The dangers of groupthink

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Kevin Mangelschots

The herd mentality, like anything in life, has both advantages and disadvantages. However, the dangers of groupthink bias are substantial.

Sometimes, this particular sheep herd mentality is positive and easy because one can follow what the majority of people are doing, since that will generally be the “right” or sensible thing.

But in other instances, it can have disastrous results as well. Let me explain where the potential pitfalls lie.

Possible dangers of groupthink

Picture showing four blindfolded men following each other walking towards the edge of a cliff to symbolize groupthink.

  • The group isn’t always right

    Groupthink mentality does have its advantages, but can be dangerous as well. Since the group is not always right and doesn’t take into account individual differences between people.

    And because the group isn’t always right, this can lead to bad, even outright dangerous decisions being made.

  • Doesn’t include individual thoughts and feelings

    One of the dangers of groupthink behavior is that it doesn’t include individual thoughts and feelings.

    Groupthink is based on collectivism, which means that the harmony and values of the group are more important than individual values, principles, thoughts, and ideas.

    This can be dangerous because it doesn’t take into account individual differences and thus, the personal thoughts, ideas, and goals of each individual. This can in turn lead to individuals feeling neglected.

  • Can be dangerous if the group turns malevolent

    Furthermore, thinking like and following the herd mentality is negative and dangerous if the group happens to turn malevolent

    We need to think individually and take our own personal responsibility in order to prevent a group and society as a whole from turning malevolent.

  • Doesn’t include an individual’s goals

    In order to reach our individual goals, thinking individually is required.

    The goals and purposes of a group are different from those of an individual. That’s why we need to think for ourselves and go after our personal goals, which might not always be possible or appreciated by the group.

  • Blindness to potential problems

    Groupthink mentality can breed stupidity and ignorance, which means potential problems can be downright missed or ignored.

    To counteract this, applying individual critical thinking skills are a must.

  • Breeding ignorance

    Illustration showing a common example of groupthink.

    Since the group’s values, principles and ideas are considered more significant than those of the individuals, it’s possible that only the information and other people who conform to those values, principles, ideas, and thoughts are sought out.

    This means that the group can become ignorant to people with different thoughts, ideas, and even to the possibility of different ideas and thoughts existing that deviate from the group altogether.

  • Resistance to new ideas

    Since the group values harmony above individual goals, ideas and thoughts, the group might be surprisingly resistant to new ideas, even though those new ideas can be good and lead to future success and prosperity.

  • Exclusion of other groups and people outside the group

    Groupthink can breed discrimination and can drive a wedge between different groups due to each groups’ inevitable different principles and values.

    This means that at it’s worst, groupthink can potentially leave to the exclusion of other groups and individuals who are not currently residing inside the group.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is groupthink?

Groupthink bias can be defined as being a psychological phenomenon that happens within a group of people when the desire for harmony and conformity of the group is more important than each individual’s thoughts, ideas, and goals. This results in a dysfunctional, often irrational decision-making outcome.

Cohesiveness of the group is frequently considered more significant than the thoughts, ideas, and goals of each individual.

This particular tendency for all group members to agree at all costs and, thus, minimize conflict among the group members can cause a group to reach a consensus decision without personal critical evaluation.

Conclusion

Groupthink behavior is generally advantageous in times of doubt and due to power in numbers.

However, caution is advised since people largely think less critically due to the perceived safety in numbers and because individual needs, ideas, and thoughts are not always reciprocated in a group. You either follow the group, or risk getting expelled.

No matter what groups you currently reside in or will participate in somewhere in the future, it’s important to learn and develop individual critical thinking skills in order to make the best decisions one possibly can.