Monday, 15 June 2009

Avoiding groupthink

In a recent Psychological Science paper, Dominic Packer of Lehigh University has argued that previous conclusions about the prevalence of "groupthink" in group decision making may be too pessimistic. According to his own research, the extent to which people are willing to express dissenting opinions within a group may depend on how much they identify with the group.

He asked 78 undergraduates at Ohio State University to complete a six-item questionnaire that assessed how strongly they identified with that institution. These students were then asked to identify problems of concern to the university, and to privately rate their level of concern on six-point scales. Next, they also rated how concerned they believed other students would be about these problems. Finally, believing that they were about to participate in an online chatroom discussion about these issues, they gave "public" ratings of their concerns.

They key finding was that students who only weakly identified with the university were more likely to publicly suppress their concerns if they believed that these were not shared by other students. By contrast, strongly identified students were willing to express their concerns, regardless of what they thought other students believed.

Whether this finding would hold up for participation in physically present groups is another matter. One of the hypothesised antecedents to groupthink that has received some support is lack of impartial leadership. Would strongly-identified group members still voice a dissenting view if this condition were in place?


Packer, D. (2009). Avoiding groupthink: Whereas weakly identified members remain silent, strongly identified members dissent about collective problems. Psychological Science, 20 (5), 546-548.

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