed from the beginning, but none of President Kennedy’s top advisers spoke out against the plan.[citation needed] Kennedy’s advisers also had the main characteristics of groupthink; they had all been educated in the country's top universities, causing them to become a very cohesive group. They were also all afraid of speaking out against the plan, because they did not want to upset the president. The President's brother, Robert Kennedy, took on the role of a "mind guard", telling dissenters that it was a waste of their time, because the President had already made up his mind.[4] For other uses, see President of the United States (disambiguation). ... John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), also referred to as John F. Kennedy, Kennedy, John Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, or JFK, was the thirty-fifth President of the United States. ... Robert Kennedy Robert Francis Bobby Kennedy, also called RFK (November 20, 1925–June 6, 1968) was the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, and was appointed by his brother as Attorney General for his administration. ...

Preventing groupthink

According to Irving Janis, decision making groups are not necessarily doomed to groupthink. He also claims that there are several ways to prevent it. Janis devised seven ways of preventing groupthink (209-15):

  1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  2. Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  3. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  4. All effective alternatives should be examined.
  5. Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  6. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  7. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil's advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.

By following these guidelines, groupthink can be avoided. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, John F. Kennedy sought to avoid groupthink during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[5] During meetings, he invited outside experts to share their viewpoints, and allowed group members to question them carefully. He also encouraged group members to discuss possible solutions with trusted members within their separate departments, and he even divided the group up into various sub-groups, in order to partially break the group cohesion. JFK was deliberately absent from the meetings, so as to avoid pressing his own opinion. Ultimately, the Cuban missile crisis was resolved peacefully, thanks in part to these measures. In common parlance, a devils advocate is someone who takes a position for the sake of argument. ... The Cuban Missile Crisis was the military confrontation, between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba when the Cold War threatened to become a nuclear war. ...


Robert S. Baron and "Dieter" contend that recent investigation and testing has not been able to defend the connection between certain antecedents with groupthink. [6] This may simply be due to the fact that the groupthink theory is very difficult to test in a lab situation using a scientific method. Alfinger and Esser also came to the same conclusion.[7] After ending their study, they stated that better methods of testing Janis' symptoms were needed. It is impossible to create in labs the same conditions under which important government groups work. It is impossible to create the same levels of stress and pressure experienced by high level government officials, with the future of the entire nation hanging in the balance. Baron also contends that the groupthink model applies to a far wider range of groups than Janis originally concluded. This remains to be tested. Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. ...


  1. ^ Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972, page 9.
  2. ^ Feynman, Richard P. Feynman's Appendix to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident: Personal Observations on the Reliability of the Shuttle. Retrieved on 2007-04-28.
  3. ^ Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, and Richard P. Appelbaum. Essentials of Sociology. New York. W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Page 109.
  4. ^ Janis, Irving L. Ibid., page 41.
  5. ^ Janis, Irving L. Ibid., page 148-149.
  6. ^ Baron, R. S. (2005). So Right It's Wrong: Groupthink and the Ubiquitous Nature of Polarized Group Decision Making. In Zanna, Mark P (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 37. (219-253). San Diego. Elsevier Academic Press.
  7. ^ Richardson Ahlfinger, Noni, and James K. Esser. "Testing the Groupthink Model: Effects of Promotional Leadership and Conformity Predisposition." Social Behavior and Personality (2001). 31-42.

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  • Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, and Richard P. Appelbaum. Essentials of Sociology. New York. W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
  • McCauley, Clark. "The Nature of Social Influence in Groupthink: Compliance and Internalization." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 57 (1987). 250-260.
  • Vaughan, Diane. The Challenger Launch Decison: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1996.

See also

The Abilene paradox is a paradox in which the limits of a particular situation force a group of people to act in a way that is directly the opposite of their actual preferences. ... The bandwagon effect is the observation that people often do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. ... The term collective behavior was first used by Robert E. Park, and employed definitively by Herbert Blumer, to refer to social processes and events which do not reflect existing social structure (laws, conventions, and institutions), but which emerge in a spontaneous way. ... The French social theorist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) used the term collective consciousness in his The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), Suicide (1897), and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). ... Collective effervescence (CE) is a perceived energy formed by a gathering of people as might be experienced at a sporting event, a carnival, or a riot. ... It has been suggested that symbiotic intelligence be merged into this article or section. ... Communal reinforcement is a social phenomenon in which a concept or idea is repeatedly asserted in a community, regardless of whether sufficient empirical evidence has been presented to support it. ... This article is about the psychological concept of conformity. ... Crowd psychology is a branch of social psychology. ... Group behaviour in sociology refers to the situations where people interact inside small groups, for example to reach or not a consensus and act in a coordinated way. ... Group polarization effects have been demonstrated to exaggerate the inclinations of group members after a discussion. ... Group-serving bias is identical to self-serving bias except that it takes place between groups rather than individuals, under which group members make dispositional attributions for their groups successes and situational attributions for group failures, and vice versa for outsider groups. ... Haragei (Japanese: 腹芸, literally: belly art, or belly performance) is a Japanese word referring to the art of exuding ones personal energy, ki (Chinese qi) primarily from the hara, at base of the abdomen, three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel. ... Herd behaviour is the term used to describe situations in which the individuals of any particular group react coherently. ... Informational cascade is a situation in which every subsequent actor, based on the observations of others, makes the same choice independent of his/her private signal. ... Look up keep up with the Joneses in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Ochlocracy (Greek: οχλοκρατια; Latin: ochlocratia) is government by mob or a disorganized mass of people. ... Pack Journalism is an often derogatory term used to describe the tendency of news reporting to become homogeneous when a group of reporters covering the same topic are required to spend large amounts of time together. ... Peer pressure comprises a set of group dynamics whereby a group in which one feels comfortable may override personal habits, individual moral inhibitions or idiosyncratic desires to impose a group norm of attitudes and/or behaviors. ... The risky shift is a concept in social psychology. ... Sheeple is a term of disparagement, a portmanteau created by combining the words sheep and people; a reference to herd mentality. ... Social comparison theory (Festinger 1954) is the idea that individuals learn about and assess themselves by comparison with other people. ... The spiral of silence is a political science and mass communication theory propounded by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. ... System justification refers to a social psychological tendency to defend and bolster the status quo, that is, to see it as good, fair, legitimate, and desirable. ... This article or section should be merged with teamwork In order to work successfully within a team, it is important to become a team player. ... The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, first published in 2004, is a book written by James Surowiecki about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than... James Surowiecki James Michael Surowiecki (b. ...

External links

  • "What is groupthink?", Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Groupthink Vaccine Project [1].



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