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A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.
—Agent K, Men in Black

Groupthink (or communal reinforcement) happens when a desire for conformity within a group transcends rational thought, issues of right and wrong, or even personal opinion. When this happens, individuals in a group fail to express their doubts as commonly about the group's dynamic, direction or decisions because of a desire to maintain (pseudo-)consensus or conformity. Thus even though the group may be on a headlong rush to error or disaster, no-one speaks up because they don't want to rock the boat.

Groupthink can affect communities of any size from small groups[note 1] to whole nations.


A group's members tend to ignore or not voice their own doubts "for the good of the group". The group itself may also ignore external suggestions, and can become paranoid when faced with heresy or with criticism, even when the criticism is helpful or even just well-meant. Within a group, repeated assertion may lead to members accepting dubious claims uncritically without proper research or empirical support.

Groups are most vulnerable to the results of groupthink when their members come from similar backgrounds, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision-making.[citation needed] Alternatively, in the case of destructive cults, a clear rule may exist: "Accept what the cult leader or the leader's representatives tell us without question - otherwise face the consequences."[1][2]

The famous social psychologist Irving Janis[3] popularized the word "groupthink" in 1972;[4] the term itself originated with William H. Whyte[5] of Fortune Magazine in 1952.[6][7] Groupthink relates in some ways to the older concept of crowd psychology, although "groupthink" refers not to the spontaneous actions of crowds but to the activities of groups with a shared interest or objective (such as LGATs[8]), including many small groups, and groups of people who may be physically distanced from each other (for example, people in an Internet community). The similarity of the term to "doublethink" may suggest that Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four inspired the naming convention.

"Groupthink" is why everyone in that online forum/wiki you just joined not only doesn't go for your perspicacious and radical ideas, they actually seem uninterested. Sheeple!

Role of the iconoclast[edit]

For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.

A community's "drift" can seem to be automatic. This drift is frequently kept in check by an iconoclast who may seek to redefine that which has come to be defined precisely because of the group's drift. This serves to shock the group out of the automatic "go with the flow" and the more insidious "go along to get along" attitudes which can eventually get in the way of the group's stated goals.

Sometimes iconoclasts, other than actually supporting or protesting something which is wrong and/or incorrect, are just bigoted jerks.[9]

A more proper term for someone who challenges ideas for actual philosophical purposes is a "social gadfly" which is how Socrates referred to himself during his trial for "corrupting the youth" and "impiety."[10]

Epistemic closure[edit]

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute adapted the term "epistemic closure," originally an unrelated philosophical term,Wikipedia to describe what he saw as the behavior of US conservatism. In a blog post that kicked off the "epistemic closure" debate of 2010, which drew in Andrew Sullivan, Jonah Goldberg, David Frum, Ross Douthat, Bruce Bartlett, and Jonathan Chait, Sanchez wrote:[11]

Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure...

His usage is close to "false consensus" or "groupthink."

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. RationalWiki we're looking at you.


  1. For example: "Who We Are". Christ's Commission Fellowship. 2020. "Our Core values [:] [...] No critical spirit or participation in gossip [...] Obey God's Word and Authorities [...] Submission to God-given authorities with respect and a positive attitude [...] Display of consistent humility; willing acceptance of criticism, correction, and suggestions [...]" 
  2. Walker, Jeff (2012). "Entrails: The Anatomy of the Cult". The Ayn Rand Cult. Chicago: Open Court. p. 50. ISBN 9780812698190. Retrieved 8 December 2020. "A rational person may easily become involved in a cult, if only because a cult is typically a far different entity than it appears on the surface. As one's involvement increases, it is easy to slip into an authoritarian relationship without realizing it." 
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Irving Janis.
  4. Growth in use of the term
  5. See the Wikipedia article on William H. Whyte.
  6. Whyte, William H. (March 1952). "Groupthink". Fortune: p. 114–117, 142, 146. "Groupthink being a coinage – and, admittedly, a loaded one – a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity – it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity – an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well." 
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Groupthink.
  8. Dalmau, Tim; Neville, Bernie (2018). Olympus Inc: Intervening for Cultural Change in Organizations. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 9780429916748. Retrieved 8 December 2020. "The consultants can come in many forms and guises: they can range over the full gamut, from rational, systematic, advice-givers to skills providers, systems analysts and strategic problem-solvers, to those with a more facilitative, value-based, and relational focus, and finally, to those who call on large group awareness for their magic. [...] Those who are enmeshed in the situation are likely to be caught up in the 'group-think', taken over by something 'bigger than themselves', and unable to see clearly or act rationally. The magical structure acts out of impulse and emotion. Reasons and justifications are constructed later [...]." 
  9. Like so
  10. Apology by Plato, MIT
  11. Frum, Cocktail Parties, and the Threat of Doubt (March 26th, 2010).