Group thinking: what it is and how it influences us

Do you think you decide best when you are alone or in a group? Researcher Irving Janis observed that when we are in a group, we tend to make bad decisions, and he called this phenomenon group thinking.

The formation of groups and the decision-making within them have been widely studied phenomena in social psychology. We will learn about the main characteristics of group thinking, a concept that tries to explain the mistakes or biases we make when making decisions in groups.

    What is a group?

    A group is a unit made up of a number of separate bodies that have a collective perception of the whole, And possessing the capacity to act.

    The group generally acts effectively together in the face of its environment.

    group polarization

    Group polarization is a concept that we need to understand beforehand in order to understand what group thinking is. It appears in group processes and consists of an accentuation of the initially dominant posture due to group chat.

    Myers discovered this phenomenon in a wide range of contexts, such as stereotypes, prosocial and anti-social behaviors, gambling, negotiations, etc.

    Janis later spoke of group thinking as an extreme form of group polarization. Let’s see what this new phenomenon consists of.

    Group thinking according to Janis

    Irving Janis (1972, 77) described group thinking by observing that many groups with a similar mentality (for example: councils, committees, …), ended up taking incorrect or irrational decisions due to belonging to own group. In other words, the members of the groups were influenced in such a way (rather their thinking) that they ended up making mistakes in their decisions.

    Thus, group thinking arises when, in the decision-making process, a group that is very cohesive or of a similar mentality, she is so conditioned by the search for consensus that her perception of reality deteriorates.


    The 5 basic characteristics of group thinking are as follows.

    1. Illusion of invulnerability

    It is the conviction shared by the members of the group that nothing bad will happen to them as long as they stay together. It is believed that the group will not fail if it acts together or together.

    2. Uniformity pressure

    It is the pressure to “all be the same,” which in turn causes four other symptoms:

    2.1. Pressure on dissidents

    Criticisms directed at the group or its way of acting are rejected. The more coherent and relevant the problem, the greater the rejection of group members towards nonconformity.

    2.2. self-censorship

    The members of the group do not express their doubts about the decisions made by the group.

    2.3. Illusion of unanimity

    This is the tendency to overestimate the degree of agreement that exists among the members of the group.

    2.4. Appearance of the Guardians of the Spirit

    This happens when group members try to maintain group orthodoxy (group norms) and for that they denounce possible abuses, trying to protect the group from unfavorable information.

    3. Rationalization

    These are the justifications a posteriori, when it has already been decided, instead of a preliminary, meticulous and careful analysis of the problems affecting the group. In other words, the group ignores the analysis of the problem and he replaces it with justifications fruit of his desires and motivations (conscious or unconscious).

    4. Belief that the group is inherently moral

    Group members exaggerately perceive their approaches as a group to be moral and straightforward.

    5.stereotyping of exogroups

    you have a homogeneous, uniform and generally pejorative image of the members of the outgroup (The “other” groups). This image includes stereotypical ideas of the behavior and thinking of outgroup members.

      How is group thinking reinforced?

      Group reflection is strengthened if a number of conditions are met:

      • Let the group be very cohesive.
      • That he is deprived of other alternative sources of information.
      • That the leader clearly supports a particular option.

      Thus, these conditions favor a scenario where group discussions are characterized by attempts at rationalization among all; actions which are congruent with the option are assumed, pending conflicting information is ignored or disqualified.

      How is it reduced?

      Some of the strategies for reducing group thinking are these.

      1. Assign the role of critical assessor to all group members

      It is about prioritizing the objections of the members of the group. The leader must be able to withstand criticism.

        2. Impartiality of the manager

        Another strategy is that the leader maintains an impartial attitude when making decisions or whether or not to support certain opinions.

        3. Open discussions

        It is about encouraging open discussions, where all members of the group can express themselves freely, Without pressure or censorship.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Hogg, M. (2010). Social psychology. Vaughan Graham M. Panamericana.
        • Marin, M. (2012). Social psychology of group processes. Pyramid.

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