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Irving L. Janis' Victims of Groupthink

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Irving L. Janis' Victims of Groupthink
Author(s): Paul't Hart
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Political Psychology,
Vol. 12, No. 2 (Jun., 1991), pp. 247-278
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Political Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1991
Classics in Political Psychology
Irving L. Janis' Victims of Groupthink
Paul 't Hart1
INTRODUCTION
Victims
of Groupthink:
A Psychological Study
of Foreign Policy Decisions
and Fiascoes by Irving L. Janis was published
for the first time in 1972. In an
unprecedented
way, Janis
applied
ideas from
small-group
analysis
to the explana-
tion of policy fiascoes. He made plausible the hypothesis that each of these
events can, to a considerable
extent, be attributed
to the occurrence
of a very
specific and obviously detrimental
phenomenon
within the groups of decision-
makers involved in their making. He called this phenomenon "Groupthink,"
cleverly picking this highly suggestive Orwellian mode of expression ("dou-
blethink" in Orwell's novel 1984).
According
to Janis,
groupthink
stands for an excessive form of concurrence-
seeking among members
of high prestige, tightly
knit
policy-making groups. It is
excessive to the extent
that the group
members have come to value the group
(and
their
being part
of it) higher
than anything
else. This causes them to strive for a
quick and painless unanimity
on the issues that the group has to confront. To
preserve the clubby atmosphere, group members suppress personal doubts, si-
lence dissenters, and follow the group leader's suggestions. They have a strong
belief in the inherent morality of the group, combined with a decidedly evil
picture
of the group's opponents.
The results are devastating:
a distorted view of
reality,
excessive optimism
producing
hasty and reckless policies, and a neglect
of ethical issues. The combination of these deficiencies makes these groups
particularly
vulnerable to initiate or sustain projects that turn out to be policy
fiascoes.
Janis's study has had a major influence on students of group processes
(Brown, 1989), decision-making,
and
management.
Also, it has influenced inter-
national-relations
analysts in their efforts to understand the dynamics of the
'Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences Research
Fellow, Department
of Public Administration,
Univer-
sity of Leiden, PO Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, Netherlands.
247
0162-895X/91/0600-0247$06.50/1 ? 1991 International
Society of Political Psychology
occurrence and resolution of international
crises. Here, we shall review the
theory in view of its place within the field of group dynamics, the research
work
that followed Janis's original formulation, and the implications of groupthink
research for the crucial
question
on the conditions that
foster high- or low-quality
decision-making.2
"VICTIMS OF GROUPTHINK" AS A CLASSICAL STUDY
Context: Psychological Approaches to Political Decision-Making
Janis's
work on groupthink
is one of the best-known
attempts
to illuminate
and explain political decision-making
processes using psychological concepts,
theories and perspectives. As such it is part
of one among several distinct para-
digms in the study of politics and policy analysis.
Paradigms of Political Decision-Making
Analysis of political decision-making
has long been dominated
by rational-
choice perspectives. In the rational view, policy decisions can be understood
empirically
as calculated
problem-solving
by key actors
pursuing
well-specified
interests
(for example, power maximization,
attainment of formally
stated
policy
goals). Normatively,
the rational
perspective
has produced
elaborate
multistage
models of policy-making, formulating
specific tasks including problem diag-
nosis, information
gathering,
formulation of alternatives,
assessment of the con-
sequences of alternatives, choice, implementation
of chosen alternative, feed-
back, and learning.
The rational
perspective
has been extensively criticized. Empirical
studies
of political decision-making,
following the lead of Allison's (1971) study of the
Cuban Missile crisis, have provided evidence casting doubt on the empirical
validity of rational
actor
models and have begun to formulate
and test alternative
ones. Also, it has been argued that rationalist
assumptions
of perfect informa-
tion, well-ordered
preferences
and single-actor
dominance are far removed from
the reality of politics and policy. This would also obstruct
the usefulness of the
rational
perspective
as a normative
guideline
for achieving
high-quality
decision-
2This article
focuses solely on Janis's work in group dynamics, in particular
on groupthink.
It should
be remarked
that Janis's contribution to psychology in general and to political psychology in
particular
extends way beyond
this. Among his major
works
not discussed at length in this essay, but
significant
for a more elaborate
assessment
are Hovland, Janis and
Kelley (1953) on communication
and persuasion;
Janis and Mann (1977) and Janis (1989) on decision-making;
Wheeler and Janis
(1980) and Janis (1982) on applying decision-making analysis to daily choice situations;
and the
broad collection of papers in Janis (1982c).
248 't Hart
Irving
Janis: Groupthink
making [see Dror (1964, 1968), Etzioni (1967), and Lindblom (1979) for clas-
sical statements of alternative
normative
models].
Alternatives
to the rational
perspective
have taken
many forms. One impor-
tant set of alternative
approaches
has stressed the political dimensions of deci-
sion-making processes: many actors, diverse interests,
interagency
conflict, and
ad hoc coalitions. In political models of choice, decisions are not the product
of
calculated choices by a government
or a company as a unitary
actor, but rather
the outcome of a bargaining process among different players in a political-
bureaucratic
arena.
The model of bureaucratic
politics postulates
that
conflicts of
interest and power games between different
sections, departments
and agencies
within a government
administration are the most powerful
determinants
of policy
choices (Allison, 1971; Halperin, 1974; Rosenthal, 't Hart, & Kouzmin, 1991).
The model entailed a definite break with traditional
perspectives of rational
decision-making
and a strict
separation
between
politics and administration.
One
of the most intriguing
variants
of the political
model focuses on the empirical
fact
that on many occasions, the outcome of the process is such that no decisions are
taken at all (non-decision-making).
The analysis
should
then seek to explain why
some social issues receive attention from policy-makers
and are finally acted
upon, whereas
others
don't. This takes the analyst
to identify
the social, political
and bureaucratic
forces and barriers
that shape decision agendas (Bachrach
and
Baratz, 1970; Cobb and Elder, 1975; Kingdon, 1985).
Other
alternatives
to the rational model have stressed
the importance
of the
organizational dynamics involved in political decision-making. Paradoxically,
organizational
models of choice have emphasized
the relative unimportance
of
decisions (March
and
Shapira,
1982). Instead,
they discuss the impact
of routines
and standard
operating procedures
for coping with problems
(Steinbruner,
1974).
Explaining
the content and
the dynamics
of these organizational
problem-solving
regimes, attention
is directed toward
the impact of different
organization
struc-
tures and
cultural factors as they affect
choice-related
problem
perceptions,
infor-
mation and communication
processes, and action propensities. In this view, a
complex decision "is like a great river, drawing from its many tributaries
the
innumerable
component
premises of which it is constituted"
(Simon, 1957, p.
XII). The organizational
perspective
has found its most radical
formulation in the
so-called "garbage-can
theory" of organizational
choice (Cohen et al., 1972;
March, 1988). In organizations
depicted as "organized anarchies," decision-
making
does not conform
to the rationalist
sequence
of stages. On the contrary,
at
any time, there are decision opportunities
that bring together various kinds of
problems and solutions "lumped"
by various
organizational
participants.
Orga-
nizational
choice is seen, at best, as a by-product
of various
independent
streams
of participants
and activities that occasionally interact
in such a manner as to
match "solutions"
and "problems"
at a time when the opportunity
for choice is
there.
249
't Hart
As studies by Allison (1971), Steinbruner
(1974), Linstone (1984), and
many others have shown, the different
paradigms
of political decision-making
are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are complementary:
Each alerts the
analyst to different
types of actors ands processes involved in decision-making.
Explaining political decision-making
requires,
in other
words, a multitheoretical
approach.
The analytical
problem
is whether
it is possible to develop contingen-
cy rules specifying the relative explanatory potential of various (elements of)
paradigms in different types of problem settings, administrative
systems, and
political arenas.
Psychological Perspectives
In addition to the abovementioned
paradigms,
psychologists studying
politi-
cal decision-making
have provided
a different line of criticisms of the rational-
choice perspective, and have started
to formulate
yet different
analytical
models.
Psychological research on political decision-making
builds upon the work of
pioneers as Lasswell, Leites, George, Simon, and March. It stresses the impor-
tance that individual
capabilities
and personal
characteristics
and propensities
of
individual actors can have on the course and outcomes of political decision-
making processes. Psychological studies brought "man back in": In contrast
to
organizational
and political paradigms
that emphasize meso- and macrolevel
processes, psychological studies focus on the micro-level (individual
decision-
makers alone and in interaction).
Janis's
work, not only on groupthink
but also in
his well-known study with Mann (1977), is part
of this emerging
psychological
contribution
to the field of political decision-making [see Holsti (1977), M.
Hermann
(1978), Kinder and Weiss (1978), Falkowski (1979), Hopple (1980),
Jervis, (1980), Ungson and Braunstein
(Ed.) (1982), Barber (1988) for over-
views and discussion]. Psychological
studies of political decision-making
reflect
different orientations and research traditions within psychology. They have
focused on, among others:
Beliefs and cognitions held by decision-makers,
shaping
their views of the
world, key actors
and their
importance,
the nature and scope of policy problems,
and the possibilities for resolution
(for example:
Lau and Sears, 1986; Cottam,
1986); Information-processing capabilities and dynamics, specifying different
ways in which individuals
cope with limitations
in cognitive abilities (for exam-
ple, Axelrod (Ed.), 1977; Nutt, 1988);
Emotions and motivations
consciously and unconsciously affecting the at-
titudes
and
behavioral
predispositions
of decision-makers,
including many works
on the effects of psychological stress and individual
coping strategies
(for exam-
ple, Cottam, 1977; Etheredge, 1985; see also Janis and Mann, 1977), as well
psychobiographical
accounts of socialization and development of the person-
250
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
alities of key politicians and bureaucrats
(for example, the classic George and
George, 1956);
Leadership
and interpersonal
style of prominent
political leaders and bu-
reaucratic
entrepreneurs, specifying how key actors interact with others in their
social and professional environments [for example: Lewis (1980), Doig and
Hargrove
(1987); elements of this approach
can be found in Janis
(1989)]; Group
processes, focusing on the formation and dynamics of small groups as much-
neglected fora of political and bureaucratic
decision-making (Golembiewski,
1978).
