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Psychological Theories on Groupthink - Dictionary of Arguments

Haslam I 182
Groupthink/psychological theories: Example: after the failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion which had been planned by a group of highly intelligent people the question came up how this failure had been possible. >Group think/Janis.
Psychological tradition: Beginning of the 1970s theory and research on group and organizational decision-making were dominated by individualistic subjective utility theory (Kramer, 1998)(1), according to which a single person’s subjective evaluations of risk and reward affect their decision-making processes.
JanisVsTradition: stressed the group dynamics underlying these decisions. In particular, he theorized
Haslam I 183
that the cohesiveness of groups could motivate their members to prioritize group harmony and unanimity over careful deliberation when making decisions.
Haslam I 187
Criticisms VsJanis:
Philip Tetlock (1979)(2): Consistent with the groupthink model, public statements in groupthink cases were more simplistic and tended to make more ingroup-favouring references than public statements in non-groupthink cases. However, inconsistent with the model, public statements in groupthink cases were no more likely to make negative references to outgroups.
Clark McCauley (1989)(3): three of [Janis’] cases (i.e., North Korea, Pearl Harbor, Watergate) indeed appeared to involve group members internalizing collective beliefs (i.e., privately agreeing with group decisions). However, he concluded that the Bay of Pigs invasion and Vietnam War escalation were better characterized as involving compliance – that is, members publicly expressed agreement with group positions without privately accepting them, presumably due to social pressures to conform.
TetlockVsJanis: (Tetlock et al 1992)(4): The authors found some evidence consistent with the groupthink model: structural and procedural faults (e.g., directive leadership, decision-making procedures) predicted groupthink symptoms. However, in contrast to Janis’ original formulation, group cohesiveness and high stress conditions did not emerge as key antecedents to groupthink symptoms.
Haslam I 188
PetersonVsJanis: (Peterson et al. 1998)(5) found support for the idea that decision-making styles and procedures have important implications for the success and failures of real corporations. However, there were some caveats: (…) ’unsuccessful groups’ identified by Peterson and colleagues did not resemble the sorts of groups likely to be plagued by groupthink as characterized by Janis; rather, they tended to have weaker leaders and less cohesion.
In contrast, ‘successful groups’ were characterized by stronger leaders, greater willingness to take risks, and more optimism.
Laboratory studies: have generally focused on manipulating groupthink antecedents (e.g., cohesion, decision-making procedures) to examine their effects on groupthink symptoms and decision quality. Cohesion has been manipulated in a variety of ways: giving false feedback regarding the compatibility of group members’ attitudes, offering rewards to
Haslam I 189
successful groups, forming groups from friends vs. strangers, or highlighting shared group membership among individuals (for a review, see Esser, 1998(6): 127–133).
Results: these laboratory studies have not found a consistent causal relationship between group cohesion and groupthink symptoms. However,(…) the inconsistency of these results may have much to do with inconsistency in the way cohesion has been defined and operationalized.
VsJanis: although there are empirical observations that some of Janis’ (1972(7), 1982(8)) antecedents may produce certain groupthink symptoms, it seems fair to say that there is little or no evidence from either case or lab studies for a strict model in which all of Janis’ (1972(7), 1982(8)) antecedents must be present to elicit the symptoms of groupthink, or in which all groupthink symptoms necessarily co-occur. There is also little evidence for an additive model in which the accumulation of antecedents produces more or stronger symptoms (see Turner and Pratkanis, 1998b).
Haslam I 193
Group dynamics: Robert S. Baron: Baron (2005)(9) argued that groupthink-like dynamics, including conformity, suppression of dissent, polarization, self-censorship, illusions of consensus and intergroup bias are actually commonplace – meaning that they are ubiquitous to pretty much any meaningful group. Baron (2005)(9) further argued that failures to find strong or consistent evidence for the antecedent conditions of groupthink may actually reflect the fact that it is so common. In other words, there is little variation to detect because most groups exhibit groupthink-like symptoms and defective decision-making processes. >Groupthink/Packer.



1. Kramer, R.M. (1998) ‘Revisiting the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam decisions 25 years later: How well has the groupthink hypothesis stood the test of time?’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73: 236–71.
2. Tetlock, P.E. (1979) ‘Identifying victims of groupthink’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37: 1314–24.
3. McCauley, C. (1989) ‘The nature of social influence in groupthink: Compliance and internalization’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57: 250–60.
4. Tetlock, P.E., Peterson, R.S., McGuire, C., Chang, S. and Feld, P. (1992) ‘Assessing political group dynamics: A test of the groupthink model’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63: 403–25.
5. Peterson, R.S., Owens, P.D., Tetlock, P.E., Fan, E.T. and Martorana, P. (1998) ‘Group dynamics in top management teams: Groupthink, vigilance, and alternative models of organizational failure and success’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73: 272–305.
6. Esser, J.K. (1998) ‘Alive and well after 25 years: A review of groupthink research’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73: 116–41.
7. Janis, I.L. (1972) Victims of Groupthink. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
8. Janis, I.L. (1982) Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
9. Baron, R.S. (2005) ‘So right it’s wrong: Groupthink and the ubiquitous nature of polarized group decision-making’, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 37: 219–253.



Dominic J. Packer and Nick D. Ungson, „Group Decision-Making. Revisiting Janis’ groupthink studies“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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