How smart do you have to be to understand the persuasion concept, Groupthink? Read.
There’s also a darker side to this effect: In cities, ideas and opinions, like product preferences, can spread virally and congeal into conventional wisdom. Cities thus risk becoming incubators of groupthink.
This overwrought and overwritten example comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and terminates with yet another misapplication of the term Groupthink. The story focuses upon differences between iPhone and Android users and then draws those facile conclusions like Groupthinking Cities.
Again. Groupthink is not defined as people coming together because they like the same thing. That’s similarity or homophily in persuasion terms. Groupthink applies to small groups of highly connected people sharing common work goals who permit cohesion to overwhelm frank discussion. The drive to connect is stronger than the drive to comprehend. Groupthink marks a High WATT Biased Processor on the Central Route cutting the Arguments to fit a Conclusion.
Since I’ve begun blogging I’ve noticed this misunderstanding of Groupthink in a few pop press sources, but the WSJ and the NYT seem to have a corner on the market. Today at WSJ, we have Groupthink with an analysis of which smartphone you use. Here Groupthink is applied to people who have the wrong opinion on Health Care Reform. There, a Member of the British Parliament tasks people with the wrong opinion on Global Warming. And, over the NYT we have a fascinating mashup with Groupthink and introversion. Then, here, in this book review of, all things, a climbing disaster on K2.
Sure, Steve, you’ve caught these mistakes through mere happenstance. Maybe it’s not just WSJ or the NYT. Have you searched more systematically?
Apparently someone could start a blog called No That’s Not Groupthink and post daily. Try for yourself. Hit this link to see today’s collection through the Google News aggregator.
On Sunday, April 1, 2012 as I’m writing this, I see a listing for Chris Weigant in a piece at the Huffington Post on March 30, 2012. He believes that Groupthink is a synonym for that well known effect, the Herd Mentality. And, in a March 30, 2012 Financial Times piece Christopher Caldwell worries about the faddish interest in crowds and groups under the title, Groupthink Is No Match for Solo Genius.
Now, let’s give credit where credit is due. Sometimes pop press writers get Groupthink right. For example, on March 31, 2012 Paul Krugman’s liberal conscience echoes the Groupthink cry from Laurence Ball February 28, 2012 essay on the Federal Reserve’s action. Ball provides a cogent and coherent recounting of Groupthink and actually quotes a good definition of it. Good grief, a Nobel prize winning economist and another one who must be pretty smart, too, since Krugman reads him! Is that what it takes to understand Groupthink?
I could continue in that professorial style of exhausting both the content and the reader with detail upon detail in the name of scholarship, but you get the point. Smart people writing in smart outlets have no idea what they are talking about. Each instance is a small example of FauxItAllery and sure you’ve got to give people some room to expand a thought that might not be according to Hoyle. But, within that see the Bad Science in an attempt at Persuasion.
In all these negative instances, the writers misunderstand and misapply a well defined and well studied persuasion effect as a means of advancing their Persuasion. They reduce this useful concept to little more than a belittling insult thrown during a partisan rock fight.
Groupthink is what strangles your voice when a contrary thought pops in your head during a meeting. The discussion is gathering steam toward a conclusion that you find flawed, but in the interests of solidarity you don’t rock the boat that may soon flounder on the rocky reef only you can see ahead. When individuals allow their sense of cohesion to triumph over thoughtful expression, Groupthink rises. Many people in the group may see disasters ahead, but each suppresses that expression without pressure from another group member. We patrol our minds with the mind we think everyone else has.
And you want to call this the Herd Mentality?
You see the foolishness of these Cool Tablists. They think it more intelligent to drain the meaning and value of Groupthink down to a slur. They also demonstrate a baffling inability to read. Just check the Wikipedia basic entry on Groupthink. This requires a Nobel prize to comprehend? Shootfire, I’m not asking that anyone read any original peer review research, just the pop press like either of Irving Janis’ books on the topic. Or that simple Wiki entry.
I often lament or satirize the woeful reputation of persuasion science. People just don’t understand how wonderful we are. And, it’s worse than that. People don’t understand at all.
Past my stifled cries, gnashed teeth, and rent garments, see the persuasion opportunities. All those Cool Table elites at highly self- and other-esteemed sources like the Times or the Journal or the Post are complete persuasion fools. Talk about easy, ripe, and luscious. I still think it a dangerous game for scientists to play science with these Other Guys, but if you can play without Sincerity, you can shoot those fish in the barrel to advance your career or agenda. Past scientists, if you are trying to make a living off of science, you can be sure that the Cool Table will believe anything you say.
Just tell them your critics are Groupthinkers.
P.S. Laurence Ball makes a pretty good case that at least in the end stages of the Fed under Alan Greenspan, Groupthink processes were probably operating, but his analysis of Groupthink with Ben Bernanke’s Fed fails for me. Ball notes that Bernanke is perceived as an interior, shy, and introverted person who won’t rock the boat. Ball then suggests Fed committees should include aggressive, outspoken people as the cure. There’s no evidence that such personality traits function in Groupthink as Ball describes. Indeed, bombastic group members could easily stifle rational and open discussion as others remain silent as a means of avoiding bombast. And, if you read the case studies from Irving Janis’s work, you find constant examples of Groupthink that included outsized personalities in the room. Whatever the failings of Ben Bernanke and the current Fed, from Ball’s evidence, I don’t think Groupthink or introversion is an issue.
P.P.S. See also in both Krugman and Ball the classic Actor-Observer Attribution effects. Krugman and Ball sit outside the room Observing the Actor, Ben Bernanke. They attribute Bernanke’s actions to his disposition – he’s shy. Bernanke probably attributes his behavior to situational factors – facts on the ground, political reality from Congress, etc. And, if you put Krugman or Ball in the room, their attributions would shift accordingly. Like the old cliche goes, where you stand depends upon where you sit.