What Is Groupthink?
Groupthink occurs when a group of well-intentioned people make irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the discouragement of dissent. This problematic or premature consensus may be fueled by a particular agenda or simply because group members value harmony and coherence above rational thinking.
In a groupthink situation, group members refrain from expressing doubts and judgments or disagreeing with the consensus. In the interest of making a decision that furthers their group cause, members may ignore any ethical or moral consequences.
Risky or disastrous military maneuvers, such as the escalation of the Vietnam War or the invasion of Iraq, are commonly cited as instances of groupthink. But while it is often invoked at the level of geopolitics, groupthink can also refer to subtle processes of social or ideological conformity.
The term was first introduced in the November 1971 issue of Psychology Today, in an article by psychologist Irving Janis. Janis had conducted extensive study of group decision-making under conditions of stress.
How to Recognize Groupthink
To recognize groupthink, it's useful to identify the situations in which it's most likely to occur. When groups feel threatened—either physically or through threats to their identity—they may develop a strong “us versus them” mentality. This can prompt members to accept group perspectives, even when those perspectives don’t necessarily align with their personal views. Groupthink may also occur in situations in which decision-making is rushed—in some cases, with destructive outcomes.
To minimize the risk, it's critical to allow enough time for issues to be fully discussed, and for as many group members as possible to share their thoughts. When dissent is encouraged, groupthink is less likely to occur. Learning about common cognitive biases, as well as how to identify them, may also reduce the likelihood of groupthink.