Group Think – A Lingering Menace!?


Dr. (Ms) G. Prageetha Raju
Faculty Member (HR)
ICFAI Business School

Can more number of brains lead to superior problem-solving ability? The capacity of groups producing more or improved ideas than individuals working alone has been debated for long.

Group-think is the cruelest predicament in our society. It is a grave mental ailment that has not been recognized. It changes members of a group into supporters and adherents of rites and rituals. They firmly assert that the group is right and the rest are incorrect. It shrinks communication from the group to outsiders. In staid instances of group-think, members use might and violence to persuade non-believers.  The essential truth is that the majority of individuals are not mindful that they suffer from group-think.

Governments and other institutions (fundamentalist groups, anti-social groups, religious sects, and so on) splurge large amounts of resources to defend and uphold their group-think.  Power and politics damages the cause of peace, within a nation or among nations. White lies are hyped in the name of diplomacy. To solve the menace of group-think, there should be a focus on the reality; that reality which is in relation to humankind and the reality of the inter dependence of all entities.

Groupthink is a thought demonstrated by members of a group who attempt to reduce inconsistencies and reach a common agreement sans critical investigation, analysis, and evaluation. Groupthink makes groups to make impulsive, unreasonable decisions, where individual qualms and suspicions are set aside, for fear of disturbing the group's stability.

The term "Group-Think" was coined by William H. Whyte in 1952.   Irving Janis worked extensively on this and thus he is considered to be the pioneer in this area.  Irving Janis defines Groupthink as a kind of thinking where people in the group strive for unanimity and this striving eclipses their motivation to truly assess alternatives.

This word was meant to be suggestive of Newspeak words like "double-think" and "duck-speak", from George Orwell's novel, "Nineteen Eighty Four".

Groupthink arises when a homogenous and an exceedingly cohesive group is so deeply concerned with upholding its harmony that there is a failure to assess all available options. A group is said to suffer from groupthink if it:

1. overvalues its immunity
2. jointly rationalizes the decisions made by it 
3. typecasts the out-groups
4. follows a culture of homogeneity, and
5. consists of members who shield the group leader

When groups build up cohesiveness and lay internally unswerving set of rules, they don't like to disrupt the group's decision. In most cases, the group's self-esteem, delight and satisfaction becomes vital than the well being of the organization. Thus, "Groupthink" is the term given to the demands that highly cohesive groups wield on their members for identical and up-to-the mark decisions and it in fact decreases their power to make efficient decisions.

There are two observed processes of group dynamics viz., 'group-think' and 'risky shift and/or cautious shift.

In Risky shift, the decider group becomes more far-reaching and is prepared to take a risk or a chance with organizational resources.  In Cautious shift, the group gets to become more conservative.  Risky shift and/or cautious shift behaviors often weaken good decision making and group members need to be receptive to such practices and their repercussions.

Group dynamics and collective actions are intriguing because of the extremes to which they can drive people. For example, an individual risks his life to save a little boy from drowning, whereas another person is ready to sacrifice himself as a suicide bomber for a collective goal which is higher. Many such demonstrations have happened in history like the crowd asking for the crucifixion of Jesus to global benevolence during the recent Olympic Games in Greece.

Constructive social change is unattainable without mass movement. Human rights, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Environmental Protection, etc are a result of mass movements—i.e., substantial engagement of people who crusaded for a common good, their individual interests taking a back seat.   The irony of groupthink is that the individual hardly ever suffers from a sense of guiltiness. In spite of the risks and mass killings involved, members of the group feel that they are moving in the right direction.  The war in Vietnam is another example of group stupidity.

The psychology of the group is not pathological. But an individual's self is depersonalized when he or she joins a social group. For instance, a suicide bomber's knowledge has become fully overwhelmed by the collective. Death by sacrifice becomes the utmost form of self-realization.

CAUSES OF GROUP THINK: Irving Janis said that there are three main causes:

1) The higher the cohesiveness, the lesser the likelihood to raise questions.
2) Isolation of the group from outside experts
3) Strong leadership, because the leader is likely to promote his/her own solution.

Clark Mc Cauley, a Social Psychologist have identified that Directive leadership, uniformity in members' ideology and background, and insulation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis are the main causes of group think.


