Groupthink: Decision-Making Process That Suppresses Dissent

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Groupthink: Decision-Making Process That Suppresses Dissent

Collective decision-making within a group increases the commitment of the people to see the implementation / Photo by imtmphoto via Shutterstock


Group decisions are important in achieving understanding and progress. It is much better if the decision is made collectively, which means all the group members are united and in agreement. Thus, the decision-making process should happen in a proper manner where all the people involved agreed. This ensures the credibility of the decision and it is for sure a well-thought one. 

Collective decision-making within a group also increases the commitment of the people to see the implementation. The information gathered tends to be more comprehensive in nature and offers a greater number of alternatives since it's a group effort. Each member is also given an opportunity to add ideas, thoughts, or efforts to the group activity. Whether it's only a group task or a research project, coming up with decisions in a collective manner will be a great factor in achieving success. 

However, not all groups follow the same dynamic. In some cases, they tend to “groupthink” where a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions. These people tend to disregard some members' ideas or opinions just to follow their own decision. This behavior can, later on, be problematic especially if the group is aiming for a harmonious relationship with one another and a comprehensive outcome of tasks. 

With groupthink, the group will not be able to come up with better results. They will fail to utilize the potential benefits of being in a group and end up performing at a sub-optimal level. Thus, group members should always listen to all of the ideas or thoughts as much as possible. This prevents having a premature decision and instead allows stronger decisions to be made collectively. 

Understanding How Groupthink Works

Psychologist Irving L. Janis was the one who coined the term "groupthink" in the early 1970s. In his book titled "Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes" published in 1972, he defined groupthink as "a psychological drive for consensus at any cost that suppresses dissent and appraisal of alternatives in cohesive decision-making groups." In a groupthink situation, some members of the group refrain from expressing judgments or doubts with the consensus. 

According to an article by the Very Well Family, people in a groupthink situation would mostly end up in that scenario even if they don't want to because they fear that their objections might disrupt the harmony of the decision-making process. They also feel that their ideas or thoughts might be rejected by the other members. Most of the time, this happens because of situational factors and a high degree of cohesiveness. Some of the factors include moral problems, external threats, structural issues, and difficult decisions. 

According to Janis, there are eight different signs that suggest groupthink:

1. Group members tend to be overly optimistic and engage in risk-taking because of illusions of invulnerability

2. Members try not to question the decision of the group, ignoring possible moral problems and consequences.

3. Preventing others from reconsidering their thoughts, which causes them to ignore the warning signs. 

4. Stereotyping within the group, which ignores or even demonizes out-group members who dissent or challenge the ideas of the group.

5. Self-censorship, which causes people to not speak out or open up their doubts.

Poor decision-making and inefficient problem solving are just some of the dangers of groupthink / Photo by Jacob Lund via Shutterstock


6. Some members act as "mindguards," who hide problematic information from the group.

7. Illusions of unanimity that makes the group in agreement.

8. Direct pressure to conform. 

According to an article by the Small Wars Journal, Janis came up with the idea after he synthesized a framework of groupthink causes from decision-making faults and the group psychology of President Kennedy’s Executive Committee (EXCOM) during the Bay of Pigs crisis. From there, he compared it with other national security incidents in the United States, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and Pearl Harbor. 

Based on his analysis, Janis concluded: "I use the term ‘groupthink’ as a quick and easy way to refer to 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." 

Groupthink Cause and Prevention

Poor decision-making and inefficient problem solving are just some of the dangers of groupthink. These are caused by several factors and usually happen when a charismatic and powerful leader commands the group. Groupthink also occurs when the group faces extreme stress or where moral dilemmas exist. 

The groupthink framework of Janis revealed the decision-making errors that mostly lead to it. These include inadequate group survey of objectives to solve the problem, limited alternative courses of action within the group, neglect of courses in the group that are originally rejected, and the selective bias in processing information. 

However, there are several ways to prevent groupthink. For instance, leaders of the group should give each member a chance to voice out their opinion or come up with their own ideas first. It is also better to encourage them to remain critical.




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