Janis's work on groupthink
fits into the latter
category.
In fact, it has been
one of the pioneering studies in this area. At the time of its publication, it was
rare in its broad interdisciplinary
(social psychology, political science, history)
approach
and its extensive use of comparable
case studies
outlining
the argument
and developing and illustrating
the theory.
This methodology,
as well as Janis's
lucid style, made it appeal to an unusually broad audience, including many
political scientists and international-relations
analysis who were otherwise not
inclined to consult psychological studies employing strictly experimental
meth-
ods. Later
on, the book was also adopted by students
of organizational
behavior
and managerial decision-making
(for example:
DuBrin, 1984; Swap, 1984; Leav-
itt and Bahrami, 1985; Pennings et al., 1985).
In this sense, Janis's
study on groupthink
has stimulated
interdisciplinary
efforts. At the same time, these very qualities
have made this work vulnerable to
various
discipline-bound
criticisms. Historians are bound to criticize the focused
and potentially superficial
case accounts
and interpretations
(Welch, 1989), and
experimentally
inclined psychologists will point to empirical ambiguities and
difficulties in pinpointing causality due to the post hoc nature of case study
research
(Longley and Pruitt, 1980).
Research Tradition: Cohesiveness and Group Performance
Having placed groupthink
within its broader
interdisciplinary
context, it is
time to zoom in and
present
in greater
detail the theoretical and
empirical
roots of
groupthink
analysis. These are to be found in social psychology. Groupthink
can
be considered an anomalous branch on the broad tree of research on group
cohesiveness and group performance
that constitutes a substantive body of
knowledge within group
dynamics. The cohesiveness of decision-making
groups
is the crucial
linchpin
in Janis's
own depiction
of the dynamics
of groupthink.
In
fact, it is the sole group-level
factor
that he singles out as a substantive,
indepen-
dent cause of groupthink.
Cohesiveness, viewed by Janis
and most other small-group
theorists
as the
extent of "sticking togetherness"
of members of a group, is one of the crucial
251
't Hart
factors in group functioning. It is also one of the most intensely researched
variables
in the social psychology of small groups. Perhaps
partly
because of its
very pervasiveness, it is also one of the most elusive and multifaceted
aspects of
(decision) groups:
there are several
competing
notions of cohesiveness; there
are
different
techniques
of measuring
cohesiveness which do not always yield con-
sistent results; Cohesiveness affects group behavior in numerous
ways. It per-
vades both group structure
and process, and cohesiveness factors may act as
either independent,
intermediate,
or dependent
variable.
Essentially, many of the
unresolved
problems
in the analysis
of group
cohesiveness reported twenty years
ago by Cartwright,
still exist today: How do various sources of attraction com-
bine in a composite measure
of cohesiveness, what is the importance
of different
sources of attraction on group
cohesiveness and its subsequent
effects upon
group
behavior,
and what is the nature of causal linkages
involving group
cohesiveness
and other aspects of group structure and process (Cartwright,
1968; see also
Golembiewski, 1962; Verba; 1962; Golembiewski
et al., 1968; Hare, 1976)?
Cohesiveness and Group Members
Just after World
War
II, cohesiveness research
moved swiftly through
the
systemic efforts of Festinger,
Schachter,
Back, and their
associates. Much of the
research
program
on informal
social communication
by Festinger
and his col-
leagues was devoted to studying group effects on individual members. The
investigators, soon to be followed by a vast number of others, found that co-
hesive groups exert certain pressures
toward uniformity
upon their members.
More generally, as Shaw observed, "[Groups] characterized
by friendliness,
cooperation, interpersonal attraction, and similar indications of group co-
hesiveness exert strong influence upon members to behave in accordance with
group expectations. Members of cohesive groups are motivated to respond
positively to others in the group, and their behavior should reflect this moti-
vation" (Shaw, 1981, p.218). In cohesive groups, the explicit or implicit norms
and standards that underlie
the functioning
of any collectivity, gain importance.
It is held that
the more cohesive the group,
the more
its members
tend to abide
by
its norms of conduct.
There appears
to be a compelling logic in this proposition:
The more co-
hesive the group, the greater
the members' satisfaction
with it and the greater
their willingness to remain
part
of it, hence the greater
their incentives to think
and act as the group does. Yet, this final step is taken too hastily. Whether a
group
member
feels compelled
to go along with the group,
depends
entirely upon
the content
of the group's
norms. Group
norms
may very well encourage
critical
discussion and dissent by minorities or individual
members. It should be added
that this is not very often the case. Usually group norms tend to stress the
252
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
importance
of consensus and
joint action, hence the tendency
toward
uniformity.
The key point to remember, however, is that cohesiveness increases
the power of
group norms, and these may or may not favor uniformity.
In practice, the tendency for conformity
in cohesive groups is widespread.
Research
by Festinger
et al. and
many
of their students
has illustrated
this in both
laboratory
and
field settings
(Asch, 1952;
Hare, 1976;
McGrath,
1984). The very
cohesiveness of the group promotes
this: Because group members
emphatically
want to remain
in the group
as respected participants,
the group
enjoys consider-
able sanctioning power. It has at its disposal a wide range of techniques for
changing the opinions and behaviors of a deviant member: from occasional
remarks
or
jokes that alert the deviant
to the group
norm, to (threats of) rejection
and expulsion. The group
member who is able to withstand such pressure
has to
be a formidable individual. Yet, as the literature
on deviance and psychological
reactance
has shown, under certain
conditions, deviants
may persist
and serve as
catalysts
for group
changes (Schachter,
1951; see overviews in Diener, 1980 and
Dickenberger
and Gniech, 1982).
Cohesiveness and Group Problem Solving
At a very general level, field studies have shown that cohesive groups are
more effective in accomplishing
group goals than non-cohesive groups. Similar-
ly, studies of group problem-solving show that cohesive groups perform well
(Shaw and Shaw, 1962; Maier, 1970). In the literature
contrasting
individual and
group performance,
the benefits of group
cohesion have been stressed
again and
again. The advantages of groups are said to lie mainly in the sphere of the
quantity
and quality
of information
storage
and retrieval.
Also, groups
are more
successful than individuals in generating
a wide range of alternatives. At the
same time, group decision-making
has some costs: It takes more time and it
requires a sometimes difficult give-and-take
between group members. In this
context, the value of cohesiveness is stressed as promoting
a congenial and task-
oriented atmosphere, which allegedly facilitates group discussion (see, for in-
stance, Miesing and Preble, 1985).
These are all familiar
arguments.
And it was precisely this line of thinking
that Janis was contending
with. He surmised
that, at a certain
point, high cohe-
sion becomes detrimental to the quality
of decision-making.
This idea was most
impressive
in its counterintuitive
power:
the realization
that, depending
upon the
content of group norms, harmonious, cooperative, teamlike entities may be a
liability rather
than an asset in producing high-quality
decisions.
This is not what one would expect. At face value, it seems perfectly
sensible
that a tightly knit group,
where members like each other and
cooperate smoothly,
is likely to produce
better decisions at lower costs than groups where members
253
cooperate less, groups where there is little common ground
between members,
and groups
characterized
by internal
conflicts. The basic thesis of groupthink
is,
of course, exactly the reverse:
The very cohesiveness of the group
may become a
value in itself for each of the members, and to such an extent that they may be
reluctant
to say or do anything
that might disturb
it, such as voicing criticisms
against
the ideas and opinions of other members or the group's majority.
Further-
more, it may even affect (delimit) their capacity to think critically.
This lack of frankness
is detrimental
to the making of consequential
deci-
sions, where discussion and a certain amount of dissent are indispensible in
arriving
at well-grounded
choices.
The characteristics
of groupthink
are, in fact, geared
to the preservation
of
group
cohesion and high spirits
through
the quick attainment and preservation
of
consensus on the issue the group
confronts.
Ultimately,
this can produce
unsound
decisions leading to the kind of policy fiascoes analyzed by Janis.
However, in the experimental
literature
on group decision-making
and task
performance,
little support
for this contention could be found, Janis's
case rested
more on the above-discussed
findings on pressures
toward
uniformity
and on his
studies of combat units (to be described below). At the same time, studies of
U.S. foreign
policy decision-making
provide mostly anecdotal
support
for Janis's
ideas. For example, in his detailed analysis of the decision-making
process of
President
Truman
and his advisors
at the time of the Korean
invasion, De Rivera
signals that, at times, the high cohesion of Truman's
group
(despite
bitter
person-
al rivalries between key advisors)
seemed to cause distortions of the advisement
process: the witholding of information that might shatter the consensus of the
group (De Rivera, 1968). After the publication of Janis's study, many other
analysts signalled such distortions
of information
processing
and choice-making
beyond the domain of foreign policy (for example, George, 1974; Gero, 1984;
Hirokawa et al., 1988; Hirokawa
and Scheerhorn,
1986; Tjosvold, 1984; Smart
and Vertinsky,
1977).
Intellectual Backgrounds: Coping with Stress
In crisis circumstances (high stress), group cohesiveness generally in-
creases: Task
groups may actually
become "primary
groups"
under the pressure
of outside events. This thesis has been extensively documented
in field settings.
The most striking
examples
of primary
group
ties can be found in military
groups
in combat situations. Loyalty to the small combat unit was what kept many
soldiers going during World War Two (in terms of combat effectiveness and
resistance to enemy propaganda),
both in the German and the U.S. armies.
