is a term coined by psychologist
Irving Janis in 1972
to describe one process by which a group can make bad or irrational decisions. In a groupthink situation, each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what they believe to be the consensus
of the group. This results in a situation in which the group ultimately agrees on an action which each member might normally consider to be unwise. See also: doublethink
Janis's original definition of the term was "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." The term groupthink itself is reminiscent of George Orwell's Newspeak coinages, such as doublethink and duckspeak.
Groupthink tends to occur on committees and in large organizations, and is cited as a contributing factor in the Vietnam War, Bay of Pigs Invasion, and nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
Signs of groupthink include:
- Examining few alternatives
- Not seeking expert opinion
- Being highly selective in gathering information (See confirmation bias)
- An illusion of invulnerability
- Strong belief in group's inherent morality
- Rationalizing poor decisions (See cognitive dissonance)
- Pressure to conform within group; members withold criticisms
- Pressure to protect group from negative views or information
- Overt external or internal pressure to come to a decision
One mechanism which management consultants recommend to avoid groupthink is to place responsibility and authority for a decision in the hands of a single person who can turn to others for advice. Others advise that a pre-selected individual take the role of disagreeing with any suggestion presented, thereby making other individuals more likely to present their own ideas and point out flaws in others' - and reducing the stigma associated with being the first to take negative stances (see Devil's advocate
). Finally, anonymous feedback via suggestion box or online chat
has been found to be a useful remedy for groupthink - negative or dissenting views of proposals can be raised with no individual being seen to do so. Thus the social capital
of the group is preserved, as every member has plausible deniability
that they raised a dissenting point.
An alternative to groupthink is a formal consensus decision making process, which works best in a group whose aims are cooperative rather than competitive, where trust is able to build up, and where participants are willing to learn and apply facilitation skills.
- Janis, Irving. Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972. ISBN 0395140447
- Schwartz, John and Wald, Matthew L. Smart People Working Collectively can be Dumber Than the Sum of their Brains: "Groupthink" Is 30 Years Old, and Still Going Strong. New York Times, March 9, 2003 ( reprinted in http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2003/Smart-People-Dumber9mar03.htm ).