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VICTIMS OF GROUPTHINK: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascos by Irving Janis

VICTIMS OF GROUPTHINK: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascos


Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Quite simply ""groupthink,"" as Yale psychology professor Janis employs the term, is a defective decision-making process in which member conformity to the majority or a leader psychologically obtains over honest opinion or doubt, loyalty wins out over dissent and concurrence over deviation -- all reinforced by subtle in-group pressures. The syndrome is found in all types of organizations but Janis limits his case studies to modern American diplomacy, offering four instances of groupthink (the Pearl Harbor unpreparedness, the war in North Korea, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Vietnam) and two examples of nongroupthink (the Cuban Missile crisis and development of the Marshall Plan). In each of the former cases Janis finds the symptoms of groupthink: a deceptive sense of invulnerability, collective rationalization and dismissal of unwelcome contrary warnings, a shared belief in the group's superior moral position, stereotypical and inaccurate views of the enemy's power and determination, a clear desire for group consensus, and the emergence of member ""mindguards"" who sniff out signs of wavering and minimize counterarguments. Rusk and Robert Kennedy, for example, acted as mindguards during the Bay of Pigs deliberations, neutralizing or cloaking Bowles' and Schlesinger's misgivings, and thus preserving the illusion of the decision-makers' normative integrity. Application of behavioral science theory to the political process is an intriguing as well as a heady business -- there are the omnipresent dangers of oversimplification and tautology (and indeed Janis is not immune on either count, even if he does admit the spottiness of the documentary record). Yet Victims of Groupthink is bound to get more than modest attention if for no other reason than it provokes a goodthink.