Decision-Making Psychology: “Groupthink” by Janis


Before his death, Irving Lester Janis was a retired professor from the University of California and a renowned psychologist based at Yale University. Janis was a nonfiction writer and he did extensive studies on team dynamics, which led to the book, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. He wrote more than a dozen books before he died of lung cancer on November 15, 1990.

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This work by Janis demonstrates the way in which certain kinds of leadership generate a holistic relationship between leaders and followers to a level of forming uniform personality (Janis 9). From this book’s ideas, the term ‘groupthink’ was coined to define the dynamics of collective decisions amongst individuals within cohesive and lasting fellowships, which lead to systematic errors. Janis developed the theme of leadership to explain his argument that groupthink is the main cause of poor international relations and political decisions.

This article will argue that the groupthink model lacks leadership qualities in decision-making, thus leading to the crystallization of critical issues around options that are doomed to cause distractions. Groupthink antecedents such as leadership faults, conformity, and poor decision-making will be discussed to affirm this thesis.

Summary of the previous work by the author

In his previous work, Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment, Janis gives a detailed description of how individuals or groups cope with critical decisions. In so doing, they generate new propositions and suggestions, thus guiding more studies regarding informed decision-making. The process of change is influenced by the levels of group efficacy, which involves the confidence incapability to come through difficult situations. The book is very relevant to the field of political science because it explores the approach of decision making in politics coupled with how it is influenced by conflicting interests of group members.

The author addresses many issues of public administration and management. The objective of this book is to demonstrate how the decision-making process is influenced by the choice of the entire group seeking cohesion and conformity. This book advocates the rational actor in the decision-making process. This actor seeks accuracy and the maximization of benefits as opposed to the political player that is characterized by policymakers engaged in the pursuit of power, whereby decisions arise from conflicts. The commitment to poor choices by members of a particular group encourages a low probability of favorable results.

Structure and summary of the book

In the introductory chapter, Janis explains the topic of groupthink by providing evidence on three scenarios, which illuminate great insights into psychodynamics. These events include the Bay of Pigs invasion, Pearl Harbor, and the North Koreas’ invasion by the United States, which are explained in the first four chapters of the book. The author gives other two contrasting examples, viz. the Cuban Missile conflicts and the designing of the Marshall plan to show how the problem of groupthink can be evaded. The first four chapters form the basis for all discussions with the rest of the book elaborating the points.

However, this aspect gives the book a repetitive model. The last chapter ends by formalizing the theory and providing a checklist. From the author’s argument, groupthink follows a certain set of choices that are meant to be followed by conformists and they result in disastrous outcomes. For instance, if conformity were applied in the case of the Cuban Missile, the world might have perished in a nuclear war (Janis 21).

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A team is exposed to groupthink effects when collective pressures cause a regressive reality testing, irrational judgment, and ignoring alternatives intentionally. Janis provides eight symptoms of groupthink in his book. He shows that when these symptoms exist in a team while seeking to make a decision, then most probably groupthink will occur. Janis provides several deliberations that leaders should enforce in a bid to avoid groupthink.

As the thesis suggests, poor leadership strategies lead to uninformed decisions, thus causing harmful events (Janis 5). Leaders should assess situations carefully before making preferences and targets. This new edition has influential theories and principles, and thus it provides a new platform for advanced research. Even though this book was published in the past, it is relevant in contemporary times.

A good contemporary example of groupthink is seen in the leadership decision made by the George Bush administration and the US Congress to invade Iraq based on poor planning and speculation by stating preferences and expectations at the start of the course. The cohesion in the Bush administration provided the belief to rush into war with Iraq without taking views and support from allies. Those with different perspectives were labeled as detractors and they were excluded from the group affairs. The consequences have been military and civilian deaths, insecurity, and economic instability.


This book is rich with examples supporting the author’s standpoint on groupthink. When teams, whether in business, policymaking, church affairs, or nonprofit organizations, learn and understand the remedies given by Janis on how to avoid groupthink, they can stand a chance to make good decision options. For a leadership style geared towards avoiding groupthink effects, Janis’s remedies are helpful.

For instance, leaders should always ensure that adequate time is taken to gauge the situation and facilitate alternatives if the initial plans are anticipated to result in chaos (Janis 14). This book helps groups or individuals to open up and welcome criticism in a bid to ensure that decisions are not detrimental.

This information is essential to risk management, policymaking, and the creation of awareness among group members. This book provides answers to situations that are happening today and it demonstrates that failure to plan adequately for what is anticipated can be problematic. In the last chapter, Janis provides several suggestions on what leaders should do coupled with the structuring of the decision-making process in a bid to avoid the effects of groupthink.

The book is easy to read and understand, and thus it provides team-management knowledge to leaders and members of any form of a group. The book is very interesting to read with past examples demonstrating the effects of groupthink as well as others showing how to evade such problems. This book provides a classic academic work for students of not only political science but also all fields since decision-making and conflict issues can arise from any setup. The book is highly recommendable for any person with an interest in leadership. In addition, the book is relevant in contemporary times, and presidents, administrations, and all people holding leadership positions should practice the highlighted knowledge.

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The book is repetitive. The first four chapters seem to provide essential and adequate information on the topic. The author should have avoided unnecessary repetition because it causes boredom. This book undermines the importance of cohesion and conformity during group decisions. Allowing too many consultations and critiques can result in policy deadlock. Concerning this aspect, leaders should organize their followers in a way that suits their leadership models to enable them to find a balance between groupthink and alternatives.

Some cases do not only necessarily seek the convergence of views, but also the confidentiality and speed of action concerning the urgency of the matter. This book hugely prospers due to the good case studies provided, but in terms of the prescriptive and informative manual, it serves only historians of politics as opposed to other fields such as business.


This book makes a great case on why leadership styles determine group performance in the decision-making process. Some significant personalities working together can fail if they do not factor in the need for critique and alternative procedures. This assertion explains why despite having such relevant information, most government leaders will fail to invite any outsider information seeking to alter the status quo.

The failure to analyze evidence and decisions presented by the leader and investigate the consequences is tantamount to groupthink. This book helps groups to enhance their debating skills, which are needed to persuade the leader to consider alternatives if initial decisions are deemed disastrous. In conclusion, the book highlights the contemporary occurrences in governments, schools, diplomatic matters, and the business sector coupled with remedies to the stated problems. Therefore, in a bid to avoid common mistakes in the decision-making process, people should read and understand the principles highlighted in this book.

Works Cited

Janis, Irving. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982. Print.

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