- Eye on Media
Social psychologist Irving Janis coined the term “Groupthink” after studying various collective failures like the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the escalation of the Vietnam War and the unanticipated attack on Pearl Harbor and defines it as “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome”. The philosophical debate fostered by Wim de Vriend’s recent presentation before that august club of (mostly) assimilated Groupthinkers, the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, along with Jon Barton’s plea that Coos County conform to his world view make this phenomenon worth looking into.
Janis lists eight symptoms of Groupthink and I believe we can all recognize local instances not just in the last two years but in at least the last three decades.
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.
When the above symptoms exist in a group that is trying to make a decision, there is a reasonable chance that groupthink will happen, although it is not necessarily so. Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision. When pressures for unanimity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to realistically appraise the alternative courses of action available to them. These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain unanimity. Decisions shaped by groupthink have low probability of achieving successful outcomes.
“Decisions shaped by groupthink have low probability of achieving successful outcomes”. Think about the inability of SCDC, of which Barton was formerly chairman, to implement the SDAT report recommendations. Scholars believe that “Groupthink members see themselves as part of an in-group working against an outgroup opposed to their goals”. It is this paranoia that excluded non Groupthink members from the final SDAT presentations and led to the collapse under Barton’s watch of the program. It may also explain the desire to bring in small citizen advisory committees in the first place and, of course, influenced who was selected to be on the panels.
Until the incumbent Groupthink civic “leaders” are dethroned or ignored Coos County will continue to enact wind energy moratoriums and ignore recommendations like those presented in the SDAT report and look for polarizing billion dollar smokestacks that require millions of dollars and years of regulatory permitting to dot the local landscape.