Does Groupthink lead to Crisis Situations?

Essay, 2011

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Definition of the concept

3. History of the concept

4. The use of the concept

5. Examples of the concept

6. A criticism of the concept

7. Conclusion



Groupthink, a term marked by Irving Janis, is a model to describe the possible downsides of a decision made by a group. Although the concept is widely accepted, it is highly controversial. This essay gives an overview over Janis’ concept and tries to show this controversy by illustrating the criticism of the model. At the end I will answer the question if groupthink can be seen as the reason for decisions that lead to crisis situations. As the essay will show, there exist important decisions like the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Challenger Launch Decision that either prevented or lead to crisis situations, which can be explained by the concept. However, the validity of the model can be questioned. I have organized the essay as follows. First, I begin with the definition of the concept as a basis to understand the impacts of groupthink. I then integrate the concept into the historical context and look at its use in a specific field of application. Next, I apply the assumptions to a case study of one fatal decision. Finally I discuss the weaknesses of the concept and bring together the different opinions in my conclusion.

2. Definition of the concept

[1] [2] According to Janis groupthink is “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”[3] It is important to understand that a group is defined as “[T]wo or more people who interact with each other to accomplish certain goals or meet certain needs.”[4]

The first condition under which groupthink is likely to occur is high group cohesiveness. Group cohesiveness is described as “[T]he degree to which members are attracted to their group and are prepared to cooperate with one another[5]. This means that if group cohesiveness is high, “the opinions, goals and norms of the group members resemble each other.”[6]

According to Janis, secondary conditions have to be met despite group cohesiveness which “refer[ed] to the nature of the group and the situation.[7] In terms of group conditions, Janis identified the following factors: isolation from the environmental context, the lack of directive leadership and a lack of group norms in favour of “methodical search procedures[8] and the diversity of members’ opinions. Situational secondary conditions are “high stress from an external threat[9], isolation from criticism and “low situational member self esteem either due to recent failure or complexity of the current decision problem.”[10]

These conditions become noticeable in groupthink symptoms and “symptoms of defective decision-making[11]. The symptoms of groupthink are shown in the following illustration:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Illustration 1[12]

As these symptoms are not self-explanatory I will shortly explain them in the following[13]:

- Illusion of invulnerability results in optimism that “encourages taking extreme risks[14]. Janis emphasizes this by the statement that “everything is going to work out all right because we are a special group.” [15]
- Collective rationalization means that group members disregard warnings “and do not reconsider their assumptions.[16]
- Belief of moral integrity strengthens members believe in the rightness of their intensions and therefore don’t consider the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
- Stereotyped qualification of critics refers to the biased views of “enemy” groups or individuals that “make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.”[17]
- Group pressure against deviationists is the pressure on dissenters forcing members to agree to any of the group’s views.
- Self-control of any deviances means self-censorship resulting in keeping quit about doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus.
- Illusion of unanimity refers to the fact that decisions are assumed to be unanimous.
- Self-styled mindguards means that members protect the group “from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.”[18]

Furthermore “Janis (1982) provided seven symptoms of defective decision-making, including: incomplete survey of alternatives […], incomplete survey of objectives […], failure to examine risks […], failure to reappraise rejected alternatives […], poor information search […], selective bias in processing information […], and failure to work out a contingency plan […].”[19]

One will definitely wonder why members conform to group norms or to a specific group opinion. There exist three reasons for this behavior. Group members are more likely to conform “to obtain rewards and avoid punishment, to imitate group members whom they like and admire [or when] they have internalized the norm and believe it is the right and proper way to behave.”[20]

To sum up, if a group has a high cohesiveness and those symptoms occur, then it is likely that groupthink will happen. “Groupthink [eventually] refers to [:] a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures”.[21] However, “Janis emphasized that not all bad decisions are the result of groupthink, and not all cases of groupthink end up failing.[22]

I will now shortly introduce the history of the concept to understand its historical background.

3. History of the concept

[23] Irving Janis was a “Yale University psychology professor[24], who died in 1990. His most famous work is his concept of groupthink in which he describes ways decisions are reached within groups. Books such as “"Crucial Decisions: Leadership in Policy Making and Crisis Management," (The Free Press, 1989); "Groupthink," (Houghton Mifflin, 1983), and with Leon Mann, "Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice and Commitment," (The Free Press, 1977)”[25] are the reason for his success, which ultimately lead to the award of the “Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association” in 1981.


[1] cf. (Baron) p.4/5

[2] cf. (What is Groupthink?)

[3] (Griffin, 2008) p.237

[4] (Lichtenthaler, 2011)

[5] (Lichtenthaler, 2011)

[6] (Lichtenthaler, 2011)

[7] (Baron) p.4

[8] (Baron) p.4

[9] (Baron) p.4

[10] (Baron) p.4/5

[11] (Rose, 2011) p. 38

[12] (Lichtenthaler, 2011)

[13] cf. (What is Groupthink?)

[14] (What is Groupthink?)

[15] (Griffin, 2008) p. 239

[16] (What is Groupthink?)

[17] (What is Groupthink?)

[18] (What is Groupthink?)

[19] (Rose, 2011) p. 39

[20] (Lichtenthaler, 2011)

[21] (Lichtenthaler, 2011)

[22] (Griffin, 2008) p. 240

[23] cf. (Griffin, 2008) p. 240

[24] (The New York Times)

[25] (The New York Times)

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Does Groupthink lead to Crisis Situations?
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Groupthink, Janis, Crisis Management, Challenger accident
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Julia Hetzel (Author), 2011, Does Groupthink lead to Crisis Situations?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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