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[FOUNTAIN]The danger of ‘groupthink’

Jan 15,2007
It is commonly perceived that many heads are better than one for coming with good ideas and reaching reasonable decisions; however, this is not always the case. In April 1961, President John F. Kennedy secretly sent armed Cuban exiles called the 2506 Brigade to the Bay of Pigs. The planned invasion went awry from the beginning. The mission failed horribly because at every level of planning, they intentionally disregarded the foreseeable elements of danger. Irving Janis, an American social psychologist, who studied this event, determined that the decision-making process of the Kennedy administration suffered from the problem of groupthink. A coercive atmosphere within a group suppressed the inclination to object or to seek alternatives during the decision-making process, forcing everybody to agree with the original supposition. In groups suffering from this kind of thinking, the possibility of reaching unreasonable decisions is high, regardless of the abilities of its members. Similar cases can be found in the decision of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to expand the war in Vietnam; disregarding the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor, which served as the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet; and the failure of President Carter’s administration to release the hostages from Iran. Some have proposed that biased government officials in the Bush administration suffered from groupthink regarding the most recent invasion of Iraq.
The danger of groupthink grows with increased cohesiveness and stronger teamwork. Janis documents the eight symptoms of groupthink in the following manner: 1) the creation of excessive optimism that encourages extreme risks because of an illusion of invulnerability; 2) the discounting of warnings and the failure to reconsider assumptions; 3) the belief in the rightness of the cause; 4) the stereotyping of outside views; 5) direct pressure on dissenters; 6) deviations from the group consensus not being expressed; 7) the illusion of unanimity; and 8) the existence of “mindguards” that protect the group.
It is abundantly clear that President Roh Moo-hyun and his aides at the Blue House suffer from groupthink. Disregarding outside suggestions and warnings, they have formed tighter bonds to press forward with the constitutional amendment that the entire country opposes. The same is true of the leaders of Hyundai’s labor union. They ignored the public’s call for restraint, and they decided unanimously to go on strike by the applause of its representatives. These are situations where “groupthink” transforms into “group-accident.”

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo