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Title: Groupthink

  • Neil Ferguson

Irving Janis
  • Irving L Janis (26 May 1918 - 15 November 1990)
    was a research psychologist at Yale University
    and a professor emeritus at the University of
    California, Berkeley
  • Janis, I. L. (1982) Groupthink. Boston Houghton

Madness is the exception in the individual but
the rule in groups (Nietzsche)
  • Groupthink describes a decision making process,
    where the group members go along with what they
    believe is the consensus. Groupthink causes
    groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where
    individual doubts are set aside, for fear of
    upsetting the groups balance

Therapy Meeting
  • Groupthink refers to the deterioration of
  • Mental efficiency
  • Reality testing
  • Moral reasoning
  • As a result of in-group pressures to conform and
    maintain the group relationship

Seven Major Decision Making Defects Resulting
from Groupthink
  • The groups discussions are limited to a few
    alternative courses of action (usually two)
    without a survey of the full range of
  • The group does not survey the objectives to be
    fulfilled and the values implicated by the
  • The group fails to re-examine the course of
    action initially preferred by the majority of
    members from the standpoint of non-obvious risks
    and drawbacks that have not been considered
  • The members neglect courses of action initially
    evaluated as unsatisfactory by the majority of
    the group. They spend little or no time
    discussing whether there have overlooked
    non-obvious gains or whether there are ways of
    reducing the seemingly prohibitive costs that
    made the alternatives undesirable.
  • The members make little or no attempt to obtain
    information from experts who can supply sound
    estimates of losses and gains to be expected from
    alternative courses of action.
  • Selective bias is shown in the way the group
    reacts to factual information and relevant
    judgments from experts, the mass media and
    outside critics. The members show interest in
    facts or opinions which support their preferred
    policy and take time to discuss them, but they
    tend to ignore facts and opinions which do not
    support their policy.
  • Members spend little time deliberating about how
    the chosen policy might be hindered, sabotaged
    politically or via common accidents that happen
    the best-laid plans.

Group Morality
  • Ferguson, N. Cairns, E. (1996). Political
    Violence and Moral Maturity in Northern Ireland.
    Political Psychology, 17, 4, 713-727.
  • Loyalty becomes the highest form of morality.
  • Grouthink promotes dehumanization and the
    imposition of harsh measures on the out-group.

  • The more amiability and espirit de corps among
    the members of a policy making in-group, the
    greater is the danger that independent critical
    thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is
    likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing
    actions directed against the out-group.

The Groupthink Model Antecedent Conditions
Symptoms Outcomes
1. Cohesive Group 1. Overestimation Low
2. Structural Faults 2. Closed-
Minds Probability 3. Provocative Social Context
3. Conformity Pressures Of Success
The Bay of Pigs The Perfect Failure
  • April 17, 1961 1,400 Cuba Exiles land at the Bay
    of Pigs
  • Day 1 Half the supply ships are sank, the rest
  • Day 2 20,000 Cuban soldiers surround the exiles
  • Day 3 1,200 exile troops are captured.

A Victory over Yankee Imperialism, Fidel Castro
The Outcome
  • Military disaster
  • Civil protests
  • Discredited in Latin America
  • International community hostility to this illegal
  • Led to the building of missile sites plus 5,000
    Soviet troops entering Cuba

The Planning Failures
  • No one will know that the USA was involved they
    will believe the CIA cover story and sceptics
    will be easily refuted.
  • The Cuban air force is so ineffective that it can
    be knocked out completely before the invasion
  • The 1,400 men have high morale and are willing to
    carry out the invasion without any US ground
  • Castros army is so weak that the small Cuban
    brigade will establish a well-protected beach
  • The invasion by the exiles will touch off
    internal rebellion and topple the regime.
  • If the Cuban brigade fails they can retreat to
    the mountains and join the guerrilla units
    holding out against Castro

Symptoms of Groupthink
  • Illusion of Invulnerability
  • Illusion of Unanimity
  • Suppression of Personal Doubts.
  • Self -appointed Mindguards.
  • Docility Fostered by Suave Leadership.

Preventing Groupthink
  • The leader or the group should assign the role of
    critical evaluator to each member, encouraging
    the group to give high priority to airing
    objections and doubts. This practice needs to be
    reinforced by the leaders acceptance of
  • The leaders in an organisations hierarchy, when
    assigning a policy planning mission to a group,
    should be impartial instead of stating
    preferences and expectations at the outset.. This
    allows the members the opportunity to develop an
    atmosphere of open inquiry and to explore
    impartially a wide range of policy alternatives.
  • The organisation should routinely follow the
    administrative practice of setting up several
    independent policy-planning and evaluation groups
    to work on the same policy question, each
    carrying out its deliberations under a different