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What is Group Thinking?
Don't Argue With the Leader!
This election was very interesting because the side that lost was in total disbelieve. Why is that? Could it be because of Group Thinking? What is Group thinking. By definition Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group:
- "Makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment
- Groups affected by group think ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.
- A group is especially vulnerable to group think 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."
Who is Subject to Group Thinking?
Group Thinking is not subject to anyone political party or group. It can happen to any group that is subject to the factors listed above. I belong to a toastmasters club and we planned to recruit new members by having an open house at the local library. We created a committee and made assignments for the tasks at hand. We planned for a meet and greet person to sign in prospective members. We had an upstairs usher who would guide the parties downstairs to where the event was to take place. We had food and drinks. We even planned to present a sample meeting. We had enough chairs and tables for about 40 people.
People started arriving when the library opened, but they had one thing on their mind: use the library resources. They didn't want to go to a meeting. Needless to say we did not get one person to come downstairs to the event. No one in our group ever thought about going to the library weeks before the event and seeing how people behave. This is a symptom of group thinking. We were all so excited about putting on the event, we lost the perspective.
An Example of Group Thinking.
Invading Iraq was a result of group think. The Neocons believed that as a super power we had the right to preemptively invade a country that could be a threat to us and its neighbors and take out its leader. Colin Powell at the UN convinced the members that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, by showing a power point drawing of where the weapons were. It was not even an intelligence photo. It was a line drawing. They bought it because, they were afraid to go against the group. There was also much more invalid supporting evidence that was brought in under duress of not being part of the group.
Group Think Today
While I was watching the result of our election, I switched between liberal leaning channels and Fox News. It was interesting to see how Karl Rove was doing his mathematical genius routine to indicate that Romney could still win even after the host of the show went to the decision desk and they told her it was over. It was also interesting to me to see how millions of dollars where thrown into super PACs. I was convinced that all that money would be the deciding factor.
I see on Face Book that people are still trying to justify Romney's loss by echoing what they hear and read on right wing media. Why, it's because of group thinking. Without outside information and critical thinking the group will place themselves in a position of self-righteousness and self-justification. Then when things don't turn-out the way they expected they will become disillusioned and in a state of disbelief and try to blame others outside the group for their failings.
Overcoming Group Think
So how do we overcome group thinking? It is difficult in this day and age, because information is given to us so freely. If we have a position on an issue, the media and internet make it very easy to find and use evidence to support our cause. With political issues, I find that most people including myself respond emotionally first and then try to rationalize it to argue with the other side.
Think Outside the Box
When it comes to politics, we are either in one group or another. We need to have information from outside our group, so that we can judge what the alternatives are. Political parties are like clubs. I have one relative that told me: "My parents belong to (party shall remain unnamed), therefore I also belong to that party and I always will." We need to use critical thinking and if necessary go against what the group is advocating, at the risk of being ostracized by the group. We need to think outside the box and present our views from outside that box. This is why organizations use focus groups because they can get input from sources other than within their own organization.
I believe Romney and the right wing lost, because they did not present a message that fits the needs of most of the American people, but that it did fit the needs of less of the American people and their political party. This can be directly attributed to Group Think. Think about this, if a religion does not fit the needs of the people, it cannot be successful. Politics in this sense is like a religion when it comes to winning elections.
Therefore let's think outside the box and get out of the group think mode. As you can see from the example I gave about invading Iraq, group think can be quite dangerous. We are still suffering from the effects of that group thinking.
As I said in the beginning, group think is not limited to just political organizations or groups, it can occur in any group where they are subject to the factors outlined in this article.
Here is a power point presentation from psysr that will clarify group think even further.