Why Does Groupthink Happen and How to Avoid It


Have you ever found yourself in a situation where everyone agrees with a decision, even if you have doubts? It's easy to get caught up in groupthink, a phenomenon where people prioritize consensus over critical thinking. In this article, we will explore the causes and consequences of groupthink, provide examples, and offer strategies to prevent it.

Understanding Groupthink

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals prioritize consensus and harmony over critical thinking and independent judgment. In this state, the group tends to prioritize agreement and harmony over making the best decisions.

Groupthink can happen in any setting where people come together to make decisions, whether it's in the workplace, educational institutions, or social groups. It is a dangerous phenomenon that stifles creativity, hinders problem-solving, and can lead to disastrous outcomes.

Irving Janis, a psychologist, first coined the term "groupthink" in 1972. He defined it as "a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group and when the members' striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action."1

The Dangers of Groupthink

Groupthink can have severe consequences on the decision-making process. When individuals succumb to groupthink, they may feel pressured to conform to popular opinions rather than expressing their own thoughts. Consequently, diverse perspectives and ideas are suppressed, leading to a lack of innovation and critical analysis.

Psychologist Solomon Asch's experiments on conformity demonstrate the power of groupthink in action. He found that individuals were more likely to conform to the group's opinion, even if they believed it to be incorrect2 . This conformity can lead to faulty decision-making, as individuals stop challenging the group's conclusions and fail to consider alternative viewpoints.

The Influence of Conformity

Conformity is a significant driving force behind groupthink. When individuals fear rejection or ostracism, they tend to suppress their own opinions and conform to the group's consensus. This conformity often occurs subconsciously, as individuals prioritize fitting in and maintaining social cohesion over critically analyzing the situation.

You may have experienced this phenomenon yourself, where you found it difficult to voice a dissenting opinion in a group that seemed to passionately agree on a certain perspective. This fear of standing out can lead to self-censorship, hindering the group's ability to assess alternative ideas.

The Power of Social Pressure

The desire to maintain social harmony and avoid conflict can overpower rational decision-making. As individuals, we often go along with the group's flow to avoid rocking the boat or being seen as disruptive. This pressure can be overwhelming, leading us to doubt our own thoughts and judgments.

Psychologist Robert Baron explains, "Groupthink can lead to poor decision-making, as individuals may feel compelled to suppress their own doubts and dissenting opinions in favor of consensus and conformity."3

The Importance of Critical Thinking

To combat groupthink, it is vital to foster an environment that encourages critical thinking, open dialogue, and the consideration of diverse perspectives. By challenging the status quo and questioning assumptions, individuals can help break the groupthink cycle.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman emphasizes the importance of actively seeking out different viewpoints, stating, "Our sensory system is designed to maintain a constant internal representation of reality. We need other people who think differently, challenge our beliefs, and help us get out of the box."4

Understanding the dangers of groupthink is crucial for effective decision-making and problem-solving. By recognizing the influence of conformity and social pressure, you can actively work towards preventing groupthink in your own social circles or professional environments. Embrace critical thinking, encourage diverse perspectives, and remember that independent thought is essential for making well-informed decisions.

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Causes of Groupthink

Groupthink can occur for several reasons, and understanding these causes is crucial in order to prevent it. Here are some key factors that contribute to the occurrence of groupthink:

  1. High Group Cohesion: When a group is highly cohesive, its members tend to be more focused on maintaining harmonious relationships within the group rather than critically evaluating ideas and decisions. As a result, they may suppress dissenting opinions or avoid raising concerns that could disrupt group harmony.

  2. Strong Leadership: While strong leadership is generally seen as a positive attribute, it can also contribute to groupthink if the leader is autocratic or persuasive in nature. Such leaders may exert their influence to promote their own ideas and discourage dissenting views, stifling open discussion and critical thinking.

