Groupthink symptoms and results

Groupthink symptoms

1. Invulnerability

Most or all of the members of the decision making group have an illusion of invulnerability that reassures them in the face of obvious dangers. They become overoptimistic and willing to take extraordinary risks. This may cause them to ignore clear warnings of danger.

Mentality of overconfidence existed in Challenger’s case too. Due to extraordinary record of success of space flights (NASA pursued 55 successful missions), members believed they could not go wrong this time.

2. Rationalisation

Group members collectively contract rationalisation that discount warnings and other forms of negative feedback. People do not reconsider assumptions each time they recommit to past decisions.

In the Challenger’s case, managers took engineers’ comments as inclusive. Discussions became twisted and no one detected this. Engineers found themselves being forced to prove that the boosters were unsafe.

3. Morality

Individuals in the group believe, without questions, in the inherent morality of their position. They tend to ignore ethical and moral consequences of their decisions.

One MTI manager tried to stop the launch, but statement occurred during the brake. Most of the members did not hear it. Those who did, however, ignored the statement.

4. Stereotyped views of others

Groupthink can be recognised by stereotyped views of opposition. Anyone with a competing opinion is dismissed. They del that opposition is stupid or too weak to understand and deal effectively with the apparent problem.

NASA officials felt they completely understand the nature of joint problem and never seriously considered the objection raised by MTI engineers. Instead, they disintegrated and badged the opposition and their information and opinions.

5. Pressure on dissent

Members often apply direct pressure to anyone who questions the validity of arguments supporting the decision or position favoured by the majority.

In the Challenger’s case, two officials pressured MTI to change it’s position after they originally recommended that the launch should not take place. These two officials MTI personnel to prove that it was safe to launch rather to than proving the opposite. Top MTI management overruled engineering staff and recommended to launch.

6. Self-censorship

Members tend to censor themselves then they have opinions and ideas that deviate from the group consensus. People minimise doubts and counter arguments.

For instance: MTI vice president who previously presented information against the launch, was letter pressured by NASA and accepted rationalisations for launch.

7. Illusion of unanimity

Group members share an illusion of unanimity concerning judgements made by members speaking in favour of majority view. There is an assumption that any participant that remains silent is in agreement with the majority opinion. Group leader and other members support each other by playing pup points of convergence in their thinking at the expense of fully exploiting points of divergence that might reveal upsetting problems.

As an example in Challenger’s case, no participant from NASA ever openly agreed with or took sides with MTI in the discussion. Silence from NASA was amplified by the fact that meeting was a teleconference linking the participants at three different locations.

8. Misguiding

Members assume the role of guarding the minds of other in the group. There is an attempt to shield the group from adverse information that might destroy the majority view the facts regarding appropriateness of the decision.

In the Challenger’s case, some technical information concerning the history of the joint problems was withheld at the meeting.

Results of groupthink

  1. Group discuss few or no alternatives.
  2. People do surface many of the risks associated with the plan that appears to have support of the majority.
  3. Once an option is dismissed, it is rarely reconsidered to see if it is bolstered and made more plausible.
  4. Group does not seek outside experts
  5. Group exhibits confirmation bias with regard to how it gathers and analyses information.
  6. Contingency plans are not discussed.

Adapted from

Bazerman, M.H. and Moore, D.A., 1994. Judgment in managerial decision making (p. 226). New York: Wiley.

Common biases in decision making

In general there are three general heuristics namely availability, representative and confirmation heuristics. They encompass eleven specific biases.

Cognitive bias

Economists claim individuals are rational decision makers. They collect a lot of information, examine all alternatives and make decisions that maximise personal satisfaction. However, we do not make decisions in such manner. Mount Everest tragedy In 1996 two Mount Everest expedition teams were caught up in storm high up in the mountain. Both team leaders…

Heuristic definition

Individuals rely on rules of thumb (heuristics) to lessen the information processing demands of making decisions.

Availability heuristic

The inferences we make about event commonness based on the ease with which we can remember instances of that event.

Retrievability bias

We are better at retrieving some subjects from our memory than other things. Individuals base judgement on commonality and easier base strategies.

Base rate fallacy

People tend to ignore background information relevant to the problem such as base rate. We tend to assume that causes and consequences are related.

Gambler’s fallacy

Simple statistics claims each event in a sequence is equally likely to occur. But individuals believe random and non-random events will balance out.

Small sample size fallacy

Simple statistics state that we are more likely to observe an unusual event in a small sample compared to a large one. Learn more.

Conjunction fallacy

Describes how conjunction is judged to be more probable than a single component descriptor. Intuitively thinking, something appears to be more correct.


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