Similar
findings were obtained
in other
theatres of war (Chodoff, 1983; George,
1968; Grinker and Spiegel, 1945; Shils and Janowitz, 1948; Stouffer et al.,
254 't Hart
Irving Janis: Groupthink
1949). Other
field studies can be found in the disaster
literature,
for instance in
Lucas' study
of two groups
of miners
trapped
underground
for many days follow-
ing a major accident (Lucas, 1970). A third example concerns Mulder et al.'s
research among Dutch associations of shopkeepers
threatened
by supermarket
take-overs (Mulder
and Stemerding, 1963; also Mulder et al., 1971).
Janis-as co-researcher
in the American Soldier Project-obtained in this
period
most of his initial data
and
insights on group
cohesion under
stress (Janis,
1945; Janis 1949a-c). Throughout
his career, he remained interested in the
problem of human responses to stress, in particular
the ways in which people
make decisions under
conditions of external
threat. This interest has taken him
from work on the effects of air war
(Janis, 1951) and disaster
warnings
(1962), to
the plight of patients deciding whether to undergo surgery (1958, 1971), and
onwards to Lewinean areas like dieting and decisions to stop smoking (Janis
and
Mann, 1977; Wheeler and Janis, 1980). From
these wide-ranging
fields of em-
pirical study, he developed a comprehensive theory
about
individual and collec-
tive modes of choice under stress (Janis, 1971; Janis and Mann, 1977; Janis,
1989). Focusing on small-group
performance
under stress, Janis was heavily
influenced
by psychodynamic
theory,
stressing
the role of individual
and collec-
tive defense mechanisms in coping with anxiety. Among these was the illusion of
invulnerability:
A variety of less overt personal
defenses against anxiety is likely to develop. Complete
denial of the impending danger, implicit trust in the protectiveness of the authorities,
reversion to an infantile belief in personal
omnipotence-these and other unconscious
or
partially
conscious defense mechanisms have been described as typical modes of adjust-
ment during a period of impending air attack. Irrespective
of the particular
modes of
defense a person employs, however, the net effect may be an illusion of personal
invul-
nerability.
(Janis, 1971)
In his early work on coping with stress, the roots of Janis's
counterconventional
view of the effects of high cohesion on group performance
can be found. This
basically psychoanalitic
view suggests that, even if a group fails to achieve its
formal goals or stated official objectives, its cohesiveness may remain un-
checked. It may, indeed, even grow, as the members
view one another and the
group
as a whole as a source
of emotional
consolation,
quite independently
from
task- and goal-related considerations. Lott and Lott have signalled that when
failures are perceived by the group members to be arbitrarily
"imposed" by
sources outside the group's control, there is a good chance that attraction to the
group increases (Lott and Lott, 1965; see also Mulder and Stemerding, 1965;
Rabbie and Wilkens, 1971). This is even more so when group members
lack an
exit option: They cannot dissociate themselves, so they decide to make the most
of it ('t Hart, 1990).
However, laboratory
research has made it clear that there is no simple and
clear-cut linkage between external stress and increased group cohesiveness.
255
't Hart
Hamblin
hypothesized
that group integration actually decreases when members
either feel that
they can do better
by a timely retreat
from the group, or perceive
that there is no solution to the crisis available at all. In these situations, group
members
may display more self-oriented behavior and
indulge in imposing
nega-
tive sanctions upon their colleagues (Hamblin, 1958, 1960). In his research
on
stress in task groups, Payne emphasized
that for groups under stress to become
more integrated, it is necessary that the members have interpersonal
skills
(Payne, 1981).
In conclusion, one could argue
that although qualifications
are needed, the
groupthink concept effectively turns
around some of the traditional
ideas about
the effects of "cohesiveness" on group performance.
To a great extent, Janis's
contribution lies in developing and pursuing
a counterintuitive line of thinking.
Moreover,
he has applied
it to historic
cases of political decision-making.
Let us
now turn to the main thrust
of his analysis.
JANIS ON GROUPTHINK
What is groupthink?
How does it come about? What
are
its specific anteced-
ents and effects?
The most systematic treatment
of these issues can be found in the second
edition of Janis's book, which extends and above all systematizes the earlier
formulation [Janis, (1982a); see also the early re-working in Janis and Mann
(1977), and
the more applied
interpretations
in Janis
(1982b, 1986)]. In his recent
study Crucial Decisions, he has presented
the groupthink
phenomenon
within a
broader context of decision heuristics and shortcuts
to rationality,
while at the
same time responding
to some of the critical comments
raised in response
to the
two editions of the groupthink study, however, without changing the theory as
such (Janis, 1989).
Definition
Originally,
Janis defined groupthink
as follows: "A mode of thinking that
people engage in when they are
deeply involved in a cohesive in-group,
when the
members' strivings for unanimity
override their motivation to realistically ap-
praise alternative
courses of action" (1982a, p.9). As Longley and Pruitt
have
pointed out, this definition is confusing as it incorporates
not only the process
itself (a certain
mode of collective thinking),
but also some of its antecedents
(a
cohesive in-group,
personal
involvement
in it by individual
members),
as well as
some of its effects (a reduced
capacity
to realistically appraise
alternative
courses
256
Irving Janis: Groupthink
of action). In his later formulations,
Janis has not, as Longley and Pruitt
imply,
changed his definition (Longley and Pruitt, 1980). Rather he has provided an
operational
formulation
of it; the causal connections between antecedents,
indi-
cators and effects are made explicit in a flow chart (see Fig. 1).
Thus, it turns out that groupthink
stands for concurrence-seeking,
that is,
the tendency
for group
members toward
converging
opinions about the adoption
of a certain course of action in a given decision situation.
ANTECEDENT
CONDITIONS
Decisionmakers Constitute a
Cohesive Group
?
B-1
Structural
Faults of the
Organization
1. Insulation
of the Group
2. Lack of Tradition of Impartial
Leadership
3. Lack of Norms Requiring
Methodical Procedures
4. Homogeneity of Members'
Social Background
and Ideology
Etc.
+
B-2
Provocative Situational
Context
1. High Stress from External
Threats with Low Hope of a
Better Solution Than the
Leader's
2. Low Self-Esteem Temporarily
Induced by
a. Recent Failures That Make
Members' Inadequacies
Salient
b. Excessive Difficulties on
Current
Decisionmaking
Tasks That Lower Each
Member's Sense of Self-
Efficacy
c. Moral Dilemmas: Apparent
Lack of Feasible Alternatives
Except Ones that Violate
Ethical Standards
Etc.
Concurrence-Seeking
"" (Groupthink) Tendency
-
OBSERVABLE CONSEQUENCES
C
Symptoms of Groupthink
Type I. Overestimation
of the
Group
1. Illusion of Invulnerability
2. Belief in Inherent
Morality
of the Group
Type II. Closed-Mindedness
3. Collective Rationalizations
4. Stereotypes of Out-Groups
Type III. Pressures
Toward
Uniformity
5. Self-Censorship
6. Illusion of Unanimity
7. Direct Pressure
on Dissenters
8. Self-Appointed Mindguards
I
D
Symptoms
of Defective
Decisionmaking
1. Gross Omissions in Survey
of Objectives
2. Gross Omissions in Survey
of Alternatives
3. Poor Information Search
4. Selective Bias in Processing
Information at Hand
5. Failure to Reconsider
Originally
Rejected Alternatives
6. Failure to Examine Some Major
Costs and Risks of Preferred
Choice
7. Failure to Work Out Detailed
Implementation,
Monitoring,
and Contingency Plans
E
Low Probability of
Successful Outcome
Fig. 1 Groupthink theory:
A model. Source:
Janis, J. L. (1982). Groupthink:
Psychological studies
of policy decisions and
fiascoes. Boston: Houghton
Mifflin.
257
Antecedent Conditions
Consider the flow chart. It shows three types of "causes":
1. High cohesiveness of the decision-making group. Take President
Truman's
group which dealt with the conduct of the Korean war. Janis quotes
Glen Paige:
Truman's
group of advisors developed a high degree of solidarity.
Glen Paige ... calls
attention
to the "intra-group
solidarity"
at all the crisis meetings. He concludes that "one
of the most striking aspects . . . is the high degree of satisfaction and sense of moral
rightness shared by the decision makers". . . The members of the group continued to
display esprit de corps and mutual admiration
throughout
the many months they worked
together.
It was a group
of men who shared
the same basic values and
dominant beliefs of
the power elite of American society, particularly
about the necessity for containing the
expansion
of "world communism"
in order to protect
the "free world." (1982a, p.49; see
also De Rivera, 1968)
2. Specific structural characteristics
("faults")
of the organizational
context
in which the group
operates.
One of the structural
aspects
mentioned
by Janis is a
lack of impartial
leadership.
Consider the following passage
on the way President
Kennedy presided
over the meetings of the Cuban-invasion
planning
group dur-
ing the Bay of Pigs episode:
[At] each meeting, instead
of opening up the agenda
to permit
a full airing
of the opposing
considerations,
he allowed the CIA representatives
to dominate the entire
discussion. The
president permitted
them to refute
immediately
each tentative
doubt that
one of the others
might express, instead of asking whether
anyone else had the same doubt or wanted to
pursue
the implications
of the new worrisome issue that had been raised. (1982a, p.42)
3. Stressful internal and external
characteristics
of the situation.
Groupthink
does not easily occur in routine situations
involving equivocal
decisions. Rather,
the chances of groupthink
markedly
increase when decision-makers
are under
stress, dealing with a crisis situation. In these circumstances,
decision-makers
may perceive threats to their self-esteem because of the tremendous
burden
of
having to decide about impenetrable,
morally complex issues. Then, the group
may become a key source of consolation. See Janis's
remarks
on the Watergate
cover-up by Nixon and his associates:
[During] this stressful period they spent much more time talking about what to do, but
their rambling
conversations
invariably
ended up reaffirming
and extending
the cover-up
policy. These long conversations could be characterized
as displaying
collective uncritical
thinking. ... Apparently
under
conditions of high stress
the members had become highly
dependent
on the group for social support,
to maintain
their morale as well as to protect
them from criminal
liability
through
their
affiliation with the presidency.
