GroupThink Example, Article, Psychology etc

Think about the last time you were part of a group. Perhaps during school project, assignment etc. Imagine, that someone proposes an idea that you think is quite poor.

However, everyone else in the group agrees with the person who suggested the idea and the group seem set on pursuing the course of action.

Do you just keep silent and go along with the majority opinion?

In many cases, people just end up when they fear that their objections might disrupt the harmony of the group or suspect that their ideas might cause members to reject them.


The term ‘Groupthink’ was coined in 1972 by a social psychologist, Irving Janis. He learns how group decisions are made and how group decisions could be successful or a failure.

To understand the nature of decision making in small groups, Irving Janis in his book “Victims of Groupthink” (1972), explains what takes place in groups where a group member is highly agreeable with one another.

Read: Westley Maclean Theory Of Mediated Communication

After the publication of Irving Janis book ‘Victims of Groupthink’ in 1972 and a revised edition with the title ‘Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes’ in 1982, the concept of groupthink was used to explain many other faulty decisions in history.

Irving Janis believes that many poor governmental decisions and policies are the result of groupthink. He uses historical data to support his theory by analyzing 6 national political decision-making episodes in United States: –

The Negative Example

  • The Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961)
  • The Korean War (1950 – 1953)
  • Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor (1941)
  • Escalation of the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975)

The Positive Example

  • Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
  • The Marshall Plan (1948)

Groupthink happen when the desire for cohesion and agreement takes precedence over critical testing, analysis, discussion and evaluating ideas. According to Irving Janis, groupthink can destroy effective decision making. Too little conflict often lowers the quality of group decisions.

The theory is not only applicable to political decision, but also in any other decision making and communication process as well as in business and educational groups. For example, it has been implemented in several disastrous policy decisions including NASA’s (1986) decision to launch the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded just after take-off.

Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor (1941)

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is a prime example of groupthink.

The United Stated had intercepted Japanese message and they discovered that Japan were preparing an attack somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. As a result, Washington sent a warning to the officers stationed at Pearl Harbo.

But why was this warning not taken seriously enough to prepare for the attack? Discussions led the Navy and Army to conclude that the attack was unlikely, and they rationalized their opinion in many ways.

They assumed that

  • The attack would only happen as a response to the US attacking Japan
  • Japan would surely not be crazy enough to start a war that they couldn’t win.
  • The officers thought that even if the attack should happen, they would be able to detect and destroy the fleets before they could reach the base.

Groupthink happens when the desire for cohesion and agreement takes precedence over critical analysis and discussion.

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

In October 1962, Cuba was caught building offensive nuclear weapon stations and arming them with soviet missiles. President John F. Kennedy had already suffered through one instance of groupthink in the Bay of Pigs Invasion the year before. He seemed to have learned what not to do in these kinds of international crisis.

In the missile crisis, Kennedy constantly encouraged his advisors to challenge and debate one another. He set up subgroups to discuss the problem independently. Various members, including Kennedy talked with outsiders and experts about the problem to make sure that fresh opinions were heard.

In the end, Kennedy successful invoked a military blockade and stopped the Cuban-Soviet development.

Irving Janis was intrigued by the fact that essentially the same group of people made decisions of such divergent quality. He found that Kennedy’s advisor (National Security Council) did not thoroughly test information before making the Bay Pigs Invasion decision


A way of group deliberation that minimize conflict and emphasizes the need for unanimity – Richard West and Lynn H. Turner

An unintended outcome of cohesion in which the desire for cohesion and agreement take precedence over critical analysis and discussion – Titsworth and Harter  

groupthink examples


Groupthink is a theory associated with small group communication. Irving Janis focus work on ‘problem-solving group’ and ‘task-oriented group’, whose main purpose is to make decisions and give policy recommendations.

Let’s examine three critical assumptions that guide the theory: –


Defined as the extent to which group members are willing to work together. Cohesion arises from a group’s attitudes, values and patterns of behaviors. Those members who are highly attracted to other member’ attitudes, value and behaviors are more likely to be called cohesive

Unified Undertaking

Defined as a group member hold their input rather than risk rejection. Group members them more inclined to follow the leader when decision-making time arrives.

Frequently Complex

The nature of most problem-solving and task-oriented groups are usually complex.


What causes groupthink. Irving Janis believes that 3 conditions exist that promote groupthink: (1) Group Cohesiveness, (2) Structural Factors and (3) Stressful Characteristic.

Group Cohesiveness

How cohesiveness can lead to groupthink? Cohesion differs from one group to another and different levels of cohesion produce different results. In some group, cohesion can lead to positive feelings about the group experience and the other group members.

High cohesive groups may also bring about a troubling occurrence. Irving Janis believes – as groups reach high degrees of cohesiveness, it will tend to stifle other opinions and alternative.

High-risk decisions – Group members may be unwilling to express any reservations about solutions. Therefore, the decision may be made without thinking about consequences.

