May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Jesus Christ had.  Romans 15:4

The concept of groupthink has more relevance to the next generation than ever before. It is the idea that what the group thinks has a powerful impact on what you think. There has always been a tendency of adolescents to conform rather than stand out and be different.

While parents and families can be and are strong influences, in today’s world, the peers of the next generation are even more influential.  You choose your friends; you don’t choose your family – they are given to you. You also choose your social media peers.

Judith Rich Harris is a developmental psychologist has studied the influence of friends on young people. She says that there are actually three forces at work: one’s personal temperament, one’s family and one’s peers.

Of those three influences, the peer influence is far stronger than anything else. As she says, “The world that children share with their peers is what shapes their behavior and modifies the characteristics they were born with.”  Thus, it “determines the sort of people they will be when they grow up.”

As I read that statement, I realized the wisdom of the saying that if you hang around with the dogs you will get the fleas. As a parent, we were always concerned about who our kids hung out with for that very reason.

Children almost automatically take on the attitudes, behaviors, speech and even dress code when they identify with a group.  They instinctively want to be like their peers.  It’s a tribal phenomenon.

It extends to what psychologist Irving Janis calls “groupthink” which is when thinking derived from cohesiveness in a group overrides an individual’s motivation to consider alternative courses of action.  Janis points to classic past foreign policy disasters as being the result of bad group thinking as examples.

In essence, it is the idea that the group knows best and that the direction that is dictated is beyond any kind of careful examination, even if your own instincts are crying out otherwise.

There are lots of studies to show the influence of the effects of groupthink. A 1951 study by Solomon Asch which put college students in a group with one “outsider” who wasn’t aware of the nature of the experiment.

The group intentionally gave incorrect answers to obvious visual tests (e.g. the length of lines), and the outsider answered the question only after hearing everyone else.

In most of the cases, the outsider answered with the group, even though the correct answer was obvious. They later said they gave the wrong answer because they were afraid of being “singled out”. That’s how strong the tendency for conformity is in a group.

My mother put it this way: “If you stand up in a crowd, you are going to catch a tomato.”I see this principle played out almost every day in a world where partisanship discourse often makes no sense.

An example occurred this past week when one of the most brutal terrorists in the world was killed. In the past, his death would have been celebrated. But a large part of the media has its own journalistic groupthink.

The media bent over backwards to alter the story because celebrating the death of a murderer and rapist would bring credit to a man they abhor who authorized the mission.

The Washington Post headline was that an “austere religious scholar” had died. That is like reporting Adolph Hitler’s death as the “loss of a German philanthropist”. After blowback, the headline was changed to “terrorist-in-chief”.

This is but one example of the consequences of groupthink, where a partisan narrative outweighs being truthful about the facts.

Pause for a minute to think about how groupthink can affect decisions about our futures.  One might accept the group opinion that physics (or some other subject) is uncool, and steer away from it.

Even worse, the groupthink might be that studying is not cool. That might be the code. If you are interested in science, you might be labeled a geek or a nerd.

The danger of groupthink is that it can be a detriment to one’s individual judgement. A group thinks in unison and behaves similarly. Schools of people are like “schools of fish” who act and behave en masse.

It’s no wonder that a recent poll showed 70% of millennials in America favor socialism and communism, despite overwhelming historical evidence that it is an economic model that it has never worked.

The challenge here is that the digital world is a platform which creates groupthink, even though some of the next generation know that following the lemmings might lead one off a cliff.

The next generation (particularly Gen Z) need guidance to realize that the powerful force of conforming  to a group doesn’t mean that you check your brain at the door.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  As a mentor, you may have to dive in to your mentee’s values to be sure that he hasn’t adopted groupthink and accepted a narrative without thinking on his own.

FURTHER READINGOver Half of Millennials Identify as Socialist. Here’s How to Change their Minds. Max Gulker

WORSHIP: Listen to This We Know– Vertical Church

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2 thoughts on “Groupthink

  1. […] The McAfees start with the crowd-sourcing notion – millennials put more stock in what their peers think than from traditional “experts” from institutions. Some have labeled this “Groupthink “. […]

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