What is groupthink and what effect does it have on decision making?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. We tend to hang on to our old friends and beliefs and hang out with people with similar worldviews as our own. Even though fraternizing with like-minded people makes us feel good because it reinforces what we already believe in, it also makes us fall into a "groupthink" trap. Groupthink stops us from seeing our faults and shortcomings because our views are always reconfirmed by our group, so we aren't always compelled to change them.

    Groupthink is when people agree with each other to maintain the status quo. The concept has been defined by Yale social psychologist Irving Janis as "a mode of thinking that people engage in when the members' striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action" [source: Griffin]. Janis has pointed to several leadership decisions throughout history, such as President Truman's invasion of Korea, President Nixon's Watergate break-in, President Kennedy's Bay of Pigs invasion and more recently, NASA's decisions regarding the 1986 space shuttle Challenger's launch despite warnings about potential disaster. Irving has said that the people who were involved in these decisions were not bad leaders or stupid. Instead, they participated in groupthink.

    Groupthink has surfaced in experiments when there were four or more people involved in a decision-making process. Sometimes, these groups strive so hard agree that they simply don't think of exploring alternative solutions to the issues and problems they're addressing. Researchers have found that in larger groups, some people tend to underperform and let others handle the bulk of the decision load. In practical terms, this means groupthink can hit you where you live and work. Groupthink has been found detrimental to organizations' management, for example [source: Choi]. And when organizations pressure dissenters so that they won't speak out or rock the boat, they're likely stuck in groupthink that could prove damaging. Quieting dissenters and presenting an illusion of agreement are two symptoms of groupthink [source: Griffin]. Including members who have diverse viewpoints or asking leaders to withhold their views until the end of the decision-making process can help combat groupthink.

    Some researchers say that groupthink isn't all bad [source: Choi]. Sometimes, seeking concurrence might promote a group's performance. Let's say you're a young band just starting out: Wouldn't it be better if you all really got behind your latest song instead of looking for alternative ways to play it -- or worse, following one member's suggestion that you switch songs two nights before your first gig?

    For the most part, however, groupthink can leave people stranded in the status quo. You don't have to trade in your old friends or work colleagues for new ones just to reach new ways of thinking, however. You can simply add new people with different backgrounds and perspectives than you to your group. Widening your circle helps you meet other great people, and learn and adopt ideas that might be good for you.

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