(1982a, pp.252-
253)
These are not equally important
for the occurrence
of groupthink, according
to
Janis: "The explanatory hypothesis about why groupthink
occurs gives preemi-
nence to the provocative
situational factors . . . (box B-2)" (1982a, p.259). And
then: "[the] explanatory hypothesis implicitly assigns a secondary role to the
't Hart
258
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
structural faults of the organization
(box B-l). . . Those structural
features
can
be regarded
as moderating
variables
involving the presence
or absence of organi-
zational constraints that could counteract the concurrence-seeking
tendency"
(Janis, 1982a, p.301).
Characteristics
Janis mentions three types of characteristics
of groupthink:
1. Those producing an overestimation of the group (illusion of invul-
nerability;
belief in inherent
morality).
2. Those producing
closed-mindedness
(collective rationalizations;
stereo-
typed images of out-groups).
3. Those producing pressures
toward
uniformity
(self-censorship;
illusion of
unanimity;
direct pressures
on dissenters;
self-appointed mindguards).
From these characteristics,
one cannot doubt the negative evaluation of
groupthink
that
pervades
Janis's
writings
on the subject. All characteristics seem
malicious: while the pressures
toward
uniformity
can be viewed as indicator of
excessive concurrence-seeking
as such, the other two types of characteristics
(overestimation,
closed-mindedness)
assure that this concurrence-seeking
takes
place in the context of "bad" policies.
According to Janis, concurrence-seeking
as such is a necessary element
within each collective decision process (especially when unanimity
is called for).
At a certain
point in the deliberative
process, discussions need to be concluded
and actions taken. In this respect, there is not so much
difference from processes
of individual decision-making, where decision-makers
start "bolstering"
their
preferred
alternatives
(Soelberg, 1967;
Janis and
Mann, 1977). However,
concur-
rence-seeking becomes excessive when it takes place too early and in too re-
strictive a way. This need still not be fatal, if the group
is embarking
on, more or
less accidentally, a sound alternative. It is the other set of characteristics of
groupthink
that are likely to prevent
this from
happening:
Closed-minded,
stereo-
typed, overconfident and morally
exempt
decision-makers are highly unlikely to
strike the right, or at least a satisfactory,
key.
GROUFI'HINK AS A FIELD OF RESEARCH
I have already noted the paradox between the instant popularity of
groupthink
and the relative
numerical
paucity
of subsequent
research
efforts. It is
time to illustrate this. At the one end, there is the mass of textbooks either
reprinting
Janis's work
or paraphrasing
it, couched in stern
and definite warnings
about the dangers of "too much cohesiveness" (for instance, Forsyth, 1983;
259
't Hart
DuBrin, 1983; Swap 1984; Luttrin
and Settle, 1985; Roberts, 1988). But what
actual research work has been done since 1972? What are its results?
Apart
from
Janis's own follow-up writings on the subject, some critical reviews have ap-
peared,
three studies
discussing
problems
of conceptualization
and
theory
forma-
tion, as well as a number of laboratory
and "real world" replications
of Janis's
empirical research.
Real-World Replications
Only a few analysts have produced
articles or monographs applying, like
Janis, groupthink analysis to government
and
public
policy-making.
In 1974, the
Watergate
scandal dominated the American
political and scholarly community.
Several analysts
have tried to interpret
this domestic-policy
fiasco by suggesting
that groupthink
was operating within the group of President Nixon and his
advisors. Green and Connolly have directly linked groupthink
to the Watergate
cover-up (Green and Connolly, 1974). Raven has made a very detailed effort to
use groupthink
in explaining the Watergate
cover-up (Raven, 1974; see also
Raven and Rubin 1975). He found many conditions and symptoms present, but
he also concluded that some very crucial conditions, such as high group co-
hesiveness, were lacking. Nixon's "big team" and his "young team" were
analyzed using sociometric
techniques. It appeared
that there were highly com-
petitive and conflict-laden relationships
within the Nixon group, which made
groupthink quite unlikely. "On the other hand," Raven notes,
the Nixon group
could still be considered a highly cohesive group
in some sense-despite
their
personal
antagonisms,
all of them wanted with all their
hearts and souls to be in that
group and to be central to that group. . . . Dependence upon and admiration for their
leader was the glue which held the Nixon group together. (Raven, 1974, p.311)
Raven, not entirely satisfied with the groupthink
hypothesis
as an explanation
of
what happened,
also suggests other theoretical
perspectives
from group dynam-
ics that may be useful in this respect (Raven, 1974, pp. 313-318). Wong-
McCarthy
has presented
the results of a detailed content analysis of the White
House tape transcripts,
which also points to many symptoms of groupthink
(Wong-McCarthy,
1976). In the second edition of his book, Janis also examines
the Watergate
affair,
and reintroduces the groupthink
explanation
by focusing on
a much smaller in-group:
Nixon, Haldeman,
Ehrlichman
and (until his "defec-
tion") Dean.
Tetlock
has made content analyses of speeches by decision-makers associ-
ated with groupthink
and non-groupthink
decisions, as they were outlined in
Janis's book. Using a technique
called integrative
complexity coding, he found
that
260
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
relative to nongroupthink,
decision makers were more simplistic in their perceptions
of
policy issues and made more positive references to the United States and its allies (own
group). Inconsistent
with Janis'
theory, groupthink
decision makers
did not make signifi-
cant more negative references to Communist States and their allies (opponents).
(Tetlock,
1979, p.1314; see also Suedfield and Tetlock, 1977)
In assessing the contributions
of this specific technique, Tetlock stretches its
heuristic value: detecting probable
cases for groupthink analysis. His method has
not since been pursued
in groupthink
analysis.
Gero used a questionnaire
to examine further
the effects of a consensus style
of group decision-making
on expectations
of intra-group
conflict among group
members. She found that
there
may be a strong
inclination toward
amiability
and
agreement in consensus climates. The potentially adverse effects on decision
quality are discussed (Gero, 1985).
Finally, attempts have been made to add more cases to the groupthink
catalogue. Following a magazine article
by Janis, Smith has attempted
to docu-
ment the suggestion that groupthink
dominated the Carter
decision-making pro-
cess with respect
to the hostage rescue mission to Iran.
Heller, in an article
in the
Guardian, linked groupthink
to the conduct of the Falkland Islands war by the
Thatcher cabinet (Janis, 1980; Smith, 1984; and Gabriel, 1985; Heller, 1983).
These latter
examples cannot always be considered
succesful. They are all very
casual and lacking in psychological proficiency to make them serious contribu-
tions. On the contrary, such quick-and-easy
characterizations
may create an
illusion that groupthink
is an all-purpose,
little-effort
label explaining
just about
any case of policy failure. This is deplorable,
and Janis has gone to great lengths
in calling for caution in linking groupthink
to policy outcomes, as well as in
providing a sound framework of all relevant factors to be actually used in
groupthink analysis.
A more substantive effort
was undertaken
by Rosenthal. In a comprehensive
analysis of several cases of crisis decision-making
in the Netherlands
(disasters,
riots, terrorism),
he systematically
checked the evidence of groupthink.
In some
cases, positive indications were found, in others
not (Rosenthal, 1984). Similarly
inconclusive or even negative about the role of groupthink
were both Etheredge
and Polsby in their studies
of the evolution
of the United States Central
American
policy and several cases of policy innovation, respectively (Polsby, 1984; Eth-
eredge, 1985). Hensley and Griffin
performed
a full-fledged
groupthink analysis
on the case of a protracted
conflict about the location of additional
sports
facili-
ties at the campus
of Kent State
University.
The authors
found clear-cut
evidence
for the presence of groupthink
in the university's
board of trustees. In the course
of the article, some useful methodological and theoretical observations were
made [Hensley and Griffin
(1986), in particular,
pp.501, 502]). Some follow-up
studies have provided criticism of Janis's interpretations
of the case studies
261
't Hart
presented
in his book. For example, Barrett has re-examined
the U.S. decision
process concerning the escalation of the Vietnam War and has argued that,
contrary
to Janis's
findings, groupthink
did not play a role at all (Barrett, 1988;
see Janis's response in Janis, 1989) Similarly, Etheredge
(1985) was skeptical
about the groupthink
analysis
of the Bay of Pigs decisions by President
Kennedy
and his advisors (also met by a rejoinder
from Janis in his 1989 book; these
discussions, as well as Janis et al. 's polemic with Welch about their
interpretation
of the Cuban missile crisis illustrates
my earlier
point that Janis's
theory-driven
case studies are likely to be vulnerable
to in-depth
scrutiny by historians).
Using Cases to Adapt the Theory
McCauley used the original case studies by Janis to substantiate
his the-
oretical claim that groupthink comes about not only through "amiability-
induced" internalization of group norms and opinions, but also through mere
compliance (public agreement on the part of individual group members not
accompanied by private acceptance
of the prevailing
perspective). McCauley's
analysis rightly calls attention to the status and power dimensions of group
decision-making
(McCauley, 1990).
In my dissertation,
I have further elaborated
on this line of thinking, arguing
that, on the basis of findings
on changing
patterns
of hierarchy
and leadership
in
small groups under stress, "anticipatory
compliance" of group members to se-
nior members or leader
figures
constitutes an alternative
path
towards
groupthink
(e.g., excessive concurrence-seeking).
In other words, strong affective ties be-
tween group members are not a necessary variable in producing groupthink.
Given a basic amount of group
cohesion seen as interdependence
between mem-
bers, groupthink may also arise because low-status members
anticipate thoughts,
wishes or commands from leader figures, and adapt their own thinking and
action accordingly
('t Hart, 1990).
Similarly, Whyte has made an attempt
at comparing
the groupthink
con-
struct with related approaches of high-risk group decision-making based on
framing
and
prospect
theory,
and examines the relative
merits of these alternative
approaches
in explaining empirical
cases of decisional fiascoes, mentioning
the
Challenger
disaster
and
the Iran-Contra scandal
as potential
cases (Whyte, 1989).
