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Definition of Groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.


Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment” (p. 9). Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.”


Groupthink occurs when a group with a particular agenda makes irrational or problematic decisions because its members value harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. Individual members of the group are strongly discouraged from any disagreement with the consensus and set aside their own thoughts and feelings to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and other group members. In a groupthink situation, group members refrain from expressing doubts, judgments or disagreement with the consensus and ignore any ethical or moral consequences of any group decision that furthers their cause. Risk-taking is common, and the lack of creativity and independent thinking have negative personal and political implications for both group members and outsiders. Groupthink decisions rarely have successful outcomes.”


Groupthink -  you’ve probably heard this term before - it gets bandied about in the media with some frequency - but have you thought about what it really means?

Groupthink is not the same thing as collaborating with others in a group to form a consensus. Groupthink is characterized by conformity and blind obedience due to coercion and pressure from the group’s leadership. When individual opinions and creative thought are suppressed by a group, poor - even dangerous, decisions are often the result. When members of a group seem fearful of sharing an alternative idea or disagreeing with others in the group it is not a healthy group.

History teaches us that Groupthink and blind obedience can produce disastrous results: slavery and ‘Jim Crow’ laws, the Holocaust, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, McCarthyism, the massacre in the Jonestown Cult, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and recent massive separations of children from their parents by the U.S. government are just a few examples that come to mind.

We humans have the power to think – to reason, analyze, weigh evidence, consult various sources, and to logically evaluate facts in order to make decisions. It can be an enlightening exercise to consult various news sources, especially ones that offer viewpoints that seem different from what you usually hear.  If you generally only read one newspaper, or listen to one radio station, or watch one TV network it’s quite possible that you are getting a biased presentation. Try listening to what multiple sources are saying about the same event, then do some fact checking* and form your own opinion!  Be prepared to express your viewpoint and make your case. Support your opinion with solid arguments and examples from multiple and varied sources. Then, the next time you find yourself in a group in which everyone is agreeing but you feel differently, speak up! If we do not exercise the power of our minds, we risk becoming “sheeple” – no better than a sheep who would follow the one in front of him straight off a cliff or into the clutches of a hungry wolf. It can be scary to express an idea that is unpopular with your group, or “tribe” – but it’s necessary for all of us to hear other ideas and to expand our minds. Respectful civil discourse, varied ideas, and thinking voters are the necessary ingredients of a healthy democracy.

As Albert Einstein once said,
“When we all think alike, no one thinks very much!”

Listed below are some interesting books in our collection at the Islip Public Library on becoming a more logical, individual thinker. Check one out today – exercise your mind by reading, analyzing, and thinking for yourself!

  • The Art of Thinking Clearly.  By Rolf Dobelli
  • Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking.  By D. Q. McInerny
  • Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists and Other Serial Offenders.  By Jamie Whyte
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    How to Think.  By Alan Jacobs
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    Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.  By Adam Grant
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    Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.  By Amy Chua
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    Post-Truth.  By Lee C. McIntyre
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    Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  By John J. Ratey
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    Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.  By Ori Brafman
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    Thinking Fast and Slow.  By Daniel Kahneman
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    You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself.  By David McRaney

Get the Facts!

Fact Checking Sources:

Lauraine Farr

Lauraine Farr

Lauraine Farr, the Assistant Library Director has been a librarian since 1981. She has been an avid reader forever, and is usually in the middle of at least two books. She has a BA in the Humanities, with a Minor in English, and an MS in Library Science. She especially loves reading contemporary literary fiction and historical fiction, as well as discovering new authors. Her other interests include yoga, writing, embroidery, hiking, and exploring Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Washington DC with her grown sons and husband. Click here to subscribe to Lauraine Farr's blog posts!

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