True Life Relationships – On The Concept of “Groupthink”
Humans are sociological beings. We are social animals. If you have checked out my “True Life Relationships” main page you will know that that is exactly why I started True Life Relationships, so that I could offer not just the Psychologically based aspects of Personal Development, but the social science as well. Because social networking and relationships are very important parts of any human beings lifestyle here in society. And that is why we live in societies…
But as I preach about the importance of being social and cultivating your social life for your own personal development, I think it is also important to know when being the “socialite type” can actually be controversial.
This happens surrounding the concept of what is called “groupthink”…and namely when we are in danger of getting too absorbed into the group mentality.
And don’t get me wrong. I am not here to simply preach the same message about non-conformity that you’ve heard so many times before. For as much as I love to preach non-conformity, there is more to it than that.
So I must start this article with the positive side of group think.
There is actually a positive power to group mentality. As long as it is not arbitrary or adverse to your individuality, plugging your consciousness into the group consciousness can be very empowering.
Because as I said, we have banded together in groups because we are social animals, we need others to survive. We are sustained through a sense of community, and empowered by the size of our social network. So your group consciousness can give you strength. The more social backing you have in your personal social circle, the more personal power you have. The larger your business, the more prosperity you should have. The greater your social network, the more resourceful you are in society. And you have probably noticed just how energizing the people around you are at a big concert or event…right?
So the first thing you need to understand about group think, is that it is a powerful resource. It is something that you do not have to be subject to, but can objectively use for your own personal empowerment. If you can prevent yourself from being swept away into conformity and become subject to the whims of a groups collective consciousness, group mentality can be very energizing and empowering to your life in a variety of ways, and is a massive resource to have.
And for some of us conformity is a problem. We find ourselves being subject to the thoughts and feelings of others and do not know any better but to go along with them. But for others, we have a non-conformist complex. Often instilled by our mothers or other influential figures in our lives, who would tell us not to do things because others were doing them. With statements such as “If everyone else was jumping off a bridge would you do it to?” or “If everyone was doing drugs would you do it to?”, being the cliche here…to which the answer was supposed to be no right? But then of course we do end up taking the drugs our parents and medical/government officials want us to, and blindly doing what said authorities want in many situations anyways…so what we need here is a greater objectivity. For neither non-conformity nor conformity is actually the best way.
Think about it. If you were a hardcore non-conformist, and would never do anything because other people were doing it…how much new stuff would you actually try? You couldn’t possibly rely upon your own mind to come up with every new idea you could possibly ever have. You have to rely upon the people around you to introduce new things to you. And lets say you did find a group of your friends jumping off a bridge into a river or canal below…and they were having a lot of fun doing so…but you thought to yourself, “No, I have to rebel against the group”…and you didn’t try it. Not only have you deprived yourself of a new experience, that could have been fun, but you’ve also then constricted your comfort zone! You’ve limited your own consciousness and caused it to grow smaller. And furthermore, you are not going to be thought of by that group as the “cool rebel who didn’t do something just because we were”…you’re going to be thought of by them as the “person who wouldn’t try something new because they were prejudicial in their thoughts and didn’t want to step outside of their comfort zone due to some preconcieved notion about the experience, rather than trying it for themselves” (well…probably some abbreviated version of that statement haha, or rather just a feeling about you that sums it up)…and so you have limited yourself socially too, because you are now being thought of as a person who cant have fun with others because you do not like to try new and exciting things because of your prejudicial mindset and inability to leave your comfort zone.
Whereas a person who allows themselves to gain ideas from group think would see people trying something they have never tried before, and objectively evaluate the experience they seem to be having, and give it a try themselves to see if they have the same experience. So the thought process becomes “Hmmm, mom had said not to jump off a bridge just because others were…however these people are doing it and appear to be not only completely unharmed…but enjoying themselves very much…and it looks not only fairly safe but exciting…why don’t I watch the next couple people do it to further gauge whether everyone is having this experience….ok…yes they are…I believe I might have a similar experience and will only know if I try…So I’ll go ahead and give it a try….” and then what happens after that? either “wow I enjoyed that just as much as everyone else!” or “ok…nope…that wasn’t as great as I thought it would be…oh well, at least I tried it so I know.”
Sounds pretty horrible doesn’t it? To think that you can actually use the experiences of others in order to guage the experiences you will have! I know! haha.
