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What is Group Thinking?

Don't Argue With the Leader!

Group Thinkers

Group Thinkers

This election was very interesting because the side that lost was in total disbelieve. Why is that? Could it be because of Group Thinking? What is Group thinking. By definition Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group:

  • "Makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment
  • Groups affected by group think ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.
  • A group is especially vulnerable to group think when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making."

Who is Subject to Group Thinking?

Group Thinking is not subject to anyone political party or group. It can happen to any group that is subject to the factors listed above. I belong to a toastmasters club and we planned to recruit new members by having an open house at the local library. We created a committee and made assignments for the tasks at hand. We planned for a meet and greet person to sign in prospective members. We had an upstairs usher who would guide the parties downstairs to where the event was to take place. We had food and drinks. We even planned to present a sample meeting. We had enough chairs and tables for about 40 people.

People started arriving when the library opened, but they had one thing on their mind: use the library resources. They didn't want to go to a meeting. Needless to say we did not get one person to come downstairs to the event. No one in our group ever thought about going to the library weeks before the event and seeing how people behave. This is a symptom of group thinking. We were all so excited about putting on the event, we lost the perspective.

An Example of Group Thinking.

Invading Iraq was a result of group think. The Neocons believed that as a super power we had the right to preemptively invade a country that could be a threat to us and its neighbors and take out its leader. Colin Powell at the UN convinced the members that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, by showing a power point drawing of where the weapons were. It was not even an intelligence photo. It was a line drawing. They bought it because, they were afraid to go against the group. There was also much more invalid supporting evidence that was brought in under duress of not being part of the group.

Group Think Today

While I was watching the result of our election, I switched between liberal leaning channels and Fox News. It was interesting to see how Karl Rove was doing his mathematical genius routine to indicate that Romney could still win even after the host of the show went to the decision desk and they told her it was over. It was also interesting to me to see how millions of dollars where thrown into super PACs. I was convinced that all that money would be the deciding factor.

I see on Face Book that people are still trying to justify Romney's loss by echoing what they hear and read on right wing media. Why, it's because of group thinking. Without outside information and critical thinking the group will place themselves in a position of self-righteousness and self-justification. Then when things don't turn-out the way they expected they will become disillusioned and in a state of disbelief and try to blame others outside the group for their failings.

Overcoming Group Think

So how do we overcome group thinking? It is difficult in this day and age, because information is given to us so freely. If we have a position on an issue, the media and internet make it very easy to find and use evidence to support our cause. With political issues, I find that most people including myself respond emotionally first and then try to rationalize it to argue with the other side.

Think Outside the Box

When it comes to politics, we are either in one group or another. We need to have information from outside our group, so that we can judge what the alternatives are. Political parties are like clubs. I have one relative that told me: "My parents belong to (party shall remain unnamed), therefore I also belong to that party and I always will." We need to use critical thinking and if necessary go against what the group is advocating, at the risk of being ostracized by the group. We need to think outside the box and present our views from outside that box. This is why organizations use focus groups because they can get input from sources other than within their own organization.


I believe Romney and the right wing lost, because they did not present a message that fits the needs of most of the American people, but that it did fit the needs of less of the American people and their political party. This can be directly attributed to Group Think. Think about this, if a religion does not fit the needs of the people, it cannot be successful. Politics in this sense is like a religion when it comes to winning elections.

Therefore let's think outside the box and get out of the group think mode. As you can see from the example I gave about invading Iraq, group think can be quite dangerous. We are still suffering from the effects of that group thinking.

As I said in the beginning, group think is not limited to just political organizations or groups, it can occur in any group where they are subject to the factors outlined in this article.

Here is a power point presentation from psysr that will clarify group think even further.


Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on December 10, 2012: I'm sorry, it wasn't done intentionally. There are so many hubs and so little time. I will read your hubs. They seem to provide a different perspective, and that is always good.

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on December 10, 2012: I just posted this in a forum: I read a book called the Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion: by a moral Psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He states everybody has a moral matrix with six sets of values: Care/harm; liberty/oppression; fariness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; and sanctity/degradation.