Disaster of Space Shuttle Challenger (1986)

This is an archetypal case of groupthink. The Challenger, whose launch was scheduled on January 22, 1986, was launched on January 28, 1986 and it blasted shortly after liftoff.  There was a problem in the O-rings in the booster rockets a day before the launch.  Several discussions were conducted to discuss the problem and finally the launch was planned.  Several symptoms of group think were seen here. Warnings that contradicted the group goal were ignored. The target was to launch it as soon as possible and it ended up being a deadly mistake

Bay of Pig Invasion (1959 – 1962)

The main plan of the Bay of Pigs Invasion was to prepare a set of Cuban exiles to attack Cuba and set off a rebellion against Fidel Castro's communist rule.  The plan was hopelessly defective. President Kennedy's top advisers never spoke against the plan as they did not want to upset the President. All of them were highly educated from top class universities. Their high qualification caused them to become a very cohesive group. These advisers were showing many signs of group think.  Also, Robert Kennedy, the President's brother, became the "mind guard", telling the dissenters that the President had already made up his mind and it would a mere waste to discuss.


In the India and Pakistan case, groupthink says aloud that India and Pakistan should eternally be divided and every evident harmful act by Pakistan has to be balanced with a reference to a causal action by India, however unjustified or irrational the causality appears. Quintessentially, the specialists review all the data from within the established prototype and forcibly fit the out-of-the ordinary data to the prototype by choosing reasonable calisthenics. In this process the "experts" discharge data that is not in agreement with the prototype as "questionable". By not questioning the India-Pakistan dyad prototype and its underlying suppositions, no new ideas are generated, and more importantly, key trends are missed because of faulty analyses.

PREVENTING GROUPTHINK: According to Irving Janis, there are several ways to prevent groupthink:

1. All useful options should be thoroughly researched.
2. Group ideas should be discussed with trusted outsiders.
3. Outside experts should be invited.
4. There should be a devil's advocate in every meeting
5. There should be one in the group who can critically evaluate
6. It would be nice if there are many groups working independently on the same problem.


To conclude, Group-think has raised several male dominated empires/cultures around this planet. These empires or structures are mismatched and have the penchant to fight each other. People, who are fundamentally good, have to abide by the awful 'man made' laws and rituals thus instigating brutal/abusive activity against each other. It will be the providence of females to change these disgusting structures that have been made by male group-think.

God, religion, and laws have been formed by humans to steer and synchronize activities in a well thought-out form, so that it is easy to follow.  But as and when, an activity coordinating system generates benefits, members begin worshipping it. This worshipping slowly turns into a ritual. It is outlandish to find that this ritual is still followed even when the activity coordination system doesn't yield benefits anymore.

Children of this generation are cleverer than anybody in history because they have better facility to access information. Therefore, free mental development is to be ascertained. Giving explanation about present mental cages to children protects their mind from being caged in.  Cages are religious, governmental and commercial rituals that compel people to obey through cruelty, intimidation and money-slavery against their spirit and their individual intelligence. Human beings are trapped in mental cages and act according to predetermined formulae. They act like a marionette on a string.

Human beings make other humans deliberately suffer only when they follow rituals (group-think).  The more the violent civilization structures, the more the suffering in this world.


  • Cartwright & Zander (Eds.), , "Group Dynamics", Harper Row, 1968
  • Janis, Irving L. "Victims of Groupthink" Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972
  • McCauley, Clark. "The Nature of Social Influence in Groupthink: Compliance and Internalization." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 57, 1987
  • Moorhead, G., Ference, R., & Neck, C. P. "Group Decision Fiascoes Continue: Space Shuttle Challenger and a Revised Groupthink Framework". Human Relations 1991
  • Orwell, George, "Nineteen eighty four", Secker and Warburgh (London), 1949.
  • Wallach, M. A., Kogan, N., & Bem, D. J. "Diffusion of responsibility and level of risk taking in groups". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1964

Dr. (Ms) G. Prageetha Raju
Faculty Member (HR)
ICFAI Business School

Source: E-mail July 10, 2007


Back to Articles 1-99 / Back to Articles 100-199 / Back to Articles 200-299 / Back to Articles 300-399
Back to Articles 400-499 / Back to Articles 500-599 / Back to Articles 600 Onward
Faculty Column Main Page