Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Groupthink Impedes the Progress of the Nation

by Germar Derron

This is a small excerpt from a much larger study, and presentation, on groupthink. 

. . .
Group members support views, policies, and interests that oppose their personal beliefs for the benefits of group membership.17  “Groupthink as a concept is not novel.  A psychologist, Irving Janis, first explored groupthink18  in the 1970s.19   Subsequent studies heavily cite Janis’s work.20   Janis developed the theory while examining how government officials botched U.S. policy through the use of faulty decision-making procedures.21   Researchers cite groupthink as the principle cause of fundamental breakdowns in U.S. policymaking, including Watergate, the Bay of Pigs, Enron, the Department of Defense, Pearl Harbor, and the Vietnam War.22   Janis noted three groupthink conditions: “1) a cohesive23  group, 2) structural faults in decision making, and 3) situational context.”24
Janis describes cohesiveness as that communal 

warm-fuzzy feeling, and a sense of 
 “we.”25   This condition may be the most important in terms of promoting that sense of us-versus- them that shapes groupthink.  The three factors that define cohesiveness are: 1) a sense of belonging to a powerful group; 2) “homogeneity of the members' social backgrounds, ideologies, and cultural backgrounds;” and 3) admiration for the group’s leader, when the group has had past success.26   Cohesion may occur through functional ties, as in an off-duty military force, or even through loyalty to a common leader, 

notwithstanding inner-group conflict.27 

The structural faults component, of groupthink, typically involves: “1) inadequate decision making procedures, and 2) a lack of impartial leadership.”28   When decision-makers rely on faulty information, from external experts, they act inadequately.29  The consequences can be augmented when the relied upon experts are funded by the group, or selected based on results. Impartial leaders tend to announce their personal opinions, which pertain to group business, early and often, discourage dissent,30  and have parallel—possibly contravening—motivations that are external to the group’s function.
Groupthink occurs during situational contexts, such as “the need to make consequential policy decisions during a time of high stress.”31   When the stakes are high, group members look to other members to validate decisions that may be contrary to their personal morals, or group ethics.32   To avoid the accompanying attenuation of self-esteem members push towards consensus, for the feeling of support.33  In this way, group members deal with decisional stress well,34  but at a high cost.  Though individuals prosper, the group may stagnate, regress, or worse.          
Janis’s “symptoms” of groupthink include: 1) sense of invincibility; 2) belief in the group’s inherent morality; 3) collective rationalization, in spite of evidence to the contrary;35  4) stereotyping of other groups, and group members;36  5) self-censorship; 6) the illusion of unanimity; 7) pressure on dissenters; and 8) self-appointed mind guards.37   Fortunately, Janis provides “solutions” for these symptoms.  For example, groups should use a Devil’s advocate, hold “second-chance meetings,” and use different groups for different tasks,38  in support of a common goal.  I posit that groupthink may not always require solutions.

. . .

14                  Klein, supra note 8.
15                  Id. (citing Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind).
16                  Id.
17                  See id.
18                  Janis defined groupthink as, “[a] mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members; strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise
alternative courses of action.” Lt. Col. Harry J. “H-Man” Hewson, USMC, Hive Mind and Groupthink The Curse of the Perfect IPT, Defense AT&L (Nov.-Dec. 2005)
19                  Julie Venamore, Beware the demon called ‘groupthink, the lamp (Oct. 2003); Theodore E. Keats, M.D., The Diagnosis and Treatment of “Groupthink, Virginia Medical, Vol. 107 at 231 (Mar. 1980); Lt. Col. Harry J. “H-Man” Hewson, USMC, Hive Mind and Groupthink The Curse of the Perfect IPT, Defense AT&L (Nov.-Dec.
20                  See e.g., id.
21                  Marleen A. O'Connor, The Enron Board: The Perils of Groupthink, 71 U. Cin. L. Rev. 1233, 1257-58 (2003).
22                  See generally, Theodore E. Keats, M.D., The Diagnosis and Treatment of “Groupthink, Virginia Medical,
Vol. 107 at 231 (Mar. 1980); Lt. Col. Harry J. “H-Man” Hewson, USMC, Hive Mind and Groupthink The Curse of the Perfect IPT, Defense AT&L (Nov.-Dec. 2005); Marleen A. O'Connor, The Enron Board: The Perils of Groupthink, 71 U. Cin. L. Rev. 1233, 1257-58 (2003) (each source supports some of the assertion).
23                  The concept of cohesion is debated in the field of psychology.
24                  Marleen A. O'Connor, The Enron Board: The Perils of Groupthink, 71 U. Cin. L. Rev. 1233, 1259-60 (2003).
25                  Id. at 1261-62.
26                  Id.
27                  Id.
28                  Id. at 1267-68.
29                  Id.
30                  Id.
31                  Id. at 1267.
32                  Id.
33                  Id. at 1268.
34                  Id.
35                  Groupthink may relate to group solidarity, a separate but similar psycho-social concept.  But, solidarity cannot be accounted for because 1) field experts disagree on what constitutes group solidarity, and 2) groups in
solidarity lack access to contrary evidence, unlike “group-thinkers” who rationalize contrary evidence. See Douglas
D. Heckathorn and Judith E. Rosenstein, Group Solidarity as the Product of Collective Action:
Creation of Solidarity in a Population Of Injection  Drug Users, Group Cohesion, Trust and Solidarity, Vol.19 (2003); Michael Hecter, A theory of group solidarity, Research in Marketing, Vol. Suppl. 1, 285-324 (1982); Interview with Marieh Tanha, Ph.D. (Apr. 19, 2013).
36                  Here, points two, three, and four may be related or sub-grouped as (Janis does this, but under different
nomenclature) group polarization, or polarization judgment, an area of psychology that developed parallel to Janis’s
groupthink. See David G. Myers & Helmut Lamm, The group polarization phenomenon, Psychology Bulletin Vol.
83 (Jul. 1976); Marleen A. O'Connor, The Enron Board: The Perils of Groupthink, 71 U. Cin. L. Rev. 1233, 1260 (2003).
37                  Julie Venamore, Beware the demon called ‘groupthink, the lamp (Oct. 2003); Marleen A. O'Connor, The
Enron Board: The Perils of Groupthink, 71 U. Cin. L. Rev. 1233 (2003).
38                  Julie Venamore, Beware the demon called ‘groupthink, the lamp (Oct. 2003)


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