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In fact, aggressive efforts may be made in order to stifle the opinions of any members who may dissent. The pressures to conform to the group override any criticisms members may have of the decisions being made by the group. Another symptom of groupthink is self-censorship. Self-censorship causes members of a group to refrain from confiding to other members their private doubts and uncertainties concerning the actions of their group.

When members of a group censor their own thoughts and opinions, the final resolutions made by the group may appear to be unanimous when in fact many of the members disagree with the group. Mindguards also affect groupthink. A mindguard is a member of the group who, in an attempt to preserve the central group idea, omits any information which may cause doubts to arise within the group. If a mindguard receives any negative outside information, he does not relate it to the group. A mindguard also applies pressure to any dissenting members, ultimately forcing them into silence.

To this end, the mindguard may employ a variety of different strategies to persuade the dissenter to change his opinion.


One of these strategies would be to convince the dissenter that the group may disintegrate if all members are not in total agreement. A fourth symptom of groupthink is the apparent unanimity of a group. When members of a group censor their own dissension, the other group members observe what appears to be group unanimity.

Even if many members in a group disagree with the action the group is taking, they may not make their objections known to other members, instead assuming that all other group members are in acceptance of the situation. No single group member is willing to disrupt the clear consensus reached by the group, which in turn leads other group members to the erroneous conclusion that everyone agrees within the group.

The illusion of invulnerability is another symptom of groupthink. Members of a group in which no one voices their disagreement may have the perception that their group is performing well.

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In essence, group members believe that their group as a whole could not possible perform sweeping errors in judgment. The sixth symptom of groupthink is the illusion of morality , in which members participating in the group decision-making process tend to lose sight of their personal moral principles.

Rather, belief in the overall morality of the group overrides any individual sense of right and wrong. Biased perceptions of the outgroup are another symptom of groupthink. Members of a tightly cohesive group tend to perceive any non-group members as outsiders. The resulting close-mindedness creates stereotyped images of the outsiders. Their abilities are discredited and underestimated.

More importantly, the devaluation of the outgroup results in a degree of dehumanization which allows the ingroup to justify the violence and inhumanity of their actions. Defective decision-making strategies also arise from groupthink. More often than not, the decisions reached in groupthink situations are usually incorrect ones.

The poor decisions associated with groupthink situations are a result of defective decision-making strategies. This results in a decision based on an incomplete review of the alternatives open to the group. Another defective strategy employed in groupthink situations is the conscious omission of information which may reveal weaknesses in the plan. Instead, group members focus only on information which supports their actions, creating an inaccurate appraisal of the situation and altering the perceptions of the group so that they lean more in favor of the currently-agreed upon course of action.

Defective decision-making strategies can ultimately induce the group to lose sight of the initial overall objectives, since the group fails to fully incorporate all of the relevant data. There are several main causes of groupthink. These include group cohesiveness, overall group isolation, group leadership, and decision-making stress.

Avoiding Groupthink

High levels of cohesiveness decrease the amount of verbal dissension within a tight group, due to interpersonal pressure to conform. This high level of cohesiveness also creates self-censorship and apparent unanimity within the group. Normally, group dissension is necessary for good decision-making, because it introduce different perspectives to the decision-making process.

In the absence of this disagreement, alternative choices for action are never considered. Another cause of groupthink is isolation. Often in group situations, it is important that the decisions being made or the actions being carried remain secret. This requires that no outside opinions or thoughts be incorporated into the decision-making process. Frequently, groups reach resolutions and carry them out without conferring with any outside sources. One result of this extreme isolation is insulation from criticism. This absence of criticism may lead to illusions of group invulnerability and morality.

Group decision making problems - groupthink theory

The leadership of a group can also lead to groupthink, since complete control over the group by the leader can cause an environment in which no one states their own opinions. When extremely rigid leadership is implemented within a group such as occurs in the military group discussions are often tightly controlled. Any dissenting opinions tend to be suppressed through intimidation or be simply not allowing the dissenter to voice his objections.

Another cause of groupthink is decisional stress. When a group is forced to make an important decision, each individual within the group often harbors a certain amount of insecurity. Often without being aware, members of a group will attempt to reduce this decisional stress through any possible means. Since this insecurity is lessened if the decision is made quickly and with little disagreement, the group can easily rationalize a decision because there of the minimal amount of dissension within the group.

Concentrating on minor details of group decisions or actions is a way in which the group can overlook larger issues that may need attention. In high pressure group decision-making, attempts by members to reduce the stress associated with decision-making often results in groupthink.

It attempting to understand the events which culminated in the rape of Nanking, it is necessary to examine the mental decision-making which could have lead to such an unanticipated and inhumane outcome. There were many symptoms of groupthink present in the overall environment at Nanking.

For instance, within military situations, interpersonal pressures to conform are intense. Tolerance for nonconformity is virtually non-existent, and extreme tactics to bring dissenters into line are common-place. Self-censorship was most likely another important symptom of the groupthink that occurred at Nanking. Privately, many soldiers may have disagreed with what was occurring, but they chose to keep their doubts to themselves.

Examples of Groupthink

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