Groupthink being a coinage — and, admittedly, a loaded one — a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity — an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.
Irving Janis, who did extensive work on the subject, defined it 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.
Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink. The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions that might break the cohesion. Although Janis sees group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that it will not invariably lead to groupthink: 'It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition' (Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972). According to Janis, group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present:
Social psychologist Clark McCauley's three conditions under which groupthink occurs:
By following these guidelines, groupthink can be avoided. After the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco, John F. Kennedy sought to avoid groupthink during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During meetings, he invited outside experts to share their viewpoints, and allowed group members to question them carefully. He also encouraged group members to discuss possible solutions with trusted members within their separate departments, and he even divided the group up into various sub-groups, in order to partially break the group cohesion. JFK was deliberately absent from the meetings, so as to avoid pressing his own opinion. Ultimately, the Cuban missile crisis was resolved peacefully, thanks in part to these measures.
"Two hypotheses derived from groupthink theory were tested in a laboratory study which included measures of the full range of symptoms of groupthink, symptoms of a poor decision process, and decision quality. The hypothesis that groups whose leaders promoted their own preferred solutions would be more likely to fall victim to groupthink than groups with nonpromotional leaders received partial support. Groups with promotional leaders produced more symptoms of groupthink, discussed fewer facts, and reached a decision more quickly than groups with nonpromotional leaders. The hypothesis that groups composed of members who were predisposed to conform would be more likely to fall victim to groupthink than groups whose members were not predisposed to conform received no support. It is suggested that groupthink research is hampered by measurement problems.
After ending their study, they stated that better methods of testing Janis' symptoms were needed.
In a broad 2005 survey of post-Janis research Robert S. Baron contends that the connection between certain antecedents Janis believed necessary have not been demonstrated, and that groupthink is more ubiquitous and it's symptoms are "far more widespread" than Janis envisioned. Baron' premise is "that Janis’s probing and insightful analysis of historical decision-making was correct about the symptoms of groupthink and their relationship to such outcomes as the suppression of dissent, polarization of attitude and poor decision quality and yet wrong about the antecedent conditions he specified...not only are these conditions not necessary to provoke the symptoms of groupthink, but that they often will not even amplify such symptoms given the high likelihood that such symptoms will develop in the complete absence of intense cohesion, crisis, group insulation, etc." As an alternative to Janis' model, Baron presents a "strong ubiquity" model for Groupthink:
"...the ubiquity model represents more a revision of Janis’s model than a repudiation. The social identification variable modifies Janis’s emphasis on intense-high status group cohesion as an antecedent condition for groupthink. Similarly, low self efficacy amplifies Janis’s prior consideration of this factor. The one major shift is that the ubiquity model assumes that when combined, social identification, salient norms and low self efficacy are both necessary and sufficient to evoke “groupthink reactions.” Such reactions include Janis’s array of defective decision processes as well as suppressed dissent, selective focus on shared viewpoints, polarization of attitude and action and heightened confidence in such polarized views. Note that such elevated confidence will often evoke the feelings of in-group moral superiority and invulnerability alluded to by Janis.
Baron says in conclusion that the pervasiveness of “groupthink phenomena” has been underestimated by prior theoretical accounts.
We're all afloat in a boundless sea, and the way we cope is by massing together in groups and pretending in unison that the situation is other than it is. We reinforce the illusion for each other. That's what a society really is, a little band of humanity huddled together against the specter of a pitch black sea. Everyone is treading water to keep their heads above the surface even though they have no reason to believe that the life they're preserving is better than the alternative they're avoiding. It's just that one is known and one is not. Fear of the unknown is what keeps everyone busily treading water. All fear is fear of the unknown. If someone in such a group of water-treaders betrays the group lie by speaking the truth of their situation, that person is called a heretic, and society reserves its most awful punishments for heretics. If someone decides to stop struggling and just sink or float away, every possible effort is made to stop him, not for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the group. To deny at all costs the truth of the situation.-- Jed McKenna