Saturday, February 5, 2011

Groupthink: New examples of an age-old problem as defined by a simple experiment

Humans: Free thinkers or sheep?

It's sunny outside but I tell you that it's not and you concur. A picture's background is red but I tell you that it is green, and again you agree.

Is it that I am actually right, or that you are easily led to whatever conclusion I want you to be led to? We all know how problematic groups of people easily led can potentially be.

Here's the simple question. Are you able to independently think through a problem using your basic "problem solving" skills, or are you more likely swayed by the "crowd" mentality?

Can you take a stand and stick to your guns, or is it easier, safer and more comfortable to go along with everyone else? It is the argument defined by terms like human psychology, independent thought and groupthink.

Many global crises throughout time, such as the rise of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany and most recently the political and social upheaval in Egypt, tells us that this is true and extremely dangerous.

Some symptoms of groupthink (Irving Janis)

Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.

Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.

Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.

Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.

Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.

Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.

Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

The following experiment conducted by a junior high school student is a great example of the fact that humans, by nature, are more often being led than they leading.

A simple experiment

A student at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair, April 26. He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to alarmists practicing junk science and spreading fear of everything in our environment. In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide."

And for plenty of good reasons, since:

1. It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting

2. It is a major component in acid rain

3. It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state

4. Accidental inhalation can kill you

5. It contributes to erosion

6. It decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes

7. It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients



He asked 50 people if they supported a ban of the chemical.

· Forty-three (43) said yes,

· Six (6) were undecided,

· And only one (1) knew that the chemical was water.


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