Does that sound familiar?

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints.

Causes of Groupthink:

  • High group cohesiveness
  • Structural faults:
    • insulation of the group
    • lack of impartial leadership
    • lack of norms requiring methodological procedures
    • homogeneity of members’ social backgrounds and ideology
  • Situational context:
    • highly stressful external threats
    • recent failures
    • excessive difficulties on the decision-making task
    • moral dilemmas


Type I: Overestimations of the group—its power and morality

  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  2. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.

Type II: Closed-mindedness

  1. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  2. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.

Type III: Pressures toward uniformity

  1. Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  2. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  3. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”
  4. Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink, resulting from the symptoms listed above, results in defective decision-making. That is, consensus-driven decisions are the result of the following practices of groupthinking[11]

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of preferred choice
  4. Failure to reevaluate previously rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selection bias in collecting information
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans.

Now, here is a fun exercise: Go over the revolution and revolutionaries, and please cite examples for every one of those points. Should make things interesting…

19 Comments on Does that sound familiar?

  1. interested observer
    June 15, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Ok so what happened in egypt? There was only a leader change(see yemen,syria ?) promised elections-they happen improperly scarf ha ha knows this,mb feels the power.Normally in elections you dont have to group up,but given the current situation it had to be done but wasnt.In the meantime scarf! controls all the legal power.Meanwhile egyptian people get to see mb in parliment,they dont like what they see.Scarf! at this time is only looking to see who will work with them.When it turns out its only the mb,they talk,mb doesnt like what they are told eventually,and a fight insues.The mb being very sure of themselves,let the veil down,and this was caught on tape,played in the US.Scarf! was told,if mb wins Egypt would be considered a terrorist country and all funding would stop,and it might be very likely they my be foes very soon.The elections should not continue, but now restart -1st the constution then parl-then pres.By continuing the pres elections you get scarf!,no con and no elected parl.In a nutshell thats what took place,the video was of an mb rally and shown on cnn. the mb was told this would happen to them,thats why they have reacted as they have.Its now or never,its put up or shut time now for the people of Egypt.You have to put relgion and cultural differences behind you and remember you are ALL EGYPTIANS and all in the same boat.PS dont forget also how many people work in government their jobs and livlyhood is at stake,they must be part of this as well.

  2. Semper Gumby
    June 15, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Professor SM,

    So many applications! Copied the whole thing. Don’t know enough to intelligently comment referencing your bullet list and the Egyptian Revolution but I can see how this would apply to any political or media centric groups — purveyors of groupthink in the American mainstream.

    Will there be a test? 😉

  3. DurkaDurkaDingDong
    June 16, 2012 at 3:52 am

    What sounds familiar is the same mistakes the liberals in Egypt are preparing to commit again. Lets take a look at the following shall we:

    – Refusal to work with whatever little space you’re allowed on the political scene because its not as much as you wanted. Throwing away a chance to do something positive no matter how small.

    – Viewing the MB as a still viable alternative to the old regime which you blindly loathe, failing to see that the MB is intrinsically worse and even more corrupt while fused with the infallibility of religion.

    – Unwillingness/inability to form a unified political vanguard with a clear plan and a strategy other than holding rallies in Tahrir or chatting on Facebook.

    – The insensitivity for the situation for the silent and fearful majority who do not want to be worse off.


    What lies ahead is very serious no doubt:

    – Violence and more violence. The Brotherhood are the mother of all terror organizations across the world, whether you realize this or not, even though they do not openly endorse this course of action. They are preparing to invite their lice ridden friends from every war torn cesspool from Pakistan and back. Arms deals profits from a civil war in Egypt are lucrative to the West who would like to see every major Arab country eating itself up lest they direct their energies towards anything progressive that could make them thrive – or one day, after a million years, become a threat to Israel or western interests.

  4. Don Cox
    June 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Another feature of Group Think is that rather than discuss disagreements rationally, such groups will split into two. Each then regards the other as traitors.

  5. Scott
    June 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    What kind of post is this? I usually admire your analysis, but this -with all respect- is just rubbish!

