Notions Of 'groupthink'. Essay

1531 words - 6 pages

In the field of group dynamics, Janis (1972) has recognised that a particular combination of group characteristics can cause disastrous decisions: he labels these characteristics and their outcomeas 'groupthink', defined as 'a deterioration of mental efficiency and moral judgement that results from in-group pressures' (Janis, 1972). From his archival studies of some recent American government decisional 'fiascos', Janis found a set of conditions which created an atmosphere causing poor decision-making; although there has been very little research since Janis proposed his theory, both theoretical and practical issues arise from it.One disastrous decision that Janis studies was the invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs in 1961, which he describes as 'the perfect failure'. The advisory group contained the brightest and most able people in the USA, yet all their fundamental assumptions were incorrect; for example, they assumed that the Cuban airforce was weak and ineffective despite losing half of their American bombers to them. Similar examples can be found in Europe: the decision by Britain's National Coal Board to ignore warning about a possible coal tip slide in Aberfan, Wales, in order to save time and money, resulted in the 1966 tragedy of burying the local school and decimating an entire community. Decision such as this, argues Janis, can be explained by groupthink.It is important to recognise the antecedent conditions of groupthink. The most important is a high level of group cohesiveness: the mebers are attracted to each other and to the group goal, and display concurrence-seeking tendencies, or the desire to maintain the atmosphere of the group by agreeing with the common view. The more insulated from outside influences the group is, the more likely it is to suffer from groupthink, because there is little opportunity for members to hear and discuss the views of impartial outsiders, who may make suggestions that the group had not considered. Similarly, a lack of methodical procedures for the search of information means that vital material may not be heard. Style of leadership is crucial: if a leader is very directive, i.e. makes his opinions known and exerts pressure on members to agree with him, groupthink will result, as members revise their opinions to coincide with that of the leader. Finally, when there is a high level of stress and a low degree of hope of finding a better solution (i.e. in a crises situation), members become convinced that their decision is a good one.Groupthink is manifested in several ways. The group believes it is invulnerably, which encourages it to take risks and not consider failure. There is a collective rationalisation of decision, a belief in the inherent morality of the group, and enemies are stereotyped as evil. Anyone who voices a contrary opinion is quashed, and members censor themselves so that such opinions are rarely heard. The group believes it is unanimous, and 'mind guards' appoint themselves to protect the...

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