So lets take the example of using drugs. This is a great example because many people have a great time using certain drugs. But the controversy is that many also don’t! And as long as you are plugging into group think objectively enough, you will be able to get a good sense of the experience you will have. So lets say you are a teenager and going to a party where there is alcohol. There’s a variety of good and bad experiences you could predict yourself having by listening to other stories of teens drinking. “Well one teen drank too much and threw up…I dont want to do that…another drank and drove and lost her license…don’t want to do that…another one drank too much with a guy she didn’t know that well and got sexually assaulted…definately don’t want to do that…another one raided her parents liquor cabinet and got into trouble…don’t want to do that…” So here we have definitive reasons for not being a teen who is abusing alcohol, rather than just being that “uncool person” in the social group. However…many responsible adults do drink, and what is our mentality? “Alcohol when used in the right context can be a very enjoyable beverage that allows for great experiences.” And we know what experiences we don’t want to have, and which ones we do, and we try to create situations that will be positive rather than negative. And the same goes for other drugs too. Get offered crack, and remember…”Oh, many times I have heard about crack were disguisting scenario’s I wouldnt want to have”…and don’t try crack. And many people do not try crack for that very reason. Because your group think tells you that based upon the experiences of others, its a bad decision. While many people choose objectively to try marijuana because of the fact that most people have good experiences with it when used in the right context.
So the objectivity here is the key. And the strategy is using the experiences of others to guage the one that you will have. This is what makes group think a valuable resource for survival.
But it can go beyond survival of course, and into the realm of exciting enjoyment. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and into new experiences that are enhancing to your consciousness. Trying things you would have never had the idea to try on your own. And this can be a beautiful thing.
Again, think about the profound experiences we can have at big events such as concerts and the like where many people are gathered and the collective consciousness of the group is really energetic and everyone feels so empowered by it…that can be a great experience…
But here is where we must address the controversial side of group think. This is where things can get into what is called in sociology “Mob Mentality”. Which is what happens when people stop actually evaluating their actions (or thinking about them at all), and simply doing whatever the group does.
So for instance, in an empowering political rally where the group leader is having the group chant certain chants…sometimes members may find themselves chanting things which…if they were alone…they wouldn’t actually agree with the statements of…but due to the powerful energy of the group…and the consensus among the other group memebers, they find themselves influenced into going along with the group. And this can oftentimes progress into things such as violence, which are characteristic of the “Mob Mentality”.
And again, not that group think is a bad thing to be plugging into…but like plugging something into an outlet, you have to understand the power of the energy flowing through here, and the fact that if it is not contained and conducted properly…it can cause a fire to erupt that will be hard to contain…and which you do not want to be a part of! So the point is to maintain an objective awareness over your group mentality as a social being, rather than just plugging blindly into it. THis way you can enjoy the positive scenarios and avoid any negative situations.
So lets look at the actual psychological and sociological break down of this concept of “Group Think” so we can really systematize this scientifically for you.
So first let us really define GROUPTHINK:
Dictionary.com defines it as
And Psychology today says “Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherance over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the concensus.”
Get the idea?
You see “Groupthink” is actually a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), who says that it occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment” (p. 9). Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink 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.
References (also see annotated bibliography of books, articles and websites below)
Janis, Irving L. (1972). Victims of Groupthink. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Janis, Irving L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Second Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Pretty intense huh? Yea…thats the negative scenario we want to avoid, where non-conformity is in fact the super “cool” thing to do. Where, instead of being energized by a group, or trying something new you might not have on your own, you get to say to people afterward “…yea…I was a part of that at the beginning…but then I realized that people were acting stupid…so I left…” while everyone else is telling a different story.
But how can you tell when you are part of that kind of group?
Well Janis has documented eight symptoms for you to look out for:
- Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
- Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
- Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
- Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
- Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
- Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
- Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
- Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
When the above symptoms exist in a group that is trying to make a decision, there is a reasonable chance that groupthink will happen where a general concensus occurs that many simply agree to because it is the consensus. This is not necessarily so. What makes “Groupthink” occur is when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision. When pressures for unanimity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to realistically appraise the alternative courses of action available to them. These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain unanimity. Decisions shaped by groupthink have low probability of achieving successful outcomes. (Psychologists for Social Responsibility – http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm)
Because these decisions are based on subjective emotion rather that objective logic.
So just be objective! Look for the right instances to practice conformity and non-conformity! Maybe your in a group that is trying hookah for the first time and you’ve generally disliked tobacco or been against it…but is there any real reason to take a stand against the group?
But if your having a real great experience being energized by a group…you may then want to watch out because you could succumb to the groupthink mentality…or even worse: Mob Mentality.
However with this objective awareness over your communal experience as a social animal you should not run into such problems and will be able to make the most of your social experiences!
And if you are interested in any more special social networking resources just check out my “True Life Relationships” tab, and product line in the marketplace.
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