Janis Groupthink

Have you ever thought about speaking up in a meeting and then decided against it because you did not want to appear unsupportive of the group’s efforts? If so, you have probably been a victim of “Groupthink”. Irving Lester Janis (26 May 1918 – 15 November 1990) was a research psychologist at Yale University and most famous for his theory of “groupthink” which described the systematic errors made by groups when taking collective decisions(Wikipedia). Janis described “groupthink” as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group.

When the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action”(Janis,1972,p. 8). Janis identified eight symptoms(features) of groupthink. They were- 1)Illusion of Invulnerability-This leads the group to excessive optimism, over confidence leading them to take extraordinary risks. It may also lead them to ignore clear signs of risks. 2)Collective Rationalization-Victims of groupthink construct rationalizations and discount and discredit negative feedback and advice from the oppositions. )Illusion of morality-Group members often tend to ignore the ethical and moral consequences of their decisions. 4)Stereotyped views of others-Victims of Groupthink have a stereotyped view towards opponents who give different opinions. They consider them to be too stupid or weak to handle the problem. 5)Pressure on Dissent-Group members apply direct pressure on anyone who opposes the idea or validity supporting a decision or opinion favored by the majority. Example-Body language,Voice tone. 6)Self-censorship-They tend to censor themselves when they have opinions opposing the majority of the group.

This minimizes the members doubts and opinions to themselves and not to the group. They withhold dissenting views and counter arguments. Example-Keeping quiet and not giving an opinion due to opposing views. 7)Illusion of unanimity-Victims of groupthink have an illusion that the whole group is in unanimity. This symptom is caused by the preceding symptom. This is due to the false assumption that anybody who doesn’t give an opinion is in unanimity with the group’s decision. Silence is taken as consent. )Mindguarding-A few group members take up the role of mind-guards so as to protect the other members of the group from excessive information and facts that might destroy the majority decision. They stand up to prove the information wrong and label them stupid(stereotyped). This type of dysfunctional operation of an organization has many opportunities for failure. The basic fundamentals of this process are the beginnings of failure as groups seeks conformity and unity as they sacrifice everything in order to maintain peace within the group.

These eight symptoms of groupthink identified by Janis leads to defective decision making. Victims of grouthink never consider all the alternatives,they do not re-examine the alternatives,they reject negative information and have no contingency plans. The above are due to the stereotyped view of the victims and they act in this way to not disrupt the idea of the majority. This is what the organizations should be careful of. A real life example of “groupthink” leading to a defective decision making is Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.

This occurred on January 28,1986 launched from John F. Kennedy space centre. It was considered to be the most tragic event after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The presidential commission that investigated the accident showed that defective decision making was the main cause. MTI engineers presented that the mission would fail as the shuttle would not succeed in such cold temperatures. But,the flight officials put forward technical rationalizations faulting MTI’s analysis. One of these rationalizations was that the data was incohensive showing their stereotyped view.

The officials also forced Thiokol officials to change their recommendation from avoiding delay to the launch. This shows pressure on dissent. Hence,as expected the mission failed after 73 seconds of the launch killing 7 astronauts aboard. This example shows us how the officials had symptoms of groupthink and how it lead them to a defective decision making process. The challenge for any team or group leader is to create a working environment in which Groupthink is unlikely to happen.

Hence we could avoid groupthink by exploring objectives,exploring alternatives,encouraging ideas to be challenged without reprisal,examining the risks if the preferred choice is chosen,testing assumptions,gathering relevant information from outside sources,processing this information objectively,have at least one contingency plan.


  1. Moorhead,Gregory,Ference,Richard and Neck,Chris P. 1991
  2. ‘Group decision fiascos continue:Shuttle challenger and a revised groupthink framework’. Human Relations 44/6: 539-550. 2)Wikipedia.

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