Symptoms of groupthink


Kevin Mangelschots

Herd mentality is a curious phenomenon that occurs when the desire for cohesiveness overrides people’s common sense and, as a result, the desire to express an unpopular decision or thought or to present an alternative idea or thought.

In these cases, excessive group cohesiveness can override good individual decision-making. Goes to show that it doesn’t always pay to follow the crowd.

That’s why it’s advantageous to spot early symptoms of groupthink to protect ourselves.

Symptoms of groupthink

  1. A feeling of invulnerability and absolute consensus

    One of the symptoms of groupthink is feeling invulnerable.

    It’s normal to feel more secure and powerful when surrounded by a group of like-minded people rather than standing alone.

    However, if taken too far, this more secure feeling can turn into a sense of invulnerability because “everyone in my group thinks the same as me, and therefore, everyone will support and protect me if needed.”

    And while each person has their thoughts, ideas, and goals, no matter how similar some people might be to us, this also means that there can never be an absolute consensus. But in extreme cases of groupthink, an absolute consensus is expected and even required.

  2. Unquestioning belief

    Another possible symptom includes an unquestioning belief in one group’s goals, ideals, ideas, and thoughts.

    Questioning the group’s identity and decisions is not allowed and will be met with punishment. Often in the form of verbal abuse, being excluded, and in extreme cases, physical violence.

    And since every individual is different, it’s impossible for people who are not possessed by groupthink to think the same as everyone else.

  3. Ignoring or discrediting valid information

    Image of three men sitting against a wall with a mask. The first one is covering his mouth, the middle one is covering his eyes, and the last one is covering his ears, depicting willful ignorance.

    Ignoring or discrediting valid information is closely related to confirmation bias.

    Only information affirming one’s ideas and thoughts, no matter how factually wrong, are searched after. Simultaneously, all information discrediting one’s own beliefs is discredited and thrown away as “incorrect”.

    Why do people exhibit this particular behavior?

    Oftentimes, no matter what people might say, we desperately try to protect ourselves and our fragile egos from pain. The truth hurts and thus, people often don’t want to hear the harsh truths that might challenge their beliefs.

    That’s why a lot of people search for information reaffirming their beliefs while tossing out information challenging their beliefs.

    This gives the illusion that their thought process is right and that everyone else’s ideas and thoughts are wrong.

    Often extreme pressure is put on skeptics and dissidents trying to weaken and ridicule other people’s beliefs while simultaneously strengthening their own.

  4. Stereotyping out-group members

    Image describing the dangers of group consensus.

    When group cohesion gets overly strong, individuals outside the group can get stereotyped or ridiculed in an attempt to strengthen the group while weakening other groups or individuals outside one’s group.

    Of course, being different and not adhering to someone’s ideals is no crime and is even to be admired. But to people caught up in this sheep herd mentality, this kind of behavior is considered not done and seen as a disgrace.

  5. Rationalization

    Rationalization regarding groupthink can take the form of team members convincing themselves that, despite information and evidence to the contrary, the decision they are making or have made is still the best one.

    Common examples are: “Other people disagree with me because they can’t understand my decision-making.” or “Other people disagree because they haven’t researched the topic as extensively as we did.”

    While both examples can be relevant and factually correct, when rationalizing, this is often not the case.

  6. Peer Pressure

    Image of someone holding a cigarette in their hand with another person's hand appearing close next to it.

    When a team member voices a thought, idea, or goal that deviates from the norm of the group, other members will work together in an attempt to pressure, punish, and coerce the deviating group member into compliance.

    An example of peer pressure in action might be: “Well if you don’t agree with us then maybe you should not be a member of the team anymore.”

  7. Complacency

    It’s lonely at the top. And people at the foot of the mountain are oftentimes more hungry than the ones at the top.

    Those quotes convey the meaning of complacency. When experiencing success, people can get complacent and as a result, stop trying and caring as hard as they did in the beginning, before experiencing success.

    Furthermore, complacency can lead to arrogance and, as a result, trick teams into thinking that “every decision we take is the right one.”

    “The history of our company speaks for itself. We are the best and no other company comes close to our quality.”

  8. Moral High Ground

    Humans tend to perceive themselves as better than they truly are. We like to stroke our egos. We view ourselves as better, stronger, more competent, and morally superior to who we are.

    This turns into a real problem if every group member perceives him/herself as moral and, by default, the other members as well.

    Thus, when morality is used as the foundation and standard for decision-making, the peer pressure to conform is extremely high since no one wants to be perceived as immoral.

    “Since we are all moral individuals, we all know that this decision is the right one and that all other decisions are wrong by default.”

    When individuals think of themselves as being moral, they also perceive themselves as less likely or even unable to make mistakes or wrong decisions.

  9. Censorship

    “Censored” written three times.

    Groupthink often includes team members censoring their true thoughts, opinions, ideas, and goals to conform. This can in turn lead to censorship in one’s group.

    “If everyone in this group agrees with me, then all other ideas, thoughts, and opinions must be wrong.”

    Information gathered is censored to conform and support one’s existing ideas, while simultaneously blocking out or weakening challenging information.

    “That article is nonsense. They don’t know what they’re talking about and haven’t done any credible research.”

Closing thoughts

Lessons Learned statement on paper note pad. Office desk with electronic devices and computer, wood table from above, concept image for blog title or header image. Aged vintage color look.

Recognizing symptoms of groupthink bias early on will hopefully help individuals to avoid being sucked into this particular sheep-herd mentality.

We need skeptical people with individual critical thinking skills to think for themselves.

Realizing when this toxic behavior is occurring is one thing, but action is required to protect oneself and other people alike.

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