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Irving L. Janis on Groupthink - Dictionary of Arguments

Haslam I 182
Groupthink/Janis: 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.
Janis Thesis: Although Janis concluded that the CIA’s faulty planning and lack of effective communication was partially at fault for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he diagnosed the primary problem as stemming from social psychological processes operating within the president’s core advisory group. (Janis; 1972(1), 1982(2)).
Psychological tradition: Beginning of the 1970s theory and research on group and organizational decision-making were dominated by individualistic subjective utility theory (Kramer, 1998)(3), 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 184
Def Group think/Janis: ‘Groupthink’ [is] a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. (Janis, 1972(1): 9)
Janis thesis: a specific set of antecedent conditions can lead the members of a group to seek consensus with one another instead of engaging in careful and deliberative decision-making.
Group think model/Janis:
a) the antecedent conditions expected to produce this consensus-seeking psychology,
(b) a set of observable symptoms that should arise from it, which in turn result in
(c) a set of defective decision-making processes.
The model suggests that these defective processes tend, much of the time, to produce suboptimal collective decisions.
Antecedent conditions: highly directive (e.g., charismatic or authoritarian) leaders, limited information search, and insulation of the group from outsiders with the necessary expertise to make sound decisions.
Especially important: important: a strong sense of group cohesion (i.e., a strong collective bond of some sort) and a context of high stress or crisis, especially likely when confronting a complex and consequential decision.
^Haslam I 185
Groupthink symptoms: (Janis 1971)(3)
Over-estimation of group worth:
1.Illusion of invulnerability
2. Belief in morality of ingroup
Closed-mindedness:
3. Collective rationalization
4. Stereotypic views of outgroups
Pressures toward uniformity:
5. Self-censorship
6. Illusion of unanimity
7. Pressure placed on deviants
8. Mindguarding
Problems: decision-making objectives are inadequately discussed, only a few alternative
Haslam I 186
solutions are entertained, originally preferred solutions are not critically examined, initially discarded solutions are not re-examined, experts are not consulted, advice is solicited in a selective and biased fashion, and the group fails to develop contingency plans.
Solution/Janis: group leaders should encourage all group members to be ‘critical evaluators’ such that they are able to freely express doubts or objections. Additionally, group leaders should avoid stating their initial preferences at the onset of any decision-making venture(…). Janis advocated for the creation of several independent groups, each with their own leader, to solve the same problem. (…) group members’ opinions should be frequently challenged, either by allowing different external experts to attend meetings, or by designating select members to serve as temporary ‘devil’s advocates.’ Finally, Janis stressed the importance of ‘second-chance’ meetings in which group decisions could be reconsidered one last time before being settled or made public.
Haslam I 187
Examples for groupthink: the invasion of North Korea, the Bay of Pigs, and the Vietnam War escalation.
Examples not exhibiting groupthink: the Marshall Plan and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Haslam I 189
Groups/Janis: thesis: the only goal of decision-making groups is to engage in measured deliberation to make accurate and logical decisions.
VsJanis: Groups may have other goals in mind, such as gaining ‘satisfaction with and commitment to the decision,’ ‘improved implementation by group members’, or even ‘diffused responsibility for poor decisions’ (McCauley, 1998(4): 148). >Group think/psychological theories.
KramerVsJanis: Roderick Kramer (1998)(5) suggested that at least some of Janis’ case examples are better understood as flawed decisions arising from politicothink rather than groupthink. President Kennedy (…) sought to make accurate decisions regarding what was the best political decision (e.g., would be popular domestically) to the detriment of making the best possible military decision. In other words, careful appraisal of choices
Haslam I 190
(i.e., non-groupthink symptoms) in one domain may produce apparent groupthink in another.
FullerVsJanis/AldagVsJanis: Sally Fuller and Ramon Aldag (1998)(6) argue that the easy popularity of the model has distracted social psychologists. They claim that researchers have focused on testing the original parameters of the groupthink model at the expense of asking broader questions about group decision-making. (…) – ironically – some of the best evidence for the groupthink model emerges from examination of the way in which groupthink research has itself been conducted. >Group think/psychological theories.


1. Janis, I.L. (1972) Victims of Groupthink. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
2. Janis, I.L. (1982) Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
3. Janis, I.L. (1971) ‘Groupthink’, Psychology Today, November, 43–6: 74–6.
4. McCauley, C. (1998) ‘Group dynamics in Janis’ theory of groupthink: Backward and forward’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73: 146–62.
5. 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.
6. Fuller, S.R. and Aldag, R.J. (1998) ‘Organizational Tonypandy: Lessons from a quarter century of the groupthink phenomenon’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73: 163–84.



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.
Janis, Irving L.
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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