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Political Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1991
Classics in Political Psychology
Irving L. Janis' Victims of Groupthink
Paul 't Hart1
INTRODUCTION A Victimsof Groupthink: Psychological Studyof Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascoes by Irving L. Janis was published for the first time in 1972. In an way, Janisappliedideas from small-groupanalysisto the explanaunprecedented tion of policy fiascoes. He made plausible the hypothesis that each of these events can, to a considerableextent, be attributedto the occurrenceof a very specific and obviously detrimentalphenomenonwithin the groups of decisionmakers involved in their making. He called this phenomenon "Groupthink," cleverly picking this highly suggestive Orwellian mode of expression ("doublethink" in Orwell's novel 1984). standsfor an excessive form of concurrenceAccordingto Janis, groupthink seeking among membersof high prestige, tightlyknit policy-makinggroups. It is excessive to the extent thatthe groupmembershave come to value the group(and their being partof it) higher than anythingelse. This causes them to strive for a quick and painless unanimityon the issues that the group has to confront. To preserve the clubby atmosphere, group members suppress personal doubts, silence dissenters, and follow the group leader's suggestions. They have a strong belief in the inherent morality of the group, combined with a decidedly evil pictureof the group's opponents. The results are devastating:a distortedview of reality, excessive optimism producinghasty and reckless policies, and a neglect of ethical issues. The combination of these deficiencies makes these groups particularlyvulnerable to initiate or sustain projects that turn out to be policy fiascoes. Janis's study has had a major influence on students of group processes (Brown, 1989), decision-making,and management.Also, it has influencedinternational-relationsanalysts in their efforts to understandthe dynamics of the of Univer'Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences ResearchFellow, Department Public Administration, sity of Leiden, PO Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, Netherlands. 247 0162-895X/91/0600-0247$06.50/1 ? 1991 International Society of Political Psychology
occurrence and resolution of internationalcrises. Here, we shall review the theory in view of its place within the field of groupdynamics, the researchwork that followed Janis's original formulation, and the implications of groupthink...