February 5, 2015
The Oxford Dictionary defines theory as a system of ideas intended to explain something; especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. Irving Janis, a research psychologist from Yale University, developed a theory that described the systematic errors made by groups when making a collective decision. “Groupthink is a concurrence-seeking tendency among group members of high prestige, tightly knit policy-making groups” (Yetiv, 2003, p. 420). According to Rose’s Diverse Perspectives on the Groupthink Theory (2013), groupthink occurs normally when there’s a strong sense of “we” within the group. People would rather be on “good terms” with the group members than make an educated, well thought out decision. According to Yetiv’s paper published in the British Journal of Political Science (2003), groupthink is most likely to occur in groups that are cohesive or exhibit a high level of teamwork. Irving Janis wanted to understand how a group of individuals came up with excellent decisions one time and another time totally mess up. So what is the groupthink theory? According to Yetiv (2003), groupthink is when a homogenous highly cohesive group is so concerned with maintaining unanimity that they fail to make evaluate all their alternatives and make the wrong decision. Janis believed there is a turning point in a group’s decision-making process when the priority shifts from finding the best solution to coming to a unanimous decision (Janis, 1991, p. 248). How does the groupthink theory work? Remember the last time you were part of a group, perhaps during a school or work project. Imagine someone offers up an idea that you think is pretty awful. However, everyone else in your group agrees with the person who suggested the idea. Do you voice your opinion? In many cases, people engage in groupthink and their opinions just seem to disappear. Group members place emphasis on everyone agreeing and not feeling threatened, that’s why decisions are sometimes underdeveloped, scattered or just plain wrong (Rose, 2013, p.4). When does groupthink usually occur? According top Yetiv (2003), groupthink usually happens during a fiasco or a high-stress level situation. Groupthink has some benefits. When working with a large number of people, it often helps the group complete tasks, make decisions, and finish projects quickly. Groupthink also eliminates disagreements and inner-group conflict, which can save time in the long run. However, this theory also has s. The suppression of individual’s opinions and thoughts can lead to underdeveloped and sometimes poor solutions (Janis, 1991, p. 250).
The three types of antecedent conditions that can affect a group’s decision-making process are organizational structure faults, situational factors and cohesion of the group. Some examples of organizational structure faults are insulation of the group, lack of impartial leadership and lack of methodical procedure (Rose, 2013, p. 2). Situational factors include, but aren’t limited to, high stress from external threats, temporary low self-esteem after a bad idea, excessive difficulties or moral dilemmas (Rose, 2013, p. 3). Cohesion of the group can be the most detrimental variable, if the group members like each other too much or have sometime of emotional connection, they are less likely to voice their opinions and disagree with the majority (Janis, 1991, p. 251). These three variables are the most detrimental to the outcome of the group’s objective.
Groupthink has affected some of the most important historical events of all time, the Bay of Pigs, Challenger space shuttle, the Pearl Harbor attack. One of the most infamous invasions of all-time failed because of groupthink. The Bay of Pigs was a planned invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro, approved by President John F. Kennedy and his