    The “regime” of Egypt is the army since 60 years. It did not matter which officer held Presidency. It was SCAF who ruled, however, not for the sake of the nation, but to protect their interest. AND they enjoyed the backing of USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    IMHO they still enjoy that support, because they are in line with US interest in the region and more dependable than a mob that invades an Israeli Embassy or a Parliament that wastes time to fight about bikinis, alcohol and sexual intercourse with deceased wives.

    The revolutionaries went against Mubarak and failed to go against the regime. They (like you btw) deemed a people consisting of 40% illiterates and deprived of political sense fit for democracy. People who don’t (want to) understand that lack of security and economic downturn are caused by SCAF rather than the revolution.

    A judiciary appointed by the regime was allowed to investigate and judge this regime (wasn’t this hilarious?). How can Mubarak responsible for not protecting the protesters while Ahmed Shafik who was Prime Minister when the Battle of the Camel happened is innocent? Why isn’t Omar Suleiman investigated as he was President at this time and as it was him who ordered the army to remove their ammunition?

    Where are the revolutionary courts? Where is the revolutionary council?

    Those are the questions that one should ask right now? And may be the toughest question: If the Copts are truly voting for Shafik – will MB ever forgive them?

    • Scott
      June 17, 2012 at 9:10 am

      I would disagree in part from that analysis, however, I agree with the conclusion about cautious reforms by the army.

      The difference between Egypt and Syria is that the Syrian regime is cornered and fights for survival. That is why violence becomes an option. Same happened in Libya.

      In Egypt, however, the army was never really in danger and this mainly because it has the backing of the USA. As long as this support from abroad is given, there is no hope for Egyptians to topple the regime.

      • Domo
        June 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

        Exactly, .. The army will always has the support of the USA . Why ?? just think about it. For all the years post the peace treaty with Israel USA promised around (x? billion dollars) assistance everyyear with more than half of it as military assistance !!! to whom exactly this assistance? to Egypt or to the Arms industry in the USA!!??.

        Similarly, The MBs are created as a source of trouble. Like Viruses & Microbes to keep the drug industry alive.

        Democay is a big puzzle. To solve it check what the competing parties, or president is promising, to deliver or otherwise to be declared as failure!
        Check who is funding the competing parties or individuals. Then maybe in dreamland Egypt can copy Sweden, Norway, or Japan as ideal examples, where politics is responsibility, duty not a privilege or wealth oppoprtunity to the candidate.

      • leciat
        June 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm

        yes of vourse , as always, all your problems is the fault of the great satan america

        • Domo
          June 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm

          OK ..Leciat; just explain to me how miliitary aids helps society at general?? Where food, education, training people have gone??

          What was the Gulph War objectives? what did it achieve?, What positive contribution the USA did to any country in the last 50 years?? . The only close one is Japan .. but following what ?? was the nuclear bombs justified?? Just explain to me the where did the angel USA go!!!!??

          I am not saying treat it as an enemy, but be cautious who to take as example/template of democracy.

          • leciat
            June 18, 2012 at 2:37 am

            can’t find where in my comment i said the usa were angels . but blaming the usa for all your problems is the defeatist attitude that has been instilled in you by a dictatorship for years to keep you from focusing on the real problems. stand up and take responsibility for yourself and your country or wallow in the self pity of victimization. the choice is yours

          • leciat
            June 18, 2012 at 2:38 am

            “What positive contribution the USA did to any country in the last 50 years?? ”

            why are you waiting for the usa to make a contribution to YOUR society. make it yourself.

          • Domo
            June 18, 2012 at 3:01 am

            Leciat; one simple question.. Why we hear, read, the USA objectiions to dictatorship systems like the Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan.. but they keep very quite peacful silence about the system in Saudi Arabia and the rich gultph oil emirates!!???? Are these good examples?? what about women go to jail if they drive??? how this compares with SCAF? The USA play the role of leader and example for democracy, when they selectively like. Another example. how much business the USA is doing with existing China versus the eastern European countries who left comunism???

        • Scott
          June 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

          Certainly not all our problems are “Made by USA”, but this one definitely is. There is even a Law that should prevent funding Egypt’s army if they fail to prove that democracy is established, however, Clinton used an escape clause and keeps the aid coming.

  6. Publicola
    June 17, 2012 at 10:24 am

    We shouldn’t – and mustn’t ! – expect miracles from an Egypt, which due to the first stages of the revolution and for the first time in its existence now has to and desires to tackle the task of putting democracy into practice.

