Essay 202- Groupthink- FINAL DRAFT

Essay 202- Groupthink- FINAL DRAFT - What is groupthink and...

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What is groupthink and can it be avoided? The quotidian and oft-repeated phrase "two heads are better than one" has been challenged in its accuracy and application with regards to foreign policy decision-making. 'Groupthink', a term coined by Irving Janis in 1972, offers an explanation of the phenomenon in which decisions created under group constraints are conducive to errors, with such errors escalating the possibility of an undesirable or even disastrous outcome. In addition to an analysis of the root causes and symptoms of this complex, social-psychological small group dynamic, I contend that prescriptions that aim to eliminate groupthink altogether are implausible and expecting a government organization to implement such preventative measures is simply unrealistic. In order to overcome the limitations of individuals' mental functioning, including limited information-processing capacities, and subjective and incomplete knowledge, many momentous foreign policy decisions are relegated to groups. Although Janis' primary focus was on groups composed of U.S presidents and their advisors, groupthink has been evaluated in more recent years for its occurrence in "cabinets, committees, commissions, and cliques" (Hart, 1990). Policies produced within the context of such groups, Janis argued, often cannot be predicted by eminent decision-making models, such as Allison's bureaucratic politics and organization process models or the rational actor paradigm. While these other models assume the internal workings of a group are merely the pre-determined outcome of the larger political, international, or organizational system structure, groupthink suggests instead that group-level interactions are the scene of complex, socio-psychological dynamics (Hart et. al, 1997). More specifically, the members of a group stricken with groupthink "strive so ardently for unanimity that it overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action" (Janis 1972). This "concurrence-seeking" dynamic can have a profound influence on the decision-making process and on the foreign policy outcome. The likelihood of groupthink among a particular decision-making body is impacted by four main antecedent conditions: the cohesiveness and stress-levels of the group, the lack of impartiality of the group's leader, as well as the institutional context of the decision making process. The degree of cohesiveness of a group is a major antecedent condition for groupthink as an amiable environment with high espirit de corps is often conducive to abandonment of independent critical thinking and dissenting perspectives. High stress-levels further strengthens this group cohesion and perpetuate the "concurrence-seeking" atmosphere (Hart et al., 1997). A group with an partial leadership often becomes caught up in the power and prestige of their leader, typically only offering a "rubber stamp" of his/her
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This note was uploaded on 09/04/2010 for the course GOVT 100 taught by Professor Peterenns during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Essay 202- Groupthink- FINAL DRAFT - What is groupthink and...

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