Groupthink : Definition, Symptoms, Examples & Remedies

What is Groupthink?

The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision making; is called group think (Coined by Irving Janis). Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making highly cohesive groups (members from similar background) that are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision succumb to group think.


With maintaining unanimity being the foremost motivation, members are less motivated to realistically appraise the usual steps in decision making leading to:

  • a) incomplete survey of alternatives
  • b) incomplete survey of objectives
  • c) failure to examine risks of preferred choice
  • d) failure to reappraise initially rejected alternatives
  • e) poor information search
  • f) selective bias in processing information at hand
  • g) failure to work out contingency plans
  • h) low probability of successful outcome.
  • e) Decisions shaped by groupthink have low probability of achieving successful outcomes.

Symptoms of Groupthink

  • Illusion of vulnerability - Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  • Collective rationalization - Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions
  • Belief in inherent morality - Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  • Stereotyped views of out-groups - Negative views of "enemy" make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  • Direct pressure on dissenters - Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group's views.
  • Self-censorship - Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  • Illusion of unanimity - The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous
  • Self-appointed 'mindguards' - Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group's cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

Examples of Groupthink

Examples of groupthink "fiascoes" studied by Janis include:
  • US failures to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor,
  • The Bay of Pigs invasion (John F Kennedy who revised his strategy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco that occurred due to group think, by encouraging dissent amongst his advisors; this lead to better decision making in the Cuban Missile crisis)
  • The escalation of Vietnam war, and the ill-fated hostage rescue in tran.
  • Decisions of the Bush administration and Congress to pursue an invasion of Iraq based on a policy of "preemptive use of military force against terrorists and rogue nations" The decision to rush to war in Iraq before a broad-based coalition of allies could be built has placed the US in an unenviable military situation in Iraq that is costly in terms of military deaths and casualties, diplomatic standing in the world, and economically.

Remedies for Groupthink

Decision experts have determined that groupthink may be prevented by adopting some of the following measures:

  • The leader should assign the role of critical evaluator to each member
  • The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset;
  • Each member of the group should routinely discuss the groups' deliberations with a trusted associate and report back to the group on the associate's reactions
  • One or more experts should be invited to each meeting on a staggered basis. The outside experts should be encouraged to challenge views of the members.
  • At least one articulate and knowledgeable member should be given the role of devil's advocate (to question assumptions and plans)
  • The leader should make sure that a sizeable block of time is set aside to survey warning signals from rivals, leader and group construct alternative scenarios of rivals intentions.

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