Additional Case Work
The Challenger
case was subject to a more quantitatively
oriented test of
Janis's
groupthink
model performed
by Esser and Lindoerfer,
who found clear
signs of positive antecedents to groupthink
in the critical decisions concerning
the launch
of the shuttle
(Esser
and Lindoerfer,
1989). In testing my own revised
262
Irving Janis: Groupthink
model of groupthink,
I found strong
indications
of groupthink
in a study of U.S.
decision-making
with regard
to the arms-for-hostages
deals with Iran in 1985-
1986, while these were conspicuously
absent
in what could be called the Dutch
equivalent to Pearl Harbor
(e.g., the prelude to the German invasion of the
Netherlands
of May 1940) ('t Hart, 1990).
Laboratory Replications
In addition to the case approach, interesting attempts
have been made to
investigate whether
groupthink
(unconventional
to many experimental
psychol-
ogists because of its real-world
empirical
basis), can also be observed
in decision
groups working under
laboratory
conditions.
Flowers conducted
an experiment
with problem-solving
groups
in which he
systematically varied leadership style (closed; open) and group cohesiveness
(high; low). He hypothesized that decision processes of the high cohesive-
ness/closed leadership
variant would most likely be characterized
by groupthink.
Using a somewhat debatable research
design, his findings stress the importance
of the leadership
variable, while no evidence could be obtained with respect to
cohesiveness, implicitly supporting
the view that there
is an alternative
pathway
to groupthink
independent
from group cohesiveness, stressing
the role of com-
pliance instead (Flowers, 1977).
A more sophisticated
design was presented
by Courtright.
He also focused
upon group cohesiveness and (non-)directive
leadership,
but he devised much
more credible experimental
procedures
to attain them. Also, he put forward a
convincing measure
of the dependent
variable, that is, the quality of decision-
making. His major findings suggest
(a) the feasibility
of the groupthink phenomenon
as such (in particular types
of decision groups);
(b) that the absence of disagreement
in directive leader/high cohesiveness
groups is one of the major
factors contributing
to the-alleged-low quality of
decision-making
in these groups. As such, Courtright
seems to have come across
a plausible operational
measure of concurrence-seeking
[Courtright
(1976), a
comparable design and similar results were later reported
by Callaway et al.,
(1985)].
Further,
Fodor and Smith also studied the leadership
and cohesiveness vari-
ables in an experimental group problem-solving design. They, however, did not
manipulate
the style of leadership by instructions.
Rather,
they sought out group
leaders high and respectively low in n-Power, that is, in power motive action.
Strikingly,
the low n-Power leaders
presided
over the groups
that
produced
better
decisions that those headed by high n-Power leaders. Like Flowers, Fodor and
Smith could also not find significant
effects of group
cohesiveness. Again, as in
263
't Hart
the Flowers study,
this lack of results
may be due to the rather
simplistic experi-
mental manipulation
of the cohesiveness variable, yet it may also point toward
the abovementioned multipath explanation of groupthink [Fodor and Smith
(1985); similar results were reported
by Leana (1985)].
Moorhead
has developed a clear model of what would be needed to ade-
quately test for groupthink
in decision-making groups (Moorhead, 1982). His
attempts to use the model in an empirical analysis of teams of management
students engaged in a 3-month intergroup
competition provided material for
additional
doubts concerning the overarching
(negative) impact of high group
cohesiveness (Moorhead
and Montaneri, 1986).
t' Hart et al. (1989) have developed
a decision-simulation
design testing the
effects of different modes of accountability
for decisions among group members
upon the quality of decision-making. The decisional context was designed to
incorporate
many of the theoretical
antecedents to groupthink.
It was found that
decision-making groups that do not have to account for their judgments and
choices displayed more tendencies toward groupthink-like
patterns of group
decision-making
than
groups
whose members,
either
collectively or individually,
did have to render
account.
Groupthink
and Choice Shift
As Whyte (1989) has rightly noted, Janis does not elaborately discuss a
long-standing research tradition within group dynamics, namely research on
group polarization
and choice shifts. Although
Janis
hypothesizes
that the group
process induces group members to adopt
courses of action that seem to involve
high risks of failure, he has not developed
his argument
with sufficient
reference
to the results
of experimental
and field studies and
criticisms of the "risky
shift"
(i.e., group interaction favors more risky solutions than individual members
would have adopted without group discussion), the cautious shift (the reverse
phenomenon) and other work on group polarization
(Moscovici, 1976; Lamm
and Meyers, 1978; Meertens, 1980). This gap has partially
been filled by follow-
up research.
Minix has used groupthink
to explain choice shifts in the context of crisis
decision-making
(Minix, 1982). The key question
was whether
decision groups,
confronted
with various feasible scenarios of international
crisis events, would
reach different
(more or less risky decisions) than
individuals. To enhance exter-
nal relevance, Minix's subjects included military
officers, the closest he could
come to running
the experiment
with officials who actually
make these decisions
in real-life situations
(other groups were cadets and university
students).
In his
theoretical
discussion, Minix discussed at length the crisis literature in order to
illustrate the validity of a small-group approach
to the analysis
of crisis decision-
264
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
making. He stressed that maintaining
decision quality under stress was a vital
problem in crisis decision-making.
Further,
he elaborated
upon groupthink
as a
syndrome
that was not only likely to appear
in crisis decision-making by small
groups, but also detrimental
to the quality of decision making. In this respect,
excessive risk-taking
was regarded
as a pivotal factor.
In the analysis of his results-which showed a rather
differentiated
pattern
of risk propensities
in his three
populations-Minix hinted at elements from the
antecedents and symptoms of groupthink
being operative in the dynamics of
choice shifts. These included, first and
foremost, the operation
and
differentiated
content of group norms and standards
among the three populations, but also
phenomena
such as collective psychological rigidity,
defective information
pro-
cessing (for instance, uncritical
reliance
upon historical
analogies), and the steer-
ing role of group leaders. The selection of subjects-college students, naval
cadets, and navy officers-reflects Minix's emphasis on the importance
of nor-
mative orientations
as an explanatory
factor. Minix's work indicates that there
may be connections between groupthink
and risk-taking
in crisis situations. In
that respect, his work can be viewed as lending support
to earlier assertions
by
De Rivera, who examined the risk-taking
process in the Korean decision-an
episode which Janis later explained
as a groupthink
decision (De Rivera, 1968).
Why, then, do groupthink
groups tend to play down uncertainties
and ne-
glect the risk dimension of their preferred policies? The fact that they do so
should be quite clear from some of the symptoms
of groupthink.
The overestima-
tion of the group through the illusion of invulnerability
and the belief in the
inherent
morality
of the group
sets the stage for overoptimism.
It is reinforced
by
closed-mindedness (rationalizations
and stereotypes), while cautionary forces
within the group are prevented
from gaining leverage by the the operation of
uniformity
pressures.
Whyte (1989) has argued
that excessive risk-taking
in the group decisions
leading to policy fiascoes is due to group polarization
effects occurring
when
group
members
perceive
the choice situation as being one of choosing between a
sure loss and an alternative
which entails the possibility of a greater
loss. These
perceptions
may be the result of biased decision "frames"
adopted by the mem-
bers of the group.
The effect of group
interaction
will be to amplify
the dominant
individual
preference
for risk that characterizes
individual
group members
con-
fronted with these perceived "no-win" situations. This thesis remains to be
explored by systematic empirical
research.
On the basis of a more elaborate review of the polarization
literature,
I have
argued for another interpretation
('t Hart, 1990). In my view, there exists a
paradoxical
relationship
between groupthink
and risk-taking:
It is precisely be-
cause the risk dimension of their actions becomes less relevant to members of
decision groups caught up in the groupthink
syndrome,
that
they will not refrain
from supporting
alternatives
that are highly risky. In reconsidering
the psycho-
265
logical processes underlying groupthink, there are some remarkable
resem-
blances with other group research. For instance, the characteristics
and conse-
quences of deindividuation
contain forces which provoke
a negligence of risks.
For deindividuated
groups, the future
as such loses relevance. They become less
concerned about the longer-term consequences of their actions; they are insen-
sitive to the thought that they are taking any "risks" at all.
While this may seem an extreme form of risk negligence, there are striking
correspondences between this psychological syndrome and the complacent
groups of Admiral Kimmel and President
Nixon examined
by Janis. In both the
Pearl Harbor
and
Watergate
cases, there were marked
instances
where
the groups
failed to take into consideration future
consequences
and risks of what they were
advocating.
Likewise, groups
acting under
great
stress such as Truman's
Korean
group and, at times, Johnson's Vietnam Tuesday Luncheon group seemed to
suffer from a collapsed time-perspective,
a cognitive pattern
that is frequently
found as a (defensive) response
to overload and stress (Holsti, 1979; Holsti and
George, 1975). With only the very short-term
consequences
of decisions deemed
relevant, the concept of risk faded into the background.
Consequently,
reckless
decisions were taken.
Second, excessive risk-taking can occur in what have been termed
groupthink-type
2 situations ('t Hart, 1990): groups not acting under crisis-
induced stress, but rather driven by perceptions
of opportunity.
The desire to
maximize success by determined action in an opportunity
situation
(cf. political
and bureaucratic
entrepreneurship)
can easily lead to adventurism and collective
overconfidence.
Support
for this latter contention has been found in my examina-
tion of the Poindexter-McFarlane-North nucleus directing
the arms-for-hostages
exchanges with Iran ('t Hart, 1990, pp. 305-309).
Additional Research Required
In reviewing the various findings of replication studies, it should be re-
marked
that their number is modest, their quality mixed and their findings only
partially conclusive (see, however, Janis, 1989). Real-world replications
often
lack in analytical rigor, while laboratory replications
are plagued
by the seeming
impossibility
of incorporating
more than
only a very limited number
of variables
in their designs. In particular,
experimental
studies of groupthink
have rarely
succeeded in creating
the kind of decisional stress
that
is a crucial
element of the
preconditions
for groupthink
outlined in the Janis
model. All in all, this examina-
tion of empirical replications
leads one to sympathize
with Rosenthal's assess-
ment that "[it] has proved to be extremely difficult to produce indisputable
information
about groupthink"
[Rosenthal
(1986, p.120); see the excellent re-
266 't Hart
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
view of methodological aspects of groupthink research by Won-Woo Park,
1991)].