Structural Factor

1.Insultation of the Group

Refer to a group’s ability to remain unaffected by outside influences. They become immune from what takes place outside of their experience. People outside the group who could help with the decision may even be present in the organization, but not asked to participate.

2.Lack of Impartial Leadership

Group members are led by people who have a personal interest in the outcome.

3.Lack of Decision-Making Procedure

Failure to provide norms for solving group issues. Group may be influenced by dominant voices and go along with those who choose to speak up.

4.Homogeneity – Social Background and Ideology

Irving Janis noted that social background and ideology among the members of a cohesive group makes it easier for them to concur on whatever proposal are put by the leader.

Stressful Characteristic

Internal and external stress on the group may evoke groupthink. When stress in high, group usually rally around their leaders and affirm their belief’s

groupthink examples


Although groupthink may be difficult to detect when you are in a group, Irving Janis (1982) observes 3 categories of symptoms of groupthin

Illusion of invulnerability

A group’s belief that they are special enough to overcome any obstacles or setbacks. This is related to extremism which encourages people to take bigger risks

Belief in inherent morality of the group

Assumption that the group members are thoughtful and good. Therefore, they assume the decisions they make will be good.

When people think they are doing something moral, they do not consider morality of the process and consequences.

Stereotypes of out-groups

Out-group are viewed as enemies and their views are always taken as negative and are ignored.

Collective rationalizations

The situation in which group members ignore warnings about their decision.


People censor their own feelings and its communication to avoid conflict and disagreements.

Illusion of Unanimity

Belief that silence equals agreement

Self-Appointed mind-guards

Group members who shield the group from adverse information. Makes people remain far from contradictory thoughts, actions and communications.

Direct pressure on dissenters

All members of a group have a feeling of group feeling. They think that if they put forward any views different from other members, it can cause conflicts.


How can group members learn to avoid groupthink?

Irvin Janis (1980) offer several recommendations. He believes that the answer to the problem of groupthink is to take the following steps in group decision making: –

  • Encourage everyone to be a critical evaluator and express reservations whenever they come up.
  • Do not have the leader state a preference upfront
  • Set up several independent and separate policy groups
  • Divide into subgroups
  • Discuss what is happening with others outside the group
  • Invite outsiders into the group to bring fresh ideas
  • Assign an individual at each meeting to be devil’s advocate
  • Spend considerable time surveying warning signal
  • Hold a second-chance meeting to reconsider decisions before making them final

We also can consider, the suggestion by other small group communication researchers: –

The group leader should encourage critical and independent thinking

If you find yourself a leader in a small group, you should encourage disagreement not just for the sake of argument but to eliminate groupthink. Even if you are not a leader, you can encourage a healthy discussion by voicing any objections you have to the ideas being discussed.

Group members should be sensitives to status differences that may affect decision making

Group should consider the merits of suggestions, weigh evidence and make decision about the validity of ideas without being too concerned about the status of those making suggestions. Avoid agreeing with a decision just because of the status or credibility of the person making it.

Invite someone from outside the group to evaluate the group decision process.

Sometimes, an objective point of view from outside the group can help avoid groupthink. Many large companies hire consultants to evaluate organizational decision making. Sometimes, an outsider can identify unproductive group norm more readily than group members can

Assign a group member the role of devil’s advocate

Group also can assign someone to consider the negative aspects of the suggestion before it is implemented. It could save the group from groupthink and enhance the quality of the decision.

Ask group members to subdivide into small group

One technique that may reduce groupthink is to have group divide into two teams to debate the issue. From that, group can consider potential problem with the suggested solution.

Consider using technology to help your group gather and evaluate ideas

The quality of group decisions can be enhanced of group members contribute ideas by using software programs to help gather and evaluate ideas.

Although Irving Janis (1980) recommendations and suggestion seem realistic, critics such as Paul ‘t Hart (1990) question whether Irving Janis’s recommendation in advertently evade collegiality and foster group factionalism.

In order to avoid oversimplifying the groupthink problem, ‘t Hart (1990) has proposed 4 general recommendations for groups who may be prone to groupthink.


Aldog and Fuller – advise us to consider the limitations of groupthink. This theory focuses almost solely on decision quality and does not address other desirable outcomes of the decision process such as member adherence to decision and satisfaction with the group leader.

They often other elements affect decision making including organizational politics


  1. Richard L. West, Lynn H.Turner (2018). Introducing communication theory analysis application (6th ed). New York: McGrawHill-Education
  2. A. Beebe, John T. Masterson. (2003). Communicating in small groups (4th ed.). New York: Pearson
  3. John K. Brilhart, Gloria J. Galanes. (1998). Effective group discussion (9th ed.). New York: McGrawHill
  4. Littlejohn, S.W. (2017). Theories of human communication. (11th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning

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