Sunday, October 11, 2009

Groupthink. A good thing or a bad thing? (5th entry)

The cartoon illustration above gives you an idea as to what group think refers to. Irving Jarvis defines groupthink as "a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action"

The URL above is a link to an article which lists the 8 symptoms of groupthink.
They are basically:
1) Illusion of invulnerability
2) Believe in group's own morality
3) Shared stereotypes
4) Collective rationalisation
5) Self censorship
6) Illusion of unanimity
7) Pressure on dissenters
8) Mind-guards

There are loads of examples and situations where groupthink exists.

The link above provides a few examples of groupthink. I think the thing that is most interesting about this particular write up is that the author seemed to equate groupthink to intellectual laziness. While I do not think that groupthink can ALWAYS be equated to intellectualy laziness, it definitely does hold some truth when one is talking about groupthink in terms of everyday life in the social context. The write-up talks about a mini experiment carried out to prove the existence of groupthink.

"The experiment is very simple. A group of 10 college students were recruited to perform a taste test on a new yogurt. They were asked to determine the new flavor of this yogurt. However, unknown to the test subject, 9 of the 10 students are part of the experiment. They were told to repeat a predetermined response when asked about the taste. Only the one test subject was the actual unknown. When given the yogurt to taste, each was asked to give their impressions. The test subject was to go last.
The yogurt given was strawberry flavored (but not made known to the test subject).

After hearing the responses of the other 9 subjects claiming to taste vanilla instead of Strawberry, the test subject in 8 out of 10 cases went with the majority and said he tasted vanilla instead of saying it is strawberry. When repeated with many subjects, only about 20% of the subjects stuck to their guns."

In these sort of scenarios, groupthink does show a sense of intellectual laziness, but the effects of adhering to group think is generally harmless. However, there are instances when groupthink can prove to be very harmful and dangerous. One of these instances would be when religious extremists adhere to the groupthink phenomenon. Take Islamic terrorists as an example. The illusion of invulnerability makes them fearless and the belief in the group's own morallity, their shared stereotypes and their collective rationalisation not only makes them feel more bonded, but it also somewhat validates their views and the actions that they feel are necessary in order to support their cause. In other words, it only servers to encourage the use of violence to get their message across.

Groupthink does not always have to necessarily have to be considered a bad thing. However, the members of the group have to be open to alternative decisions and raviews and they should always be aware of the spymptoms of groupthink, and there should always be a devil's advocate in order to provide alternatives perspectives for the group.


  1. Hello Alicia! The experiment was really refreshing! It actually showed how one can actually self censor oneself and keep doutbs or true opinions to oneself in a group. Perhaps, group pressure plays a part here as well.

    Groupthink does play a crucial role in terrorist groups. The structure of their groups apart from assigned roles which might be task or maintainance, results in members developing symptoms such as illusion of invulnerability and the strong belief in group's mentality. These are dangers for groups especially for terrorist groups where their motives are not at all beneficial for the general public.
    Thus it is important to highlight to he public the issue of groupthink to prevent any similar disaster such as the space shuttle disaster.

  2. hello alicia!

    just HAD to read ur interesting blog again! :)
    wow u actually related this to terrorist groups and space shuttle disasters after ur elaboration of an example using YOGHURT. WOW.
    hahahah.. indeed impressive!
    i have to agree with the illusion of invulnerability. ppl think there's strength in numbers... i say NAY! a group full of idiots or uncooperative ppl are nth compared to just one smart induvidual!
    alicia hasd brought up a lot of valid points such as the need for someone to play the devil's advocate.. so trueee.. a real group is not one in which everybody agrees to that one same point. there must be objective voices within the group for TRUE discussion to begin. if everybody just agrees to someone's points, no real thinking skills are being used such as questioning and logical reasoning.
    then the whole purpose of group discussion is pointless and in fact the matter becomes worse as they become falsely confident that their points and views are the best since they have fellow groupmates who agree.. and we humans tend to believe in safety in numbers..
    we are more cautious when we go it alone and we may doubt ourselves along the way thus probably thinking more induvidually than in a group.

    but groupwork is essential to true progress or finding real answers if ONLY there are objective voices in the group. group unity is indeed impt but it does nto mean that everyone has to agree from the start!
    s let ur voices be heard ppl!
    dun be a square and stay quiet!
    let it out!
    and inspire real discussion!

  3. also thought this was cute! :D

    Official Project Stages:

    1. Uncritical Acceptance
    2. Wild Enthusiasm
    3. Dejected Disillusionment
    4. Total Confusion
    5. Search for the Guilty
    6. Punishment of the Innocent
    7. Promotion of the Non-participants


  4. Hey alicia,
    interesting post and examples. but you might want to list down examples of situations in which you think groupthink is not intellectual laziness. That will balance the article out a bit.



  5. I would say that it's all about peer pressure and societal expectations. Most Singaporeans conform rather than attempt to beat the system! It's because of our Asian culture and nanny state behaviour that brings this out I suppose. Interesting study though!!

  6. hehehehehehe this is so true in so many places, societies and countries... it reminds me of ice age where the dodo birds all follow the leader and jump off the cliff after the coconut(?). or how in babe all the sheep follow. or how in 'drive me crasy' chase the guy character keeps playing pranks in school to stop the whole sheep herding mentality. i would love to say that i'm strong minded and stick to my guns but we all fall along with people's impressions somtimes or another :/ hehe but i love the fact that you brought this up:) you should write more on it :)how come some people are not prone to it and others are.. whether there is a particualr society that encourages strong mindedness or not.... heheheheheh nice topic for discussion :)

  7. Well, this reinforces the strength of having a large number of people with one person leading the head. When i read the article, i start thinking of instances whereby bullies recruit members whom have no mind of their own and start intimidating the weak for their fancies. Once the head bully is taken down, the rest of the guys just run away.

    Normally i would say that a groupthink situation wouldn't hurt anybody. But what if this is exactly what happens in a company situation? Are important decisions of everyday life just up to the boss to decide, and the rest to follow? How about instances when the superiors have a louder voice, such as in the army? This is when groupthink can become severely dangerous. It is not uncommon to come across people who will go along with the leader's decision just for a promotion or simply to get in his/her good books.

    I guess the main thing i want people to ask themselves is that what if all these decisions affect more than your own promotion, or other's impression of yourself? Sometimes its up to you to make a stand towards decisions for the better good, maybe even one better for the company. After all, maybe we're just one of the guys following the big bully.

  8. no doubt a lot of times groupthink is portrayed to be bad i do not necessarily think that it is always really depends on the varied situations for each individual.

  9. terminator is SO SPOT ON and ADO!
    LOL at the ice age dodo bird comment!!!
    but really terminators comment is really insightful.. not uncommon for us to make decisions based on our own face value or for our own good instead of wats truly right?
    how many of us can actually do wats right generally instead of wats just right for us alone..
    cos i admit esp on the ARMY bit (F%$&) that i do follow the big bully

  10. guys!thanks so much for your comments!
    and for putting so much though into it!
    termin8r! army is a sensitive topic for ravin!
    douGH and kassana you guys are absolutely right!

  11. indeed, everything has its pros and cons. it's just how we actually strike a balance dear!