THE GREAT DEBATE: GROUTI'HINK AND DECISION QUALITY
As can be observed
from
the presentation
of follow-up
studies, the empirical
validity of groupthink
is a matter
to be settled
by further research
using a variety
of methods, ultimately
producing
a more specified, contingent
perspective
on the
occurrence of groupthink,
i.e., a better demarcation of the contextual factors
conducive to groupthink.
Much more difficult to resolve are issues concerning the effects of
groupthink
on decision outputs, and hence the evaluation of groupthink
as a
mode of policy-making.
Does groupthink
indeed
produce
bad decisions all of the
time? Why should
this be the case? And to what
extent can the decisional
outputs
of groupthink
be characterized
in more theoretical terms?
Theoretical Considerations
The quality of high-level policy-making
is a key issue not only with regard
to government action but also in major corporations,
whose decisions equally
affect large segments of society. Decision-makers
need to anticipate
and circum-
vent the complexities of decision-making
in the multi-actor,
multi-interest
en-
vironment that characterizes
most issues that require top-level consideration.
Government authorities need to deal with cognitive and value complexities.
While these topics are central to the normative theories of political decision-
making developed in the organizational
and political paradigms
mentioned in
section 2, few of the psychological contributions deal with this topic in an
elaborate
way.
Groupthink
theory is a marked
exception. In fact, groupthink
has explicitly
been developed as a theory
of explaining
decisional failures
and policy fiascoes.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Longley and Pruitt note that "a negative
evaluation
of groupthink
pervades
all of Janis'
writings
about
the topic" (Longley
and Pruitt, 1980, p.77). They signal that even in the revised conception of
groupthink
as concurrence-seeking,
the flow chart directly links concurrence-
seeking and groupthink
characteristics
to symptoms
of defective decision-mak-
ing, which are presented
as a recipe for policy failure.
However, in his 1982 edition, Janis is not entirely
as deterministic about
the
alleged adverse effects of groupthink
as Longley and Pruitt
suspect. In the final
analysis, according to Janis, groupthink
is not a necessary, nor a sufficient
267
't Hart
condition for policy failure (Janis, 1982a, pp. 11, 196-197, 259). He does
suggest that groupthink
increases the likelihood of defective decision processes,
which, in turn, increase the likelihood of disastrous
policy outcomes. Still it is
quite clear that, in Janis's
mind, groupthink
is a certain
road
to failure. In fact, in
his research
strategy,
he departed
from this premise:
He chose cases of (alleged)
policy failure first, and then applied groupthink
analysis to see whether the
decision process was affected
by it. If so, groupthink
was implied
to be one of the
causes of failure. This methodology
places a high premium
on the objectivity
of
the analyst to withstand
(unconscious)
biases towards selective interpretation
of
the case study material. Also, this reconstructive-analytical
and evaluative ap-
proach is open to accusations of producing
circular statements:
Groupthink
is
inferred from policy failure and failure is explained in terms of groupthink.3
The link between concurrence-seeking
and defective decision-making is
evident from the specification of the eight symptoms of groupthink:
From a
procedural point of view, they appear
to be all bad (see boxes C and D in flow
chart).
However, to understand the implied link between defective decision pro-
cesses and decisional failures, one must first take a look at Janis's broader views
on the issue of decision quality, as formulated
in his classic study of decision-
making, written
with Leon Mann (Janis
and Mann, 1977).
Janis adheres to the paradigm
prevalent
in decision theory
that "good" (i.e.,
systematic, vigilant) procedures
produce "good" results
(goal maximization).
In
his view, decision quality is contingent upon the quality of the deliberations
preceding
the actual choice. Good procedures
virtually
ensure good results (de-
fined as optimal
outcomes with the limits of the situation).
Therefore,
the authors
have adopted
a model of decision quality
that
is entirely
procedural.
It comprises
seven "critical tasks" for high-quality
decision making:
(a) canvassing a wide range of available courses of action;
(b) surveying the full range of objectives to be fulfilled and the values
implicated by the choice;
(c) careful weighing of risks, costs, and benefits of each alternative;
(d) intensive search for new information relevant to further
evaluation of
each alternative;
(e) assimilating
and seriously considering
new information or expert
judg-
ment, even if it is critical of the initially preferred
course of action;
(f) re-examining
positive and negative consequences of all known alter-
natives before final choice;
(g) making detailed provisions for implementation
of chosen option, mak-
ing contingency plans to be used if various known risks were to materialize. The
symptoms of groupthink,
the authors
hold, are squarely
opposed to an adequate
fulfilment of these tasks. Hence, defective deliberations about decisions, and
3I am indebted to one of the journal's anonymous
referees for drawing my attention to this point.
268
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
hence (logically deduced from the authors'
premises), the near-certainty
of fail-
ing policy outcomes. This line of reasoning
is not entirely unproblematic.
Symptoms
of Groupthink
Reassessed?
Longley and Pruitt contend the linkage between the symptoms of
groupthink
(box C) and defective decision-making
(box D) is one-sided. They
contend that "symptoms
of groupthink
as self-censorship,
urging dissenters to
curtail their
remarks,
avoiding
the influx of outside opinions, and even collective
rationalizations
are eventually necessary in many decision making sequences"
(Longley and Pruitt, 1980, p.77). In other words, they maintain that these fea-
tures can also be detected in decision-making processes that would qualify as
high quality. Mechanisms for consensus-building
are necessary to come to a
decision at all. If no limits were to be put upon the duration,
scope, and likely
outcomes of their deliberations, decision groups would never come around to
anything. According
to Longley and Pruitt,
the crucial
factors involved in deter-
mining whether the above characteristics
of groupthink
really obstruct
a sound
process of deliberation about choice are:
(a) their timing. If one curtails discussion too early one falls into the trap
envisaged by Janis; but if one, for instance, uses these mechanisms to short-
circuit repetitive and low-utility discussions, they might actually enhance the
quality of deliberation;
(b) the type of decision task that the group faces. Longley and Pruitt cite
Katz and Kahn (1978), who differentiate between dilemma-like
issues requiring
innovative solutions-which, in turn, demand
very elaborate and wide-ranging
discussions with a minimum of closure and focusing during
the key deliberations
on the one hand-and normal
problems
that are less complex and can be solved
more easily, thus, not necessitating
too elaborate discussion.
It follows that the above-mentioned
groupthink
symptoms will probably
hurt the quality of decision-making
about "dilemmas,"
while they may be neu-
tral
or even functional in "regular
problem
solving." It is interesting
to see that
in
his recent book, Janis (1989) has paid ample attention
to specifying the condi-
tions under
which his newly developed "constraints"
model of decision-making
is applicable. Specifically, he asserts that the problematic
nature of distorted
decision procedures
is most clearly felt when decision makers are faced with
important
decisions, necessitating consequential
choices-as opposed to more
simple routine choices. The heuristics, biases, and other cognitive and moti-
vational barriers to strictly rational-synoptic
or, in Janis's
more realistic terms,
"vigilant" decision-making, are problematic only when decision-makers are
faced with difficult problems for which there are no standard
solutions. This
suggests that, as far as groupthink
is concerned, it is not really interesting
to
perform
groupthink
analyses of regular
problem-solving
groups at some lower-
269
level of management
or policy-making.
Instead, and compatible
to Longley and
Pruitt's assertion, one should concentrate on high-level decision groups at the
pinnacle of the organization
or government
where the stakes are high, standard
solutions are lacking, and "bad" procedures for deliberation and choice are
likely to be self-defeating.
Effects of Groupthink
Re-assessed?
As far as this linkage between procedures
and failing outcomes is con-
cerned, it could be suggested
on theoretical
grounds
that the linkage between the
symptoms
of defective decision-making
as produced
by groupthink
and the inci-
dence of policy failure is truly one of probability,
and not of necessity. In other
words, "bad"
procedures
need not always produce
bad results;
decision-makers
may get lucky. Similarly, well-conceived decisions may result in fiascoes, be-
cause of failing implementation,
unforeseen adversities, and so on. The per-
vasiveness of uncertainties
has led Dror
(1986) to characterize
policy-making
as
a process of "fuzzy gambling."
Janis
is obviously aware
of this need for qualifi-
cation. However, in groupthink
analysis, the de facto line of reasoning
has been
that groupthink
produces defective decision-making
procedures
which, in turn,
produce policy fiascoes.
Recently, Herek
et al. (1987) have presented
some empirical
evidence sug-
gesting that the implied direct connection between processes and outcomes of
decision-making is indeed highly relevant. They examined 19 cases of U.S.
presidential decision-making during international
crises, using a selection of
high-quality
academic studies. Subsequently,
they rated the quality of the deci-
sion-making
process using operational
definitions
of the seven procedural
criteria
mentioned
above. Then, they had two experts
(from
opposite ends of the conser-
vative-liberal
continuum in their personal views of the cold war-in order to
control
for ideology effects) make
ratings
of the outcomes
of each of the crises-
using two criteria: advancement
of U.S. national interests and reduction of
international
tensions in the post-crisis period. This design enabled them to
investigate
their
hypothesis
that
high-quality
decision-making procedures
during
crises are associated with better crisis outcomes than are defective decision-
making procedures.
There proved to be "sizable" correlations between process and outcome
scores. Higher scores on symptoms of defective decision-making
were related
both to more unfavorable
immediate outcomes for U.S. vital interests and to
more unfavorable
immediate
outcomes for international
conflict. Correlations
do
not allow statements
about
causality.