  3. Isolation from Outside Perspectives: When a group becomes insulated from external influences and different perspectives, they are more susceptible to groupthink. This isolation can be due to various factors, such as the absence of diverse voices in the group or a closed communication network.

  4. Time Pressure: When a group is under time pressure to make decisions, the desire for quick consensus can override the need for careful analysis and consideration of alternatives. This urgency can hinder group members from critically examining the available information and considering unconventional options.

  5. Homogeneity of the Group: The lack of diversity in opinions, backgrounds, and experiences within a group can impede creative thinking and invite groupthink. When everyone in the group shares similar perspectives, there is a higher chance that they will gravitate towards a consensus without adequately exploring alternative viewpoints5 .

Dr. Irving Janis, a psychologist renowned for his extensive research on group dynamics, describes these causes aptly: "The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making group, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups."6

Groupthink poses a significant threat to effective decision-making and problem-solving. Understanding the causes behind it is the first step in preventing its occurrence. By recognizing the factors that contribute to groupthink, you can take proactive measures to foster a more open and inclusive group environment that values diverse perspectives and encourages critical thinking.

Examples of Groupthink in Social Settings

Groupthink is not limited to professional or political environments; it can also occur in social settings. Here are some examples of groupthink in everyday life:

1. Peer Pressure:

One common social setting where groupthink can occur is among friends or acquaintances. Peer pressure can lead individuals to conform to the group's opinion or decision, even if they have reservations or doubts. This is especially prevalent among teenagers and young adults who strive to fit in and avoid the fear of being ostracized. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

2. Social Media Echo Chambers:

Due to the vast reach and influence of social media platforms, groupthink can easily take hold within online communities. When individuals surround themselves in echo chambers, they only expose themselves to like-minded opinions and perspectives. This can reinforce groupthink and stifle critical thinking and open dialogue. As Mark Twain famously remarked, "It is easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled."

3. Celebrity Culture:

The phenomenon of idolizing celebrities can also lead to the development of groupthink. People tend to idealize and align themselves with the opinions and decisions of their favorite celebrities, without critically examining them. This can result in blind conformity and a lack of independent thought. As Albert Einstein wisely stated, "Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions that differ from the prejudices of their social environment."

4. Neighborhood Associations:

In neighborhood associations or community groups, groupthink can arise when individuals prioritize maintaining harmony and consensus over challenging ideas or decisions. This can prevent innovative solutions and lead to stagnation. Without considering alternative viewpoints, the group might miss opportunities for growth and progress. As Helen Keller famously said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

5. Religious Organizations:

Religious organizations can sometimes be breeding grounds for groupthink, as individuals may be hesitant to question long-held beliefs and traditions. This can lead to conformity and resistance against diverse perspectives, discouraging critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. As Voltaire once wrote, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Recognizing these examples of groupthink in social settings is essential for preventing its negative consequences. By encouraging independent thought, embracing diverse perspectives, and fostering open and respectful dialogue, we can challenge groupthink and foster individual growth and collective progress.

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The Consequences of Groupthink

Making decisions as a group can have its advantages, such as pooling ideas and perspectives. However, when group dynamics lead to the phenomenon known as groupthink, the consequences can be detrimental. Groupthink is a dangerous phenomenon that occurs when a group prioritizes consensus over critical thinking and individual opinions. This blind conformity can lead to faulty decision-making and negative outcomes.

One of the consequences of groupthink is the suppression of dissenting voices. When group members fear speaking up or going against the consensus, valuable perspectives and alternative ideas may go unexplored. This can result in a narrow and limited range of solutions. As a result, important information may be overlooked, leading to flawed decisions. Irving Janis, a renowned psychologist who studied groupthink, describes this effect by stating, "The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making in-group, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink."

Another consequence of groupthink is the lack of innovation and creativity. When group members become fixated on maintaining harmony and agreement, they may shy away from challenging the status quo. This stifles the generation of new ideas and prevents potential breakthroughs. Albert Einstein once said, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." When groupthink takes hold, the collective mediocrity can stifle progress and inhibit true innovation.