In liberals, the first three are the strongest. In libertarians, the second two are the strongest; and in conservatives, the are all equal.

The most sacred value for liberals is care for victims of oppression. The most sacred value for libertarians is the individual in the society, and the most sacred value for conservatives is preserve the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community.

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He claims that these are actually part of our DNA and when people think their set of values is being fulfilled, it produces serotonin that make them feel better. So they will argue and fight for those values that make them feel better. I did a book review of his book. When I get into arguments with my friends and family, I can see these values come into play. But it seems like emotions override the logic. Maybe this explains why. from upstate, NY on December 09, 2012:

Oh, and as a side note to this discussion, I might point out that I've read and commented on a number of your Hubs but you've yet to do likewise! :) from upstate, NY on December 09, 2012:

Fine Hub and a good bit of writing! It's true that everybody is subject to groupthink to some degree or another. As a conservative I had believed Romney would win but did have some doubts in the final week before the election. The Rassmussan polls had started to turn in favor of Obama but I was still hoping the Republican turnout would turn the tide.

I'm not sure groupthink was responsible for the Republican's surprise in the election, so much as the emotional component of the prospect of an Obama victory.

As someone outside the liberal group, my opinion might be of some value to you. I see the Liberals as a more isolated group than the Conservatives. From what I've read and observed, liberals tend to be less aware of Conservative beliefs than the other way around. With the main-stream media and academia solidly liberal, its much easier to be unaware of opposing positions.

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 12, 2012:

Sorry! I wrote that comment at 11:00 p.m. last night. I said Clinton, it should have been Kennedy.

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 11, 2012:

Drhu: By the way, the Bay of Pigs, was also a result of group thinking...and Clinton was the president. Are you happy now?

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 11, 2012:

Yes. That's group thinking, but they didn't do it. That's the difference. I watched Fareed Zakaria's show today and he interviewed people that believe one of the reasons that Romney lost the election is because he outsourced the operation of his campaign. Because people in his campaign all agreed it would be better. That's a consequences of group think. Maybe this power point will give you a better understanding. I'm thinking about putting this link in my hub.

Dr. John Smith from The Cosmos on November 11, 2012:

Bill Clinton and the Democrats put together a plan to invade. Based on the same intel that George Bush used. That Snopes article is full of group thinking but since all that does not fit this very obvious attempt to make Republicans look like folks who are unable to think for themselves you refuse to acknowledge it.

Sorry but you have compromised your premise.

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 11, 2012:

Drhu: I Looked at all your links. There is a difference between having an opinion whether it be democrat or republican and actually putting together a plan to preemptively invade a country. The group thinking in this instance was that Bush and Cheny put together a group of like minded people that convinced themselves and the UN that it was the right thing to do. Bush said, you are either with me or against me. This was part of the group think to get congress to agree to war.

Grover Norquist is doing the same thing right now with having the republican congress sign a pledge to not raise taxes ever. And he stated very clearly that if they don't sign the pledge, he will make it very tough on their chances of getting reelected. Intimidation is one of the factor of group think!

Dr. John Smith from The Cosmos on November 11, 2012:

You didn't bother to look at any of those links I sent did you? Do you think Snopes is lying?

Or are the Democrats the only ones allowed to use that intel?

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 10, 2012:

Drhu: What makes you think the whole Iraq thing is in error? I watched Colin Powell make that presentation to the UN. I read his book on it. He said that he knew it was B.S. But he was asked by Bush to do it. He refused many times, but Bush made him do it, by saying, you are either for me or against me. So as a good soldier, he did it. The part about the Neocons is also true. Just google it. I didn't make any of it up.

Dr. John Smith from The Cosmos on November 10, 2012:

So by saying you weren't trying to highlight only one party....which is universal in your likewise are not responsible for errors in it's content? Like the whole Iraq thing?

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 10, 2012:

Lipnancy: I think a lot of it has to do with the sound bites that are used. They make it very easy to relate to, but are really a form of propaganda and brainwashing. Thanks for dropping by.

