Group Decision Fiascoes Continue — Space Shuttle Challenger and a Revised Groupthink

Article: Group Decision Fiascoes Continue — Space Shuttle Challenger and a Revised
Groupthink Framework
Authors Gregory Moorhead, Richard Ference, and Chris P. Neck
Summary A. Guberman
Also see Groupthink Remodeled — The Importance of Leadership, Time Pressure, and Methodical Decision-Making Procedures

Janis coined the term “Groupthink” to refer to “A mode of
thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in the cohesive
in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to
realistically appraise alternative courses of action (Janis, 1972, p.8)

On January 28, 1986, the space-shuttle Challenger exploded.  … The Presidential Commission that
investigated the accident pointed to a flawed decision-making process as a primary contributory cause.

Three Primary Antecedent Conditions for the Development of Groupthink

  1. A highly cohesive group
  2. Leader preference for a certain decision
  3. Insulation of the group from qualified outside opinions

Eight Symptoms of Groupthink

  1. Invulnerability: an illusion of invulnerability that reassures
    [members] in the face of obvious dangers.
  2. Rationalization: Victims of groupthink collectively construct
    rationalizations that discount warnings and other forms of negative
  3. Morality:  Group members often believe, without question in
    the inherent morality of their position.  They tend to ignore the
    ethical or moral consequences of their decision.
  4. Stereotyped Views of Others:  Victims of groupthink often have
    a stereotyped view of the opposition of anyone with a competing
    opinion.  They feel that the opposition is too stupid or too weak to
    understand or deal effectively with the problem.
  5. Pressure on Dissent:  Group members often apply direct
    pressure to anyone who questions the validity of the arguments supporting a
    decision or position favored by the majority.
  6. Self-Censorship:  Group members tend to censor themselves when
    they have opinions or ideas that deviate from the apparent group
    consensus.  Janis feels that this reflects each member’s inclination to
    minimize to himself or herself the importance of his or her own doubts and
  7. Illusion of Unanimity:  Group members falling victim to
    groupthink share an illusion of unanimity concerning judgments made by
    members speaking in favor of the majority view. … aided by the false
    assumption that any participant who remains silent is in agreement with the
    majority opinion.  The group leader and other members support each
    other by playing up points of convergence in their thinking at the expense
    of fully exploring points of divergence that might reveal unsettling
  8. Mindguarding: Certain group members assume the role of guarding the
    minds of others in the group.  They attempt to shield the group from
    adverse information that might destroy the majority view of the facts
    regarding the appropriateness of the decision

Decision-Making Defects (partial list)

  • Few Alternatives: The group considers only a few alternatives,
    often only two.  No initial survey of all possible alternatives occurs.
  • No Re-examination of Alternatives: The group fails to re-examine
    alternatives that may have been initially discarded based on early
    unfavorable information.
  • Rejecting Expert Opinions:  Members make little or no attempt
    to seek outside experts opinions.
  • Rejecting Negative Information: Members tend to focus n supportive
    information and ignore any data or information that might cast a negative
    light on their preferred alternative.
  • No Contingency Plans:  Members spend little time discussing
    the possible consequences of the decision and, therefore, fail to develop
    contingency plans.


The element of time in influencing the development of groupthink has not
received adequate attention. … Time is a critical variable that needs to be
highlighted in a revised groupthink framework. …  In certain situations
when there is pressure to make a decision quickly, the elements may combine to
foster the development of groupthink.

The second revision needs to be in the role of leadership of the
decision-making group.  … We propose the leadership style is a crucial
variable that moderates the relationship between the group characteristics and
the development of the symptoms.

We propose that the groupthink symptoms result from the group
characteristics, as proposed by Janis, but only in the presence of the
moderating variables of time and certain leadership styles.



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