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Groupthink is a possible process within a group . Competent people make worse or more unrealistic decisions because everyone adapts their opinion to the expected group opinion. This can lead to situations where the group agrees to actions or compromises that each individual group member would refuse under different circumstances.


In psychology, the English term groupthink is also often used in German for “group think ”. This was coined in 1972 by the psychologist Irving Janis in a deliberate resemblance to new word creations such as doublethink (see double think ) in George Orwell's novel 1984 . According to Janis, groupthink is a “mode of thinking that people use when the pursuit of unanimity becomes so dominant in a cohesive group that it tends to override the realistic assessment of alternative courses of action”.

Others say that the term groupthink was a re-creation by William H. Whyte in 1952. He wrote the book The Organization Man . In fact, in this book from 1956, Whyte describes the kicking out of an actually very good employee with the words:

“The management was unhappy about the decision but they argued that harmonious group thinking (this was the actual word they used) was the company's prime aim, and if they had promoted the brilliant man it would have upset the whole chain of company interpersonal relationships. What else, they asked plaintively, could they have done? "

“Management was dissatisfied with the decision, but they said that harmonious groupthink (that is the term they used) was the company's number one goal and promoting the great employee would have messed up the whole chain of human relationships. So what, they complained, should they have done? "

- William H. Whyte


In a moderate way, the thinking of all people is influenced by adapting to different groups: We all orientate ourselves to a certain extent on the ideas and values ​​of the family , the circle of friends , the association , the company - up to the church , party and state . At the same time we are involved in the formation of this groupthink.

Groupthink in the sense of groupthink, on the other hand, occurs more frequently in committees or large organizations, especially when the decision is made isolated from external influences. In its extreme form, groupthink is the complete submission of the individual to the thinking of a group to which the individual belongs or wants to belong. It can be a religious community , a party or just any decision-making body. Critical , questioning thinking then no longer takes place.


The danger of groupthink lies in its pronounced rigidity and irrationality . If a group does not have functional mechanisms for adapting the common ideas of thought, these are raised to a dogma , which can nevertheless develop a high level of attraction. Orientation towards such a unrealistic dogma can in the worst case lead to the demise of the group.

Well-known examples

Groupthink is seen as an influential factor in National Socialism, the Vietnam War , the Bay of Pigs Invasion , the Watergate Affair , the Challenger Disaster and the Columbia Disaster , the corruption in the Enron group and the decision of the American Congress on the second Iraq war in 2003.

Factors, Symptoms, and Consequences

Factors that make groupthink likely to occur are:

  • a high level of group cohesion (close relationship, similarity, cohesion)
  • structural defects in the structure of the group
    • Isolation from the outside
    • a very strong, dominant opinion leader inside
    • lack of objectivity on the part of the manager
    • Inadequate or even missing norms / processes to systematically weigh up alternative courses of action
  • Existence of a threatening situation (in the group perception) that triggers severe stress and a lot of emotionality

Symptoms of groupthink include:

  • the illusion of invulnerability, excessive optimism
  • Conviction of the morality of one's own actions, stereotyping of outsiders or opponents
  • Glossing over bad decisions
  • extreme conformity pressure (adaptation to the group retention of doubt, objections or criticism) and stigma of "deviators"
  • Pressure to protect the group from dissenting (viewed as negative or even hostile) views
  • To censor information about the group and the flow of information "outside"
  • internal and external pressure for unanimous decision-making

The consequence of this groupthink is a very pronounced form of selective perception , which can ultimately lead to disastrous wrong decisions:

  • Consideration of a few, selected alternatives
  • Disregarding the opinion of experts or outsiders
  • Very selective information acquisition (only information that fits in the direction already taken), no active effort to obtain additional information ( confirmation error )
  • individual group members mutually confirm their theories
  • no creation of alternative or emergency plans

Prevent the groupthink

There are different approaches to preventing groupthink situations:

Responsibility and decision in one hand

Continuing the theory of groupthink consistently, the interpersonal constraints of groupthink could be circumvented by placing responsibility and the power to make decisions in the hands of a single person. This can and should ask other group members for advice at any time. Since compromises and actions are only determined by this one person, he is not dependent on an assumed group attitude. This method is very questionable, however, because it either gives this person too much power or leads to unproductive power struggles within the group, and finally because this person can also be put under pressure by a group of people through their thinking or themselves feels set, so also succumbs to a groupthink again.

Naturally, the bundling of decision-making powers is accompanied by other problematic phenomena. The lack of personal responsibility can also result in reduced commitment on the part of the other group members. A strong, sole responsible leader can also suppress critical statements. If a sole decision-maker is determined, further measures must be taken to ensure the quality of the decision (clear decision-making rules, advocatus diaboli, ...).

Diaboli advocate

By choosing a group member who always takes a negative attitude ( advocatus diaboli or black thinking hat from De Bono ), other group members can be motivated to justify suggestions. The pressure associated with the first counter-arguments also decreases, since the advocatus diaboli merely fulfills his task by presenting counter-arguments.

Structural measures

Anonymous feedback , suggestion boxes and online chats have established themselves as effective means against group thinking. Criticism and negative views can be raised without a particular group member being held responsible.

Another possibility to make groupthink more difficult is a decision-making process that involves all parties equally and enables the consideration and development of possible alternatives. Such a process can be applied most effectively in cooperating groups. Methods that enable this type of decision-making are e. B. Liberating Structures .

Process losses

If groups are worse than the sum of their members because information that individuals have is not communicated or taken into account, one speaks of process losses . Stasser & Titus (1985) showed this with the following experiment: The best of several fictitious presidential candidates has eight positive and four negative characteristics. A group of four votes after a discussion. All subjects experienced the four negative traits; In test condition 1 the discussants knew all the positive qualities of the candidate, in test condition 2 each group member only knew two. Both groups therefore had the same information overall. 83% of the first condition groups, but only 24% of the second condition groups voted for the best candidate.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Translation of ( PDF; 363kB ( Memento of November 9, 2005 in the Internet Archive ))
  2. Groupthink, (Fortune 1952) ( Memento of the original from May 4, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ William H. Whyte: The Organization Man. 1956, chapter 16
  4. ^ BH Raven: "Groupthink: Bay of Pigs and Watergate reconsidered". In: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73 (2/3), 1998. pp. 352-361.
  5. Garold Stasser, William Titus: Pooling of unshared information in group decision making: Biased information sampling during discussion. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 48 (1985) 6, OCLC 4646284687 , pp. 1467-1478.

Web links


  • William H. Whyte: The Organization Man. University of Pennsylvania Press, Pennsylvania 2002, ISBN 0-8122-1819-1 .
  • Irving Janis: Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1972, ISBN 0-395-14044-7 .
  • John Schwartz, Matthew L. Wald: Smart People Working Collectively can be Dumber Than the Sum of their Brains: "Groupthink" Is 30 Years Old, and Still Going Strong. In: New York Times. March 9, 2003 (reprinted in Groupthink ).
  • SE Taylor, AP Peplau, DO Sears: Social Psychology. 10th edition. Prentice Hall, New Jersey 2000, ISBN 0-13-021336-5 , pp. 306ff.