Therefore, several alternative,
third-factor
and methodological
explanations
were probed-and discounted. In the end, the
authors
conclude that
270 't Hart
Irving
Janis:
Groupthink
The findings of the present
study thus bear
out the surmises
of those social scientists who
have concluded that poor-quality
procedures
used in arriving
at a decision give rise to
avoidable errors that increase the likelihood of obtaining an unsatisfactory
outcome.
(Herek, Janis & Huth, 1987)
While this piece of research
does not explicitly deal with the effects of groupthink
on policy outcomes, the gist of its argument
is quite
pertinent
in this respect. The
assertions
by organizationally
and
politically
oriented
analysts
appear
to be incor-
rect: Decision process does matter in determining
policy outcomes; groupthink,
therefore, is a real danger
to effective decision-making.
One might object to this conclusion by criticizing the highly imaginative,
yet in many respects debatable, research
design. Take the operationalization
of
outcome quality. What are vital U.S. interests in any given crisis? Is it not
conventional
wisdom that
national interests
are, at best, an ambiguous
measuring
rod for success and failure of policies-for instance, if one takes seriously the
perspective
on policy-making
as an outcome of political processes between dif-
ferent agencies all defending their own institutionally shaped views of what
actions the national interest seems to require
in any given case (see, however,
George, 1980)? How relevant
a criterion
is the short-term reduction
of interna-
tional tensions from a broad, strategic geopolitical
perspective?
Yet, on the other
hand, Janis
and others rightly assert that
their interpretation
of process-outcome
linkages is, at least, not contradicted
or disconfirmed
by empirical evidence.
Others remain critical. In fact, the article was followed by a rather
sharp polemic
with Welch who attacked the article's methodology and main assertions about
decision quality, using the Cuban missile crisis case as an example [Welch
(1989), Herek, et al. (1989), Janis's Cuba 1962 interpretation
has also been
discussed by Lebow (1981) and McCauley (1990)].
Part of the problem in the discussion on groupthink
and decision quality
comes from the choice of criteria
for assessing decision quality. While Welch's
critique focused primarily
on Herek et al.'s assessment of the decision-making
process in view of the Janis and Mann criteria, I suspect that many political
scientists may challenge the criteria themselves. This takes us to the very limits
of interdisciplinary
theorizing. Janis is a psychologist analyzing and evaluating
political decision processes. His analytical instruments, however, are derived
largely from psychological studies of decision-making.
The seven criteria
pre-
sented by Janis and Mann do seem to be based on an essentially rationalist,
"problem-solving"
view of the nature
of decision processes. However, in the
"organizational"
and "political" paradigms
of political decision-making dis-
cussed earlier,
other
types of rationality
are taken into account. These pertain,
for
instance, to the symbolic nature of many problem-solving activities (Feldman
and
March, 1981), the primacy
of "domestic"
consensus
and
legitimacy (Lebow,
1981) and the defense of organizationally
defined interests
and
definitions of the
common cause (Rosenthal et al., 1991). Adhering
to this limited functionalist
271
't Hart
perspective on rationality
and decision quality, Janis and his associates run the
risks of propagating
a one-sided view of success and failure
of policy decisions.
As Jervis
(1989, p.442) has observed, ". . . psychologists . . . often neglect the
possibility that what appear to be errors on the part of politicians are really
devious strategies
for seeking less than admirable
goals. Thus, a statesman
who
seems inconsistent
or confused may be seeking the support
of opposed factions."
George (1980) has already indicated that high-level decision-makers
are con-
stantly trading
off competing requirements: analytically-sound
problem-solving,
engendering
and maintaining
support
and legitimacy,
and managing
scarce
deci-
sion resources
such as time and
expertise.
From
this perspective,
one could go on
to point to recent studies that have indicated that it may be very effective for
political decision-makers
to adopt seemingly "irrational"
stances and policies
(Brunsson, 1985; Dror, 1971; Mandel, 1984). Finally, Wildavsky's (1988) fas-
cinating study of the management
of risks has made it clear that "the secret of
safety lies in danger,"
in other words, what some would consider irresponsible
and reckless policies regarding
the stimulation of high-risk technologies and
experiments will be regarded
by others-taking a different time perspective,
adopting a different ideological viewpoint-as manifestations of wise states-
manship.
This brings us to the heart of the matter. The debate on the quality of
processes and outcomes of decision-making
is, ultimately,
a political one. It is
loaded with complex issues of value judgment. For example, Wildavsky's
book
can easily be read as much a political manifesto as a moder-day defense of
liberal capitalism and the entrepreneurial
spirit. It is highly critical of many
social interventions
mitigating
the development
of hazardous
technologies, as the
latter are viewed as the key to long-term
economic and social progress:
"richer is
safer versus poorer is sicker". Likewise, one might speculate to which extent
Janis's
study on groupthink
reflects its author's
conviction about
many American
foreign policy initiatives
involving the use of military
force in foreign countries.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the two cases of policy success-where
groupthink
was avoided-were also instances
where
policy-making
was directed
toward prevention of large-scale military force (Marshall plan, Cuba 1962).
Many political psychologists studying international
relations have shared
these
concerns, and have taken more explicitly "dovish" positions (see White, 1986;
Jervis 1989).
Concluding Remarks
The fact that, at present,
we can only speculate
about
such issues alerts us to
an important
development required
in psychological studies of political decision-
making, namely the introduction
of greater
political sophistication.
Janis's con-
272
Irving Janis: Groupthink
tribution
to the evaluation
of the quality of policymaking
is undoubted,
if only
for his unusually clear distinction between quality of process and quality of
outcomes. Yet it is necessary to go beyond his work and try to integrate
other
types of rationality
and policy evaluation into our analytical frameworks
(see
Farnham,
1990).
The debate on groupthink
and decision quality will continue. Meanwhile
groupthink
theory
has made a main contribution
by taking
it from rather abstract
into very concrete
judgment
on quality of decision process and outcomes in the
context of important
events, for example in major
international
crises.
Equally
important,
by its intricate
blend
of small-group dynamics
and
politi-
cal decision-making, Janis's work on groupthink has inspired many inter-
disciplinary
efforts. It stands out as a clear, if still developing, example of the
need for analysis of policy and politics to probe multilevel explanations
rather
than
continuing
to maintain
rationalistic
assumptions
about
individual and collec-
tive policy choices. Also, groupthink
and other
psychological concepts provide
a
very useful counterweight
to the strong meso-level bias of organizational
and
political paradigms. A task ahead is to further
try to integrate these various
approaches, levels of analyses and research methodologies. Such a move to
incorporate
(individual
and) small-group
levels of analysis
into more
comprehen-
sive research
designs should, however, always be based
on a clear understanding
of the inherent
limitations
of (social-)psychological approaches.
In this respect, it
is ironic to note that
despite Janis's
own exemplary
caution in outlining
each step
in the analytical
sequence of a case analysis (in particular
in his Watergate
case
study), the very popularity
of groupthink
may, in fact, act as an impediment
to
careful interdisciplinary
integration. This emerges clearly from the uncritical
adoption
of sections on "the
dangers
of groupthink"
in many policy analysis and
management
handbooks.
In the meantime, it is worthwhile to establish with greater precision the
antecedents and dynamics of groupthink,
and arrive at better-grounded
diag-
nostics of when, how, and why groupthink
occurs. From
there
on, we can follow
Janis's lead in trying
to prevent
or mitigate
groupthink,
as well as further
explore
its potential positive functions in specific types of decision situations. This
should be done by social scientists from different disciplines using different
methodologies.
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... Another benefit of working against the formation of power issues is shown in working against the phenomenon of 'groupthink', as described by social psychologist Irving L. Janis (Paul't Hart, 1991). In his several writings, Janis stressed the danger of people conforming to the general effect of a group in an attempt at a pseudo-cohesion to be retained and controlled. ...
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Our book is the result of a unique international collaboration between sociodramatists and action methods practitioners from several different countries and organisations across Europe over a five-year period (PERFORMERS 1 from 2016-2017; PERFORMERS 2 from 2018-2021). This Preface is by way of a brief journey map through the book to orientate you, our reader, to the delights to come. It is followed by an account of the conception, birth and development of the whole PERFORMERS project in a discussion between the initiators, Judith Teszáry (FEPTO) and Kata Horváth (Hungarian Psychodrama Association), interviewed by Krisztina Galgóczi. The overall aim of PERFORMERS has been to explore, to understand and to practice with each other and with external clients how sociodrama can be used in different fields, with a particular focus on working with vulnerable youth groups. Part I: Our Stories, invites you in with brief accounts by the authors of moments of importance in their own experiences with sociodrama. These stories have stayed in the memory and may have been turning points in their appreciation of (and passion for disseminating) this creative action method in their own work. Parts II, III and IV illustrate the reflections and practices of the authors in their own highly varied cultural, geographic and working contexts. Part II, Foundations of Sociodrama looks at some of the key principles and background theories. Part III, Sociodrama in Social Settings includes also organisational and corporate work, and Part IV explores Sociodrama in Educational Settings. We have also included a Glossary of Terms. Just as the whole world has had to adapt to the pandemic, so our entire project had to move online in March 2020. Our adaptations, to sustain our creative collaboration, have meant both gains and losses for the participants, the book, the group and the project as a whole. We hope your curiosity about sociodrama is engaged – how, where and why to use it – and that you will wish to explore more widely in the future, perhaps even engaging in training in the method yourself! Who knows … The Editorial Board
... Positiivse külje pealt saab tõdeda, et kriisijuhtimise ja otsustamise protsesse ja süsteeme on võimalik tõhusamaks, vastupidavamaks ning paindlikumaks disainida. 't Hart (1991: 270) on märkinud, et oluline ongi keskenduda just otsustamisprotsesside tõhustamisele, sest see toob rohkem paremate tulemustega otsuseid. Süsteemide ja protsesside toimepidevuse parandamine on eriti oluline maailmas, mida ilmestavad järjest enam globaalse ja kõiki eluvaldkondi haarava megakriisi tüüpi katsumused (Helsloot jt 2012: 5-6), milleks on osutunud ka COVID-19 pandeemia (Boin jt 2020: 189). ...