    As everywhere after a regime change*) the influence of the ‘ancien regime’, i.e. the large and thus powerful social groups and layers profiting and having profited from and closely linked to the ‘ancien regime’, is considerable.
    At the same time not each sector of society involved in (the support of) the first stages of the revolution is intent on putting democracy into practice, but might rather feel seduced ‘to take over’ the state, so to speak.
    Concurrently large sections of the general population, not accustomed to the new and unusual state of things, will only gradually be capable – via (bitter) experience – to develop and fight perseverely, tenaciously and in a dedicated manner for the necessary instruments and/or institutions of political expression, of checks and balances, to develop and fight for a civil society worthy of its name,
    i.e. the necessary tools enabling the general population to take rational political decisions.

    Political parties that seriously and unconditionally are prepared take up the cause of democracy, separation of powers, secularism, civil society as their supreme goal – in addition to and beyond their own limited partisan objectives – are in the process of developing and/or finding their way.

    In other words – I plead for more patience and forbearance.

    The Egyptian ‘man on the street John Doe’ has already proved sufficiently to the outside world that he / she is not as stupid some make him / her out to be or as some might have expected or even hoped for.

    Thus the Egyptian electorate has reacted surprisingly swiftly and dynamically to what it interpreted and understood as political ruses:
    whereas a majority of the electorate voted ca. 70% of Islamists (versus ca. 30% seculars) into parliament in December2011/January 2012, some months later a minority of ca. 43% of the electorate was prepared to vote for the Islamist candidates (versus ca. 54% for secular candidates) in the Presidential elections.

    What more should anyone expect?
    *) see Spain after Franco with its ‘Transición’ in the 1970s, see Chile after Pinochet and Argentine after Videla/Galtieri in the 1980s, see Taiwan/Republic of China and South Korea in the 1980s, see Rumania after the fall of the iron curtain in the 1990s,
    just to list only a few countries from different continents, cultures and decades.

  7. Publicola
    June 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    The Cairene Egyptian-British authoress, novelist and political-cultural commentator Ahdaf Soueif comments on the ongoing run-off between the two presidential candidates Morsy and Shafiq:

    … The revolution will continue because neither the old regime nor the Islamist trend in its current form are going to deliver “bread, freedom, social justice”.
    Neither of them are going to validate the sacrifices made by the 1,200 young people murdered by the regime, the 8,000 maimed, the 16,000 court-martialled.
    As the weekend’s spectacle unfolds, thousand of young men are in military jails, many of them on hunger strike.

    In the first round of presidential elections three weeks ago, fewer than five million voted for Shafiq – the old regime candidate – and also fewer than five million voted for Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

    Around 12 million voted for the progressive, secular trend in the revolution – but that didn’t count because that vote was divided between five candidates.
    The progressives had done what they do best: failed to come together and make common cause against a known and clear enemy.

    The people have, at every turn, done the right thing. They have taken to the streets when the cause has been theirs, they’ve stayed away when it’s been manufactured. They’ve been brave and resilient and resourceful. They have learned lessons.
    They voted the Brotherhood into parliament,
    and when they performed abysmally
    they withheld 50% of their vote from the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate …

  8. Hassan
    June 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    All the above applies to the Muslim Brotherhood as well.

  9. Publicola
    June 18, 2012 at 6:26 am

    Letter from a Brazilian citizen living in Egypt to the Editor of Ahram-Online:

    Maybe a setback, but certainly not a defeat

    To have Morsi as President without powers over the military for the time being (until a new Constitution is in force) is not the best possible scenario, but it is a reasonable one anyway.

    In my native Brazil the transition from military dictatorship to democracy took fifteen years (from 1975 to 1990, with setbacks here and there), with further five years to have a civilian Minister of Defence.
    Transition is a slow-moving process, not without hindrances.
    Having been in Egypt for the past two years, I can say that Egyptians have achieved quite a lot in such a short period.

    Maybe it is better for Morsi to have limited powers for now
    so that some sort of national consensus may be achieved after his inauguration.

    And if secularists do not achieve good results in the next parliamentary elections
    (to be held, I believe, within the next six months, about two years after the Revolution)
    they will have no one else to blame but themselves.

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