Groupthink also leads to a decreased ability to evaluate risks and foresee potential problems. An unchallenged consensus can create a false sense of security, blinding the group to potential pitfalls. As a result, decisions may be made without considering all possible consequences. This can have serious ramifications in various settings, from business ventures to political decision-making. As psychologist Solomon Asch warned, "The power of a group to manipulate and shape our thoughts is very strong. We must be vigilant and recognize when this is happening."

Furthermore, the consequences of groupthink can extend beyond the initial decision-making process. Flawed decisions made due to groupthink can have long-lasting effects on individuals, organizations, and even society as a whole. A well-known example of groupthink is the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, where the engineers' concerns about the O-rings were dismissed due to groupthink. The tragedy could have been prevented if dissenting opinions had been given proper consideration.

In conclusion, the consequences of groupthink are far-reaching and can have severe implications. The suppression of dissenting voices, lack of innovation, inability to evaluate risks, and the potential for disastrous outcomes are all detrimental effects of groupthink. It is vital to recognize and address groupthink to ensure sound decision-making and foster an environment that values diverse opinions and critical thinking. As American author and educator John C. Maxwell once said, "A leader who fosters groupthink is already setting limits to his potential."

Strategies to Prevent Groupthink

Groupthink can be a dangerous phenomenon that inhibits creativity, stifles innovation, and suppresses dissenting opinions. However, there are several strategies that you can implement to prevent groupthink and foster a more inclusive and productive group dynamic.

  1. Promote open and honest communication: Encourage individuals within the group to express their thoughts and opinions freely. Foster an environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed and valued. Remember, as social psychologist Irving Janis once said, "The more comfortable people feel sharing their ideas, the less likely you are to fall into groupthink."

  2. Encourage critical thinking: Challenge group members to question assumptions, evaluate evidence, and consider alternative perspectives. Help them develop their analytical skills and teach them the importance of independent thinking. As Albert Einstein wisely put it, "The important thing is to not stop questioning."

  3. Assign a devil's advocate: Designate someone within the group to play the role of a devil's advocate. This person's task is to purposefully challenge the majority opinion and encourage constructive dissent. By giving voice to alternative viewpoints, you can prevent the group from succumbing to groupthink. As management expert Peter Drucker once said, "Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision."

  4. Seek diverse input: Actively seek out diverse perspectives by including individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise in your group. This diversity of thought can bring fresh ideas and prevent the group from becoming too homogeneous in their thinking. As renowned author and feminist activist Audre Lorde once said, "It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."

  5. Encourage constructive conflict: Embrace healthy conflict within the group and view it as an opportunity to challenge assumptions and improve decision-making. Create an environment where disagreements are seen as valuable contributions rather than personal attacks. As American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, "Conflicts may be painful, but the freedom to have conflicts is a gift worth cherishing."

  6. Utilize decision-making techniques: Implement decision-making techniques such as brainstorming, nominal group technique, or delphi technique. These structured approaches can help ensure that all group members have an equal opportunity to contribute their ideas and opinions without fear of intimidation or social pressure. As organizational psychologist Adam Grant says, "The more voices you have, the stronger the chorus."

Remember, preventing groupthink requires effort and conscious awareness. By implementing these strategies, you can protect yourself and your group from the pitfalls of conformity and foster an environment that encourages independent thinking and creativity. As American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." So dare to think differently and break free from the constraints of groupthink. Your unique perspective is needed and valuable.

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Expanding Individual Thinking in Groups

While group collaboration can lead to great ideas and innovations, it is also important to recognize the value of individual thinking within a group dynamic. It is easy to get caught up in the momentum and consensus of a group, but it is essential to encourage diverse perspectives and independent thought.

