Groupthink

consensus-seeking tendency in groups.

History and Orientation

Irving (1972, 1982) developed an influential theory of group decision making that he called groupthink. The idea is that groupthink is a kind of thinking in which maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity is more important than considering the facts in a realistic manner. Thus groupthink is a result of cohesiveness in groups, which was first discussed by Lewin in the 1930s.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Groupthink is most likely to occur when certain preconditions are met, such as when the group is highly cohesive, isolated from contrary opinions, and ruled by a directive leader who makes his or her wishes known. Negative outcomes may be: 1) the group limits its discussion to only a few alternatives. 2) the solution initially favored by most members is never restudied to seek out less obvious pitfalls 3) the group fails to reexamine those alternatives originally disfavored by the majority. 4) expert opinion is not sought 5) the group is highly selective in gathering and attending to available information 6) the group is so confident in its ideas that it does not consider contingency plans.

The goal of this theory is to recognize the dangers of groupthink in decision-making. A few methods to prevent it: 1) encourage everyone to be a critical evaluator 2) do not have the leader state a preference up front 3) set up independent groups 4) divide into subgroups 5) discuss what is happening with others outside the group 6) invite others into the group to bring fresh ideas.

Conceptual Model

See Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D. & Akert, R.M. (2003). Social Psychology, p. 300.

Favorite Methods

Not applicable.

Scope and Application

Groupthink is important during decision process. In communication for example in meetings, conferences and even government groupthink can appear.

Example

Examples show that groupthink may lead to inferior decision making. This could happen in a study-group, but happens as well in national policy. For example president Kennedy talked informal to an important decision maker, to tell his friends they should go along with the opinion of the president. The other people in the meeting did “share” the same opinion, so the outcome was already clear on forehand. This led to

References

Key publications

Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D. & Akert, R.M. (2003). Social Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Littlejohn, S.W. (2002). Human Communication. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Irving Janis, Groupthink, 2d ed., Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1982.

Irving Janis, Victims of Groupthink, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1972.

Irving Janis, Crucial Decisions: Leadership in Policymaking and Crisis Management, Free Press, New York, 1989, pp. 89–117.

Irving Janis and Leon Mann, Decision Making, Free Press, New York, 1977.

Gregory Herek, Irving Janis, and Paul Huth, ‘‘Decision Making During International Crises," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 31, 1987, pp. 203–226.

Research Review: Won-Woo Park, ‘‘A Review of Research on Groupthink," Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, Vol. 3, 1990, pp. 229–245.Challenger disaster: Randy Hirokawa, Dennis Gouran, and Amy Martz, ‘‘Understanding the Sources of Faulty Group Decision Making: A Lesson from the Challenger Disaster," Small Group Behavior, Vol. 19, 1988, pp. 411–433.

Jeanne Longley and Dean G. Pruitt, ‘‘Groupthink: A Critique of Janis’s Theory," in Review of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 1, Ladd Wheeler (ed.), Sage, Beverly Hills, Calif., 1980, pp. 74–93.

Trenholm, Sarah. (1995). Thinking through communication: An Introduction to the study of human communication. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Schutz, William. (1958). Firo: A three-dimensional theory of interpersonal behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Steiner, I.D. (1972). Group processes and productivity. New York: Academic Press.

Tubbs, Stewart. (1995). A systems approach to small group interaction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Fisher, B. Aubrey. (1970). Decision emergence: Phases in group decision making. Speech Monographs, 37, 53-66.

Tuckman, Bruce. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.

Poole, Marshall Scott. (1981). Decision development in small groupsI: A comparison of two models. Communication Monographs, 48, 1-24; Poole, Marshall Scott. (1983). Decision development in small groups II: A study of mutiple sequences in decision making. Communication Monographs, 50, 206-232; Poole, Marshall Scott. (1983). Decision development in small groups III: A multiple sequence model of group decision development. Communication Monographs, 50, 321-341; Poole, Marshall Scott, & Roth, Jonelle. (1989). Decision development in small groups V: Test of a contigency model. Human Communication Research, 15, 549-589.

Dewey, John. (1910). How we think. Lexington, MA: Heath.

Bormann, Ernest G., & Bormann, Nancy C. (1988). Effective small group communication. 4th ed. Edina, MN: Burgess.

Benne, Kenneth, & Sheats, Paul. (1948). Functional roles of group members. Journal of Social Issues, 4, 41-49.

Ruble, T.L. & Thomas, K.W. (1976). Support for a two-dimensional model of conflict behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 143-155.

Knapp, Mark. (1984). Interpersonal communication and human relationships. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Duck, Stepehn. (1985). Social and personal relationships. In M.L. Knapp and G.R. Miller (Eds.) Handbook of interpersonal communication (pp. 665-686). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Luft, Joe. (1969). Of human interaction. Palo Alto: National Press.

Sieberg, Evelyn. (1975). Interpersonal confirmation: A paradigm for conceptualization and measurement. San Diego: United States International University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 098 634).

Trenholm, Sarah. (1995). Thinking through communication: An Introduction to the study of human communication. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Hocker, J.L. and Wilmot, W.W. (1991). Interpersonal conflict. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

Gouran, Dennis, W.E. Wiethoff, & J.A. Doelger. (1994). Mastering communication. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Zueschner, Raymond. (1997). Communicating Today. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

See also Organizational Communication