Groupthink theory is a study on group decision making developed by Irving Janis. This theory is based on social behavior in which maintaining the group cohesiveness and solidarity is felt as more important than considering the fact in a realistic manner. Janis defined groupthink a quick and easy way to refer to 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” (Janis, 1982, 9).
Groupthink is a result of cohesiveness in group, already discussed by Lewin in the 1980s and is an important factor to consider in decision process.
Let us look at the three critical assumptions that guide the theory:
1. Conditions in groups promote high cohesiveness
This assumption pertains to the characteristic of group life which is cohesiveness. Conditions exist in groups that promote high cohesiveness. Ernest Bormann (1996) observed that group members have common sentiment or emotional investment and as a result they maintain a group identity.
Some people might be wondering what cohesiveness is, therefore it is defined as the extend to which group members are willing to work together. In other words, it is the group’s sense of togetherness and it arises from a group’s attitudes, values and pattern of behavior.
2. Group problem solving is primarily a unified process
This assumption examines the process of problem solving in small groups which is usually the unified undertaking. Members essentially strive to get along and hold their individual inputs rather than risk rejection. According to Gouran, when group members do participate, fearing rejection, they are likely “to attach greater importance to preservation of the group than to the issue under consideration” (P.100)
3. Groups and group decision making are frequently complex
The last assumption underscores the nature of most problem-solving and task-oriented groups to which group members belong. Group members are similar to one another, besides, group decisions are not thoughtfully considered by all which leads to groupthink.
The examples of groupthink
Current examples of groupthink can be found in the 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.
Apart from that, the most famous example of Groupthink is the presidential advisory group who almost led Kennedy into invading Cuba and potential nuclear war in the Bay of Pigs affair.
The Challenger disaster was another effect where NASA officials disregarded engineer’s concerns and decided to launch the shuttle.
Critique and closing
Groupthink is a theory dedicated to understanding the decision making process in small groups. Janis believes that groups mostly make decisions with profound consequences, and although he focused his efforts on foreign policy groups, the application of groupthink terminology resonates in many other decision-making groups. Among the criteria for evaluating a theory there is : scope, testability, heurism, and test of time.
The scope of the theory can be defined as narrow because it can only be applied to the groups that are decision group making but not to every group.
Some group scholars have appointed to some validity problems with the theory. For example, Jeanne Longley and Dean Pruitt (1980) have criticized it. They argue that half of the symptoms of groupthink are not associated with a key feature of the theory and that the theory should be a logical progression of ideas, not a grab-bag of phenomena. They further noted that Janis incorporates self-esteem in discussions of groupthink but never mentioned it in his theory.
This theory is heuristic undertaking; many of its elements have been employed in a number of studies and enjoyed the attention of many communication and social psychology scholars (e.g Cline, 1990, Courtright, 1978: Huiteing Van Kerkhor,& Pesch, 2007; Pauvit & Jonhson, 2002) Reseachers haeve studied groupthink and applied its concepts and tenets to Hurricanes Katrina,1938 Japanese masscre ok Naking.
Test of time
The theory has withstood the test of time. Scholars continue to investigate many of its fundamental features. And it continues to be discussed in the popular medias.