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Groupthink is a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.  Groupthink occurs when a homogenous highly cohesive group is so concerned with maintaining unanimity that they fail to evaluate all their alternatives and options. Groupthink members see themselves as part of an in-group working against an outgroup opposed to their goals.


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8 Main Symptoms of GroupThink
  1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Members ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic.


  2. Collective Rationalization: Members discredit and explain away warning contrary to group thinking.


  3. Illusion of Morality: Members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions.


  4. Excessive Stereotyping: The group constructs negative stereotypes of rivals outside the group.


  5. Pressure for Conformity: Members pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group's stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.


  6. Self-Censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.


  7. Illusion of Unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group's decision; silence is seen as consent.


  8. Mindguards: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.


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Negative Outcomes of GroupThink

A few negative aspects of GroupThink with respect to the group decision making are:

  • Examining few alternatives
  • Not being critical of each other's ideas
  • Not examining early alternatives
  • Not seeking expert opinion
  • Being highly selective in gathering information
  • Not having contingency plans

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How to Prevent GroupThink

Group leaders can prevent groupthink by:

--Encouraging members to raise objections and concerns;

--Refraining from stating their preferences at the onset of the group's activities;

--Allowing the group to be independently evaluated by a separate group with a different leader;

--Splitting the group into sub-groups, each with different chairpersons, to separately generate alternatives, then bringing the sub-groups together to hammer out differences;

--Allowing group members to get feedback on the group's decisions from their own constituents;

--Seeking input from experts outside the group;

--Assigning one or more members to play the role of the devil's advocate;

--Requiring the group to develop multiple scenarios of events upon which they are acting, and contingencies for each scenario; and

--Calling a meeting after a decision consensus is reached in which all group members are expected to critically review the decision before final approval is given.

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How GroupThink can be Remedied

Decision experts have determined that groupthink may be prevented by adopting some of the following measures:

--The leader should assign the role of critical evaluator to each member

--The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset

--Each member of the group should routinely discuss the groups' deliberations with a trusted associate and report back to the group on the associate's reactions

--One or more experts should be invited to each meeting on a staggered basis.  The outside experts should be encouraged to challenge views of the members.

--At least one articulate and knowledgeable member should be given the role of devil's advocate (to question assumptions and plans)

--The leader should make sure that a sizeable block of time is set aside to survey warning signals from rivals; leader and group construct alternative scenarios of rivals' intentions.

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Famous Examples of GroupThink

--The Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961): Poor assumptions, planning, then abandonment of the troops. The Kennedy Cabinet during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In Schlessinger's, A Thousand Days: Silent at the White House during the Bay of Pigs, RFK was quoted as approaching Schlesinger and saying: "You may be right or wrong, but the president has made up his mind. Don't push it any further. Now is the time to help him all we can." Schlesinger stopped his usual role as devil's advocate and critic and began to sanction his own challenges.

--The Challenger Disaster (1986): Administrators under time pressure ignored engineer's concerns about failure of the O-rings months before take-off in part due to recent bad press and the need to make NASA's efforts appear more timely.  See Data from the disaster


--Nazi Germany

--Blame Canada!!  See the Video Here (QuickTime Required. Download HERE)

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This activity will be conducted in class.

Your group will have three minutes to create paper airplanes.

The group that follows the instructions the best will receive a fabulous prize.

No Questions will be allowed

You may design any type of plane you wish

All of your group's planes must look identical

One point will be awarded for each plane constructed.

You will be asked to fly one of your planes

One point will be awarded for each foot it flies along a straight runway.

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Discussion questions:

  1. How did you decide what type of plane to make?
  2. How did you decide how the planes would be made?
  3. Who made the decisions?
  4. Who offered suggestions?
  5. What type of credibility about building planes did those offering input have?
  6. How were leaders selected?
  7. Who did not participate in the decision-making process? Why?
  8. What criteria did your team use in deciding what kind of plane to build and how to build them?

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As per Dr. Conlee's instructions, post these questions on your Group Discussion Board.

1.  What are some of the symptoms of GroupThink?

2.  Have you ever been in a group where GroupThink was prevalent?

3.  How did the group leader/members deal with it?

4.  Is GroupThink is always a bad thing?

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Felipe Cobarruvias    David Del Mundo    

Ernie Garcia             Josh Mack




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