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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Groupthink in decision making : testing for its existence, effects and prevention Kyle, Neil John


Groupthink is a theory concerning decision making developed by Janis (1972) on a case study basis. He uses the theory to explain several international fiascoes such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Highly cohesive, isolated groups operating in stressful circumstances, under highly assertive leaders may support the leader's position in the attempt to maintain group consensus. Experimental research reviewed by the present author is reinterpreted as not supporting the theory. Criticisms concerning the original development of the theory and the possibility of obtaining disconfirming evidence are outlined. The present experiment obtained for subjects 192 staff members from government and corporate organizations. Leadership style, cohesiveness and stress were manipulated to simulate the groupthink conditions. The four-person groups attempted to develop solutions to two current social problems: (1) Canadian immigration, and (2) capital punishment. The sessions were taperecorded and subjects were given post-experimental questionnaires. The questionnaires provided information for manipulation checks and the attempt to observe specific symptoms of groupthink. The audio-tapes were rated by two independent observers for the quality of the decision making discussions. The proposed solutions (in transcript form) were rated for their quality by experts from Immigration and law. Groupthink theory was not supported by the analyses at the various levels. The independent variable manipulations were moderately successful. The results indicated that leadership style played the dominant role in affecting both the group atmosphere and the quality of the decision making. These findings are interpreted as being consistent with earlier research on groupthink theory. It was also found that the time limitations employed in the study influenced the task oriented dimensions of the group processes It was suggested that the role of leadership may be more crucial to group-think theory than is the role of group cohesiveness. However, before reaching a decision on the validity of the groupthink theory based upon the current laboratory research, it is recommended that groupthink be tested in a fashion more appropriate to the level of analysis of the theory.

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