In my studies of high-level governmental decision-makers, both
civilian and military, I have found eight main symptoms of groupthink.
Most or all of the members of the in-group share an illusion of
invulnerability that provides for them some degree of reassurance about
obvious dangers and leads them to become over-optimistic and willing to take
extraordinary risks. It also causes
them to fail to respond to clear warnings of danger.
2. RATIONALE. Victims of groupthink ignore warnings: they also collectively construct
rationalizations in order to discount warnings and other forms of negative
feedback that, taken seriously, might lead the group members to reconsider
their assumptions each time they recommit themselves to past decisions. James C. Thompson, Jr., a Harvard historian
who spent five years as an observing participant in both the State Department
and the White House, tells us that the policy-makers avoided critical discussion
of their prior decisions and continually invented new rationalizations so
that they could sincerely recommit themselves to defeating the North
3. MORALITY. Victims of groupthink believe
unquestionably in the inherent morality of their ingroup. This belief inclines the members to ignore
the ethical and moral consequences of their decisions. Evidence that this symptom is at work
usually is of a negative kind - the things that are left unsaid in group
4. STEREOTYPES. Victims of groupthink hold stereotypes
views of the leaders of enemy groups:
they are so evil that genuine attempts at negotiating differences with
them are unwarranted, or they are too stupid or too weak to deal effectively
with whatever attempts the in-group makes to defeat their purposes, no matter
how risky the attempts are.
5. PRESSURE. Victims of groupthink apply direct pressure
to any individual who momentarily expresses doubt about any of the group's
shared illusions or who questions the validity of the arguments supporting a
policy alternative favored by the majority.
This gambit reinforces the concurrence-seeking norm that loyal members
are expected to maintain
Victims of groupthink avoid deviating from what appears to be group
consensus; they keep silent about their misgivings and even minimize the
importance of their doubts.
7. UNANIMITY. Victims of groupthink share an illusion of
unanimity within the group concerning almost all judgements
expressed by members who speak in favor of the majority view. This symptom results partly from the
preceding one, whose affects are augmented by the false assumption that any
individual who remains silent during any part of the discussion is in full
accord with what the others are saying.
When a group of persons who respect each others' opinions arrives at a
unanimous view, each member is likely to feel that the belief must be
true. This reliance on consensual
validation within the group tends to replace individual critical thinking and
reality testing, unless there are clear-cut disagreements among the members.
To avoid such an unpleasant state, the members often become inclined, without
quite realizing it, to prevent latent disagreements from surfacing when they
are about to initiate a risky course of action. The group leaders and the members support
each other in playing up the areas of convergence in their thinking, at the
expense of fully exploring divergences that might reveal unsettled issues.
8. MINDGUARDS. Victims of groupthink sometimes appoint
themselves as mindguards to protect the leader and
fellow member from adverse information that might break the complacency they
shared about the effectiveness and morality of past decisions.
When a group of executives frequently have most or all of these
symptoms, a detailed study of their deliberations is likely to reveal a
number of immediate consequences.
These consequences are, in effect, products of poor decision making
practices because they lead to inadequate solutions to the problems under
the group limits its discussions to a few alternative courses of action
(often only two) without an initial survey of all the alternatives that might
be worthy of consideration.
the group fails to reexamine the course of action initially preferred by the
majority after they learn the risks and drawbacks they had not considered
the members spend little or no time discussing whether there are
nonobvious gains they may have overlooked or ways of
reducing the seemingly prohibitive costs that made rejected alternatives
appear undesirable to them.
members make little or no attempt to obtain information from experts within
their own organizations who might be able to supply more precise estimates of
potential losses and gains.
members show positive interest in facts and opinions that support their
preferred policy; they tend to ignore facts and opinions that do not.
members spend little time deliberating about how the chosen policy might be
hindered by bureaucratic inertia, sabotaged by political opponents, or
temporarily derailed by common accidents.
Consequently, they fail to work out contingency plans to cope with foreseeable setbacks that
could endanger the overall success of their chosen course.
The search for explanations of why groupthink occurs has led me through
a quagmire of complicated theoretical issues in the murky area of human motivation. My belief, based on recent social
psychological research, is that we can best understand the various symptoms
of groupthink as a mutual effort among the group members to maintain
self-esteem and emotional equanimity by providing social support to each
other, especially at times when they share responsibility for making vital