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The study aimed to describe the factors that influenced COVID-19 crisis units’ decision-making during the first wave in Estonia, on the example of the municipalities of Tallinn and Saaremaa. The studied factors were categorized as internal and external of which the external were the predominant influencers. The main factors influencing local governments’ decision-making in the first wave were time pressure, stress, pressure from media and the public, and pressure from central government or other organizations. The factors’ influence was felt greater in Saaremaa where the situation escalated to a severe crisis already in the issue phase. Interviews with the decision-makers revealed real life examples of the implications of those factors – problems in the legal sphere, click-bait media as an influencer of decision-making processes, confusing guidelines from central government etc. Correlation analysis of the factors revealed 13 statistically relevant interactions, which indicates that the factors do not just influence decision-making, but each other as well. The research results provide a novel insight on the decision-making processes in the early phase of the pandemic crisis in VUCA environment on local government level and serve as a baseline for follow-up studies in the latter phases of the COVID crisis. Additionally, the article finds that by choosing the factors to be mitigated wisely, crisis managers and experts that support them in crisis-management can have significantly better control over the quality of decision-making as a process.
... Lo importante es aprender del conocimiento de los demás, procurar no dejar fuera de la discusión puntos de vista relevantes y tratar de conformar un grupo que no sea homogéneo, ya que, de lo contrario, se refuerzan opiniones previas y, por tanto, los prejuicios y los sesgos preexistentes en sus integrantes. Estos prejuicios pueden ocasionar "ceguera de taller" o groupthink (Hart, 1991), que se refiere a que los grupos tienden a la uniformidad y a la censura, especialmente si son cohesivos; si tienen un liderazgo interventor y directivo; y si no incluyen expertos (Sunstein y Hastie, 2014). ...
Book
Durante las últimas décadas, el tema de Gobierno Abierto ha sido un eje central en la transformación de las administraciones públicas. "Gobierno Abierto" es un concepto paraguas que ha agrupado temas como participación ciudadana, transparencia gubernamental, gobierno digital, datos abiertos, rendición de cuentas, entre otros. Estos temas están siendo insertados en la agenda pública, especialmente en los gobiernos subnacionales, nivel gubernamental donde la administración pública encuentra mayor proximidad y contacto con su entorno económico, político y social. Entendiendo las potencialidades del Gobierno Abierto y su relevancia en contextos subnacionales, la Red Académica de Gobierno Abierto, México (RAGA, MX), el Departamento de Políticas Públicas (DPP) y el Instituto de Investigaciones en Políticas Públicas y Gobierno (IIPPG) del Centro Universitario en Ciencias Económico Administrativas (CUCEA) de la Universidad de Guadalajara (UDG) colaborarán para configurar esta obra que concentra investigación novedosa y de carácter empírico que versa sobre Estudios de Caso analizando experiencias de Gobierno Abierto. Este libro representa una relevante contribución académica entre los estudios sobre Gobierno Abierto que ofrecen una mirada analítica con evidencia científica, más allá del debate teórico y discursivo.
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Objective: Research on coercion in mental healthcare has recently shifted to the investigation of subjective aspects, both on the side of the people with mental disorders affected and the staff members involved. In this context, the role of personality traits and attitudes of staff members in decision-making around coercion is increasingly being assessed. This study aimed to examine the role of staff attitudes towards coercion and staff members' personality traits in decision-making around coercion in an experimental setting. Methods: We assessed the attitudes towards coercion and (general) personality traits of mental health professionals in psychiatric hospitals with a quantitative survey. Furthermore, we developed case vignettes representing cases in a 'grey zone' and included them in the survey to assess staff members' decisions about coercion in specific situations. Results: A general approving attitude towards coercion significantly influenced decisions around coercion in individual cases - resulting in a more likely approval of applying coercion in the cases described in the vignettes. Personality traits did not seem to be relevant in this regard. Conclusion: Strategies to reduce coercion in mental healthcare institutions should focus more on the role of staff attitudes and encourage staff members to reflect on them critically.
Article
The problem of interethnic conflicts is currently one of the topics attracting the attention of researchers of various specialties – culturologists, anthropologists, historians, social psychologists and others. The purpose and main task of this study is to analyze from a philosophical point of view the dialectics of the natural and the social in ethnic relations and its manifestation in interethnic conflicts. Accordingly, the article uses dialectical and comparative approaches. The theoretical basis of the study is the author’s concept of the relationship between natural and social in society and a man, which made it possible to identify the structure of ethnic relations according to this criterion, to determine the differences between social-group and natural-group relations. Intragroup and intergroup relations, in which natural components prevail over social ones are designated by the concept of “natural-group relations” (NGR) introduced in the author’s methodology. The specific results of the research and the novelty are the discovery of the specificity of the manifestation of the patterns of natural group relations and the role of suggestion in interethnic conflicts. It is proved that the concept of “group centrism” is not enough for the analysis of groups, since it describes mainly the assessment of one’s group and its values, and the concept of “regularities of natural group relations” denotes the hierarchical structure of a group, mechanisms of forced identification (including by methods of education) and self-identification, intragroup and intergroup relationships, reasons for conformism, etc. The article proves that the symptoms of grouping thinking, which were identified by I. L. Janis in small closed groups, and which are a kind of (NGR) patterns, are manifested with some variations in large groups. It is concluded that authors studying group relations do not pay enough attention to the natural prerequisites for the formation of groups and grouping of thinking, the fact that, due to the need for survival, the desire to unite into groups, to form and protect the uniformity of thinking is inherent in our genetic programs and is supported by suggestion. he further part of the article is devoted to the analysis of two interethnic conflicts based on the developed methodology ‒ the Arab-Israeli and Uzbek-Kyrgyz and the forecast, as well as the possibility of overcoming them.
Article
Hosting mega-events and Olympic games have been debated lately. Some cities are eager to bid for hosting such games while others refrain from bidding. Why? Indeed, quite a few articles have sought to understand the mechanisms behind the bidding processes. However, the present body of knowledge appears fragmented and disjointed. It is essential to make the body of knowledge more coherent and understandable. This article analyses the Oslo 2022 bidding process in particular and other mega-events in general as cases of political steering. The political, economic, and social outcomes are not always as expected. People other than those who initiate and carry out the bidding process pay the bills. Are all these occurrences coincidences or consequences? Niklas Luhmann’s system theoretical approach allows for a comprehensive understanding of this complexity. This study suggests extending and strengthening the theory with other theoretical concepts to carry out this meta-theoretical endeavour. Empirical research on the Oslo case in particular and other bidding cases for hosting mega-events in general is used to substantiate the presented arguments. This study’s main finding is that each stakeholder, often as a social subsystem, operates from its code or logic, irritating other stakeholders to act according to their code and logic, thereby reducing the possibility to steer the process. In the Oslo case, the process ended when the Norwegian people said the event was not worth it. This result falls in line with other studies of failing bids that show reactions and resistance against elites’ powers and towards democratic beneficiaries.
Book
This book focuses on foreign policy decision-making from the viewpoint of psychology. Psychology is always present in human decision-making, constituted by its structural determinants but also playing its own agency-level constitutive and causal roles, and therefore it should be taken into account in any analysis of foreign policy decisions. The book analyses a wide variety of prominent psychological approaches, such as bounded rationality, prospect theory, belief systems, cognitive biases, emotions, personality theories and trust to the study of foreign policy, identifying their achievements and added value as well as their limitations from a comparative perspective. Understanding how leaders in world politics act requires us to consider recent advances in neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics. As a whole, the book aims at better integrating various psychological theories into the study of international relations and foreign policy analysis, as partial explanations themselves but also as facets of more comprehensive theories. It also discusses practical lessons that the psychological approaches offer since ignoring psychology can be costly: decision-makers need to be able reflect on their own decision-making process as well as the perspectives of the others. Paying attention to the psychological factors in international relations is necessary for better understanding the microfoundations upon which such agency is based. Christer Pursiainen is Professor of Societal Security at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT) in Tromsø, Norway. Tuomas Forsberg is Director of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki and Professor of International Relations at Tampere University, Finland.
Chapter
Chapter 4 of The Psychology of Foreign Policy ponders whether beliefs matter. Conventional wisdom holds that decision-making depends more on people’s beliefs about the reality than on the external reality as such. The chapter scrutinizes the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, how it affects decision-making, and the methodologies related to how these issues can be studied and used as explanatory causal factors in the study of foreign policy decision-making. The chapter looks at such research fields as belief systems, studies of ideologies, images, cognitive maps, and operational codes. A number of prominent foreign policy applications are reviewed, and the respective theoretical and methodological challenges discussed. These include the notion that while information about beliefs can be relatively easily gathered from public sources such as speeches and other discourse, unlike in most psychological approaches, foreign policy decision-makers may hide their real motives and thoughts regarding an action and use popular ideologies as a smokescreen for both domestic and foreign audiences.
Chapter
Chapter 7 of The Psychology of Foreign Policy discusses personality. The personalization of politics seems to be a pervasive trend in world politics, judging by the daily news as well as political and diplomatic discussions. This is in stark contrast to current mainstream International Relations theorizing, which concentrates on the structures and has either neglected the personality factors or placed them artificially outside the scope of the discipline. The chapter takes an in-depth look at the theoretical and methodological opportunities for integrating personality into the study of foreign policy decision-making. The issue at stake is whether personality matters, or whether systemic drivers suppress personal qualities and characteristics. The chapter starts by reviewing the generic personality theories, such as psychohistorical and psychoanalytical approaches, theories on personality types, and those based on personality traits and their sub-categories in different combinations. We then move to applications of these theories in the field of International Relations by looking at key research literature on personalities of foreign policy leaders and leadership traits. In a more detailed fashion, short illustrative psychological profiles of two great-power leaders are delineated. Finally, the challenges of the above approaches are discussed critically but constructively, pointing out the obvious data and methodological problems, but also issues such as whether personalities are subject to change, and what that would entail.