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[Opinion] Group Think

Posted April. 04, 2005 00:07,   


A group of people does not always make more reasonable and more correct decisions than an individual does. Sometimes, a group has so strong a tendency to seek unanimity among its members that it inclines toward a certain direction in making decisions. Irving Janis defines this tendency as “group think,” warning that a group with such a way of thinking can often get unfortunate results from its decisions.

“Group think” frequently occurs in a group that has a strong sense of solidarity, as “us,” within itself. This kind of group develops a strong conviction that it is morally right, excessively tries to defend itself against any opposition, and struggles to prevent its members from holding dissenting views. Members of such groups are prone to a mentality of refraining from being the only “cornered stone” to resist the group’s consensus, eventually becoming “yes men.”

Group think among high-level national decision makers can often drive the nation into a crisis of war. Janis regards John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 as the archetype of failed policies, analyzing that such failures result from group think. Group think is more likely to happen when a leader relies on a limited number of advisors, pronounces his preferences in advance, or excessively intervenes in the process of making decisions. In this regard, the current U.S. administration of President George W. Bush seems to have some risk of group think, considering the marked character of its leader and its strong sense of collectivity.

We cannot say that our own risk of falling into group think is quite low, as we also have a strong sense of collectivity and are deeply embedded in Confucian culture where obeying the orders of seniors is the norm. One can say that a group has already fallen into group think to some extent when there is no institutional mechanism where someone within the group can play a villain’s part of saying “no.”

Hyun In-taek, Guest Editorial Writer, Professor of International Politics at Korea University, ithyun@chol.com