One way to expand individual thinking in groups is to create an environment that fosters open communication and encourages everyone to speak up. By actively seeking out different opinions and perspectives, you allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand. As Steven Johnson, author of "Where Good Ideas Come From," said, "The great driver of scientific discovery isn't the individual; it's the network." So, by encouraging individual voices, we can tap into the collective intelligence of the group.

Another strategy to expand individual thinking is to assign someone the role of "devil's advocate." This person is responsible for challenging the group's ideas and assumptions, forcing others to think critically and consider alternative viewpoints. This tactic can help break the conformity and the "groupthink" mindset. As Albert Einstein once said, "If I were wrong, then one would have been enough." By embracing this approach, individuals in the group can challenge their own beliefs and encourage others to do the same.

Moreover, encouraging brainstorming sessions where individuals can freely express their ideas without fear of judgment or criticism can also help expand individual thinking. By encouraging creativity and allowing for open-mindedness, these sessions can foster a sense of psychological safety that allows for innovative breakthroughs. As psychologist Alice Isen stated, "Positive emotions lead to broader attention and thought-action repertoires…and build mental, physical, intellectual, and social resources."

It is also crucial to prioritize active listening in group discussions. By truly hearing and considering the opinions and ideas of others, individuals can expand their own thinking. This means being present, avoiding interruptions, and acknowledging the value of diverse perspectives. As Dr. Brené Brown, research professor and author, emphasized, "Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." By actively listening and connecting with others, we can expand our own thinking and contribute to the growth of the group.

In conclusion, expanding individual thinking in groups is crucial for effective collaboration and avoiding the pitfalls of groupthink. By creating an environment that values diverse perspectives, encourages independent thought, and fosters open communication, we can tap into the full potential of the collective intelligence. As individuals, we have a responsibility to challenge ourselves and others to think critically, listen actively, and embrace the power of our individual minds within a group context. By doing so, we can ensure that our ideas are fully explored and that our collective efforts lead to greater success.


One effective strategy to prevent groupthink is to foster an environment that encourages critical thinking and dissenting opinions. As Janis explains, "The more open climate in the group, the more likely it is that dissenting views will be encouraged and respected." This means creating a space where individuals feel safe to challenge the prevailing opinions and express their perspectives, even if they go against the majority. By promoting an atmosphere of psychological safety, group members will be more likely to voice their concerns and contribute alternative ideas.

Furthermore, expanding individual thinking within groups is essential. As Albert Einstein famously said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." By encouraging individuals to bring in diverse experiences, knowledge, and perspectives, we can enhance group decision-making. By embracing diversity and actively seeking different viewpoints, we create a more inclusive environment that is less susceptible to groupthink. Ultimately, by proactively identifying and addressing the causes of groupthink, we can make better, more well-rounded decisions as a collective. As Margaret Heffernan puts it, "For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, and debate."

1Irving Janis, Victims of Groupthink (1972)
2Solomon Asch, Social Psychology (1951)
3Robert A. Baron, Psychology (2008)
4Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)
5Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Houghton Mifflin, 1972.
6Janis, Irving L. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Houghton Mifflin, 1982.
7Sunstein, Cass R. Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge. Oxford University Press, 2006.
8Mann, Leon, and Anne-Maree Farrell. "Revisiting the Causes of Groupthink." Journal of Management Inquiry, vol. 6, no. 4, 1997, pp. 320-328.
9West, Jacqueline, and Lorne Sulsky. "Groupthink Revisited: The Role of Individual Responsibility." Small Group Research, vol. 29, no. 4, 1998, pp. 441-465.
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11Damon Feldman, Ray Carr, & Don Kinney, Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach (2014)
12Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist (1891)
13Mark Twain, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865)
14Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954)
15Helen Keller, The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read (2013)
16Voltaire, Questions sur les Miracles (1790)
17Steven Johnson, "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" (2010)
18Albert Einstein, personal correspondence, 1947
19Alice M. Isen, "Positive Affect Facilitates Creative Problem Solving," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1987)
20Brené Brown, "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" (2012)