As discussed by Julia Wood in the book, Communication Mosaics: An Introduction to the Field of Communication, groupthink refers to a psychological phenomenon happening within a cluster of persons under which the aspiration for conventionality within this cluster results in a biased outcome in the decisions made. The main underlying assumption towards belonging to this cluster is the need to minimize conflict through blind conformity. Thus, an individual caught up in a groupthink phenomenon is blindly loyal to a set of thoughts or actions for fear of being controversial as a result of exercising independent thinking.
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The often dysfunctional dynamics within such a group generates what is commonly referred to as an “illusion of invulnerability”. Actually, the groupthink psychology makes persons belonging to this group to belief in universality of their decisions as right without accommodating the opponents’ abilities, which are often underrated. In the worst case, groupthink orientation in the decision making process may generate actions that are dehumanizing those perceived as belonging to the opponent quarter.
Wood further notes that in groupthink (‘ingroup’), decision making process only accommodate the views of a cluster of individuals who belong to similar orientation and cannot exercise independent thinking. Decision making through groupthink is very biased since the underlying determinants of the decision matrix is loyalty. Given that different aspects of decision making such as assumptions, integration of options, and rational control are integrated, most of visible or invisible biases are not dampened as the effects of social presence does not elevate the decision science. Unfortunately, Wood concludes that the groupthink phenomenon has structural faults which prevent the benefits of reliability and social effects since it is characterized by a context of provocative situation.
Application of Groupthink Concept in Film
In the film produced in 1943 called December 7th, the concept of groupthink is very clear and leads to series of biases in decision making which results in an attack on Pearl Harbor. In scene 2, a young private in the army intercepts critical information of a possible enemy approaching from the radar (United States Army Air Force scene 2). Unfortunately, the superiors in the army dismiss the young private citing the high level of security arrangement and inability of the Japanese to execute such a military campaign. Since groupthink decision process is characterized by internal or external pressures for a consensus which may generate accord-seeking propensities, it created a false illusion which was inherently dysfunctional.
The decision biases led to the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese since everyone was surprised to see the ‘locusts’ spraying bullets and bombs in a place considered highly security from external aggression. Persons entrusted with the responsibility of rational decision making allowed shared rationalizations and illusions to shadow their judgment on the need for precautions. The seniors in the military completely ignored the young private’s discovery which could have avoided the attack (United States Army Air Force scene 2).
The main problems that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor as presented in the film are imbalances in collection, management, and analysis of intelligence data due to groupthink interference. Although the intelligence information intercepted by the young private suggested possible enemy approaching, negative cognition and groupthink phenomenon led to biases in decision making process. This eventually led to a surprised attack by a magnitude that had never been witnessed.
United States Army Air Force. December 7th. DVD. United States: Office of War Information, 1943. Film.
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