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Deep Thoughts About Groupthink


Deep Thoughts About Groupthink October 5, 2006 Brief History of Bad Decisions Pearl Harbor: Advance warning of an attack: Military commanders received information ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Deep Thoughts About Groupthink

Deep Thoughts About Groupthink
  • October 5, 2006

Brief History of Bad Decisions
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Advance warning of an attack Military commanders
    received information about Japanese plans to
    attack Pearl Harbor.
  • Intelligence lost contact with aircraft carriers
    moving toward Hawaii. Failed to send air
    reconnaissance which could have given warning.
  • Result No alert was sounded until attack. Loss
    of 18 ships, 170 planes, 3700 lives.

Another Bad Decision
  • The Bay of Pigs Invasion
  • 1961 Kennedy and advisors tried to overthrow
    Castro by supporting an invasion of Cuba with
    1400 CIA trained Cuban exiles.
  • Believed that troops could retreat to mountains
    that were actually on the other side of the
    island. Troops actually deployed in a swamp and
    were immediately surrounded.
  • Created alliance between Cuba and USSR which gave
    rise to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Groupthink Defined
  • The mode of thinking that persons engage in when
    concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a
    cohesive in-group that it tends to over-ride
    realistic appraisals of alternative courses of
  • Janis, 1971

Symptoms of Groupthink
  • Illusion of invulnerability
  • Many believed that the Japanese would never risk
    attacking the US. Admiral joked about the idea
    right before it happened.
  • Collective rationalization
  • President Johnsons Tuesday lunch group spent
    more time justifying the Vietnam war than
    reflecting upon and rethinking past decisions.

Symptoms of Groupthink
  • Belief in inherent morality
  • Kennedy group knew that some cabinet members had
    moral reservations about invading a smaller
    neighboring country but these reservations were
    never explored.
  • Stereotyped views of out-groups
  • Kennedy group convinced themselves that Castros
    army was so weak and popular support so shallow
    that a single brigade could overturn the

Symptoms of Groupthink
  • Direct pressure on dissenters
  • People who disagree are ridiculed. Once, when
    President Johnsons assistant entered the room,
    the president said, Well here comes Mr. Stop the
  • Self-censorship
  • Following the Bay of Pigs invasion Arthur
    Schlesinger said, my feelings of guilt were
    tempered by the knowledge that any objection
    would have accomplished nothing but gain me a
    name as a nuisance.

Symptoms of Groupthink
  • Illusion of unanimity
  • Absence of dissent creates an illusion of
    unanimity. Everyone might disagree but everyone
    thinks that everyone else agrees.
  • Self-appointed mindguards
  • People who protect the leader from hearing
    disagreeable facts. Top NASA executive who made
    the decision to launch never heard the engineers

Signs of a Bad Decision Making Process
  • Incomplete survey of alternatives
  • Failure to examine risks of preferred choices.
  • Poor information search.
  • Selective bias in processing information at hand.
  • Failure to work out contingency plans.

Evaluating the Theory
  • Groupthink is a hugely influential concept
  • Some have argued that it has more heuristic
    than theoretical value.
  • Is Groupthink still a useful concept?

Scrutinizing the Laundry List
  • Illusion of invulnerability
  • Collective rationalization
  • Belief in inherent morality
  • Stereotyped views of out-groups
  • Direct pressure on dissenters
  • Self-censorship
  • Illusion of unanimity
  • Self-appointed mindguards
  • How many symptoms does a group need to receive a
    groupthink diagnosis?
  • Are some symptoms more important than others?
  • Does a group experience some symptoms before
  • Is each symptom unique? Or, redundant?

Hindsight bias?
  • Question Once we know the outcome (e.g. It Blew
    Up!) can we then spin the reinterpret events to
    fit the theory? If a stupid decision turned out
    well, was it still groupthink?

  • What types of tasks or situations might
    groupthink apply to? (Beyond just
    decision-making?). Can groupthink be applied to
    everyday decisions?
  • Does a group need to be under threat? Janis
    theorized that they do.

  • Cohesiveness (mutual attraction for the group and
    its members) is central to Janis theory.
  • Can cohesiveness ever reduce groupthink?
  • EXAMPLE In a cohesive group, people may be less
    likely to censor their opinions and more likely
    to dissent

Groupthink and strong cultures
Verdict on groupthink
  • Is groupthink a useful construct? If so, why?
  • Why has groupthink survived for so long when
    other theories have been forgotten?