Life Matters

The problem with Groupthink

There are few of us who will not have been influenced by Groupthink, at one time or another. Do you believe you are a free thinker? Someone that always thinks for yourself? Do you critically evaluate differing views? Or is it time to think again?

The Groupthink phenomena is present everywhere. Whether or not we get caught up in Groupthink depends on our ability to assess the evidence, not just the views of others. Another factor is whether or not we believe that dissent is an option. Also, is there coercion or propaganda enticing us to follow the group majority and conform?  

COVID-19 and Groupthink

Even though we are living through a pandemic there are people who have chosen not to be vaccinated against the disease. This week I heard that over 500,000 people in Australia, between 60-69 years of age, are unvaccinated. This is even though there is an oversupply of AstraZeneca vaccine for this age group. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is urging this group of people to get the vaccine.

But why have they chosen not to get the vaccine before now? There is ample evidence that unvaccinated people in this age group will die if they get the disease. They are at less risk of dying from blood clots caused by the vaccine. But they are not convinced.

Is the vaccine hesitancy due to the misinformation spread by others, including Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party? Last month Senator Hanson was criticised by health experts for false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr Nick Coatsworth commented that while Senator Hanson could have her own view, she had a responsibility to direct people to credible sources of information.

Getting caught up in Groupthink is a problem. It is a virus with its own dangers.

Political groups

The recent Four Corners Program on America’s Fox News is a good example of how Groupthink works. The network broadcast information about the USA 2020 election supporting Trumps misguided views. It destabilised the country. Prior to watching this program, I saw first-hand the enthusiasm behind the Republican bid to install Donald Trump, as President of the USA, for a second term. The excitement of chanting and flag waving builds to a crescendo. The group was as one. All the reporting and information about Trumps misogynistic and disrespectful views of others were dismissed. They were disbanded in favour of Groupthink – we are as one, with Trump.

Another example of Trump’s ability to encourage Groupthink was shown by crowds turning up at his election rallies. In the middle of a pandemic where thousands were dying, people followed Trump and did not wear a mask.  

Behind the Groupthink phenomena is propaganda. One of the more subversive actions by Trump was convincing people that he had won the election. It was stolen from him through a conspiracy and his supporters believed him. Conformity guaranteed them acceptance in the group. They did not take into consideration the facts or deviate from the consensus of the group. Such is the problem of the Groupthink.  

Church groups

Church groups are another example of Groupthink. To belong it is more in your favour if you will ‘toe the line’ and hold the views of the leader. One method of controlling people in church settings is to intimidate a person in public. This then shapes the behaviour of others. They are too fearful to hold a differing view to the church leader. Little by little, though manipulation, the Groupthink phenomena takes hold.

Taking the Groupthink to the extreme is when a church group becomes a cult. This is when others in the group will tell you what and how to think, even how to behave. They take away your power to think for yourself, to evaluate the situation and make the best decision for yourself.

I know of a church where a teenager became pregnant. The leaders of the group took on the role of decision-makers. They told the teenager and her parents the child must be adopted. In order for the family to hold their ground and keep the child, they were forced to leave the church. This is not a church; it is a cult. Fortunately, the family did not become a victim of Groupthink.

Jim Jones from the Peoples Temple Agriculture Project, better known as Jonestown, is a good example of Groupthink. It was a San Francisco based cult that resettled in Guyana. Jones demanded loyalty from his followers. The ultimate loyalty test was for a follower to lay down their life for the cause – for Jones.

After exposure about abuse in the cult and other atrocities Jones believed his only way out was for a mass suicide. To take the people to the ‘other side.’ People were forced to drink a cyanide-laced grape flavoured Flavor Aid. But it was not a mass suicide, it was a massacre caused through Groupthink. To ensure there were no dissenters guards armed with guns and crossbows were ordered to shoot those who tried to flee.

Over 900 people died, one third of them children. The followers no longer engaged in critical thought, they could not think for themselves, they followed their leader to their death.

It was the single largest loss of life in America up until 9/11.

When Groupthink is at work, wherever it happens, however it happens, we have a problem.

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