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No.21 What is Groupthink?

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, resulting in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

Groupthink is a cognitive bias in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group.

Where Groupthink came from

Groupthink is a term first used by social psychologist Irving L. Janis in 1972. It refers to a cognitive bias which encourages people to desire harmony or conformity within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs to adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.

When does Groupthink occur?

Groupthink often occurs when there is a time constraint and individuals put aside personal doubts so a project can move forward.

Think about the last time you were part of a group. Perhaps it was during a work meeting or a school project. Imagine that you had a deadline to meet and some difficult problems to solve. Someone proposes an idea that you think is quite poor but the majority of the group agrees that it is the best solution. Do you make your opinion known or do you cast it aside to go along with the majority? Let me guess - you chose the matter? That's Groupthink, sometimes also referred to as herd mentality.

Groupthink can also occur when one member of the group dominates the decision-making process, thus leading others to follow in their footsteps. It is a similar phenomenon to the Bandwagon Effect.

Focus groups are ideal when you want to gain multiple perspectives in an interactive group setting. But, one of the things that can happen in focus groups is “groupthink.” The first person starts off on a tangent and then the entire room goes along with that first opinion.

Groupthink in meeting environment

How does Groupthink work?

There are 3 key aspects to groupthink which you must consider when you are running focus groups:

1. Devil's advocate

If the group is all agreeing a bit too quickly and easily, throw in a few ‘opposite’ ideas, otherwise known as devil's advocates.

2. Challenge the group leader

Subtly undermine the alpha character in the group in order to give others more chance of having their say, therefore limiting groupthink.

3. Get personal

Ask group members how the groupthink opinions will impact on the personally and directly help them take a more individual approach to the subject matter.

The benefits and dangers of Groupthink

In some group situations, Groupthink can have its benefits in that it often facilitates decision-making. Often, large groups of people make decision-making more difficult or slow down the process, but Groupthink can help projects find completion quickly and efficiently.

On the other hand, Groupthink does have its disadvantages. The suppression of individual opinions can sometimes lead to poorly thought out decisions as the discussion phase of decision-making is often cut short.

Summary

Focus groups are a quick and easy way for brands and retailers to get opinions from shoppers and consumers. However, because of biases such as groupthink, don’t overvalue the opinions of too small a sample of people or groups.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out www.adcocksolutions.com, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

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