Timothy J. PiggInstructor: Wayne Davis, J.D.
April 26, 2012
In attempting to define groupthink as a part of the group decision making process it becomes a quagmire as to how to define this abstract dynamic event. Generally, the definitions discovered tend to imply a negative slant by most authors related to the study of groupthink. The tendency to “feel” that it is negative is not without merit due to the fact that most empirical studies are completed on the failures rather than the successes. Groupthink can be defined as: The psychological group dynamic in which “the norm for consensus overrides the realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action” that may lead to a poor result or decision. (Robbins & Judge, 2011) During groupthink, as defined, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. (McKenna, 2008) Irving Janis, who is one of the most quoted author on the concepts of groupthink, points out how political leaders have made bad foreign policy decisions, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Recently, others invoked groupthink as an explanation for U.S. debacle of the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq, launching the doomed space shuttle Challenger, the Nixon Watergate cover-up, and lack of disaster preparedness despite warnings of impending danger, such as the federal government response before and after Hurricane Katrina struck Mississippi and Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, in 2005. (Schafer, 2010) However, as a positive aspect to groupthink or group decisions making process it should be noted that authors, in hindsight, place great deal emphasis on what has failed rather than what has succeeded. Two successes of groupthink stand out above all others and are the most relevant to all U.S. citizens. The Declarations of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were derived from groupthink. It should be genuinely evident that these two documents, which are the foundation upon the formation of the United States, are extraordinary products of groupthink. It could be argued that using these two extraordinary events as an example of successful groupthink is not in the context as discussed by Ivan Janis. Specifically, due to the grave consequences of these decisions themselves and that it was “politically” voted upon for approval rather than a decision with lesser consequences made by a group with less motivation. Even so, it is remarkable that these two events are suspiciously absent from the studies completed on groupthink. The presumption is that these omissions are done with the purpose to separate groupthink from group decision making in the attempt to ensure that “groupthink is considered a flawed process”. (Schafer 2010) However, groupthink and group decision making are interlinked, and groupthink is a by-product of forming a group where group pressures for conformity deter the group from critically apprising unusual or unpopular views. (Robbins & Judge 2011) There are three basic premises of groupthink:
"Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things."
"The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society." 3.
"These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters." (Janis, Irving 1972,1982 ,Web)
These premises of groupthink are somewhat ambiguous; however, they indicate that groupthink is dependent upon people’s interactions and influences with each other. A more concrete view of groupthink is the eight symptoms of groupthink by Ivan Janis. They include: 1.
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Davis J.D., W. (2012). Instructor, Missouri Baptist University. (T. J. Pigg, Interviewer)
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