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on November 10, 2012:

I think we have given journalists too much power. Instead of investigating a topic for ourselves we turn on the TV and go along with our favorite journalist (or group thinking). And in doing so, the journalists now feel superior to us.

I feel that the joke is really on them, because no matter how many times they called my house (sometimes 5 times a day, really?), I would not tell them how I felt or who I was going to vote for. And most my friends felt the same way. So therefore, all the data that they were reporting from polling were the same old opinions from people who do not think for themselves.

I guess that is an assumption of group think that bites the media in the butt.

Mike Russo (author) from Placentia California on November 10, 2012:

To all of you who commented as of 11/10/2012: I have to apologize. I did not intend to imply that Group Thinking is about one political party. I just used Iraq because I do believe it was a classic example of Group Thinking. I used Romney because it was the most recent case of group thinking. I used religion as an example of any group that does not fit the peoples needs will suffer as a result of group thinking. It is not directed towards any particular religion. If you live in a totally Christian community and they build a Buddhist temple there, how may people do you think would attend that temple? But the group that made the decision to do that could have never received any input from outside the group for whatever reason.

Group Thinking can happen in any group where they have isolated themselves from external input and have the same values and belief systems. It can happen to liberals as well as conservatives. This is why there are focus groups is to prevent group thinking. I will re-write this hub to be more inclusive. I want to thank all of you for your comments.

An AYM on November 10, 2012:

cynthtggt: The issue is that wealth is what it comes back to regardless. The reason we "Need" the economy so mighty to persue alternative energy is because we on the majority refuse to take the slightly more difficult or slightly more expensive path even if it will be profoundly more correct a choice. It will only happen if it's cheaper and easier.

I also never said that I believe "The Left" is magical and wonderful to the environment - I prefer them because they are better to it. I said "The Right" specifically downplays the environment because they do. Romney quite literally in his own (Written) words said he would cut environmental protections for economic gain because the environment is fine. Very literally, out of his own 'Plan for America' or whatever it was called.

I found it ironic how those tariffs against Chinese solar came at a time when solar was coming increasingly close to grid parity with fossil fuels. What's funny about it is those Chinese companies created jobs for America for the instillations. I don't care who's making money on it. I don't care if the world switching to alternative energy only made 5 people extraordinarily wealthy.

All that matters is a reverance for life other than your own, and that is ignored for the shallow values of "Oh well, we'll take care of money first and THEN we'll get to that part". Because everything in nature is just magically infinite and life you can't see doesn't matter.

Barefootfae from Skye on November 10, 2012:

You have to be amazed at these articles now which basically boil down to there should really only be one way of thinking and that is the liberal way.

That is where this hub tries to take you.

It really doesn't matter how well he articulates it it comes out the same. Propaganda.

Dr. John Smith from The Cosmos on November 10, 2012:

As regards the Iraq invasion situation you are aware aren't you that Bill Clinton used all that same intel in his administration to get Congress to agree to an invasion he never actually staged?

A small sampling......

Cynthia Taggart from New York, NY on November 10, 2012:

AYM, I am not talking about wealth. I am writing about survival. And to believe that if no one were wealthy all would be good is the same as believing all is good when everyone is the same. I truly do not know what is more disgusting: a person who is filthy wealthy and sits on his lot like a miser, or a person jealous of another's gain. They're both the same to me. As for the environment, don't be deceived that your people care about the environment. They care about control. And I was referring to other countries. It is not likely a greater good will be served if the US alone practices environmentally-safe measures. Even environmentalists concede to the truth that the economy matters if we are to successfully transition from oil to solar panels. (However, we see the hypocrisy of ideals, do we not, with the recent Solyndra controversy and the 2 billion profit Gore makes exploiting fears [but doesn't practice what he preaches in his own personal life]). Whether it be because of mass communications or the Internet, the youth today believe anything the left says without so much as gleaning in to the past to observe the results of what has gone before. That is all that I am saying.