Groupthink Concepts in Social Psychology

Words: 1453
Topic: Sociology

Social psychology is a discipline that uses systematic methods to understand and provide details on how feelings, thoughts, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the real, anticipated, or implied company of others (Baron and Byrne 12). Social psychology explains why people are highly influenced by the environment and those around them. Social psychology also states that our actions and behaviors are influenced by social factors (Baron and Byrne 120).

It is argued that at times human actions are not supported by reason and people can be forced to do things that they would not have done without external influence. When people know that they are being observed they tend to do things differently.

In addition, in a group different people are likely to behave in a similar way because of the influence that occurs from group members and the pressure to conform to the group norms (Hewstone and Wolfgang 115). In this paper, I will discuss the effects of groupthink and motivation as presented in the case study of Matthew Buford.

Groupthink can be referred as a behavior that occurs in cohesive groups when people are under pressure to make quality decisions (Donelson 23). Groupthink is common among people with similar background. In groupthink, individuals are protected from external opinions and they lack proper decision-making guidelines. When individuals are in a group, they tend to think and act as the group demands (Donelson 19).

People in cohesive groups conform to the group ideas, beliefs, and actions without questioning such opinions. They do this to maintain harmony in the group. People in a group also make decisions without considering alternative options or ideas (Irving 180). Additionally, groupthink does not give people an option to make decisions as individuals. Hence, people in a group lack individual creativity and uniqueness (Irving 178).

Members of a cohesive group, try as much as possible to maintain common identity within the group. However, as members protect group identity they lose the individual motivation. Members of a cohesive group make irrational decisions that affect others negatively (Irving 180).

In addition, groupthink weakens mental effectiveness and right judgment. Groupthink is characterized by the unusual behaviors such as limited range of options when making decisions, lack of critic of each other’s thoughts, individual have selective information considering the matter at hand and they do not seek outside opinion. In addition, individuals base decision making on stereotypes and prejudgment (Irving 181).

Case analysis

One example of social influence is in the case of an emergency in a public place. In the case presented, Matthew Buford wanted to commit suicide by jumping into the river. In this situation, none of the bystanders offered to help the victim. Apart from this, the emergency rescue team that is mandated to protect lives did not stop Matthew from committing suicide either. It is therefore clear that the rescue team suffered from groupthink.

The rescue team arrived at the scene and made excuses on why they could not help Matthew. As reported by bystanders, the rescue team did very little to save the victim. Without addressing bystanders, the rescue team claimed that Matthew had been in trouble before and they also indicated that the victim did not want to be saved. Additionally, the team made excesses saying that they feared to have contact with the victim who could be suffering from a contagious disease, most likely “AIDS”.

The rescue team failed to reason in a rational manner. They should have known that Matthew behaved exactly how other suicide victims behave. By observing this behavior, the rescue team should have clearly understood that the victim needed some special attention. As such, saving the victim would have been the first step towards his recovery. Moreover, in their reasoning the rescue team failed to consider other underlying factors that might have triggered the victim to think of suicide.

The fact that the victim was involved in crime before was not enough reason for the rescue team not to try to save him. This is because all people deserve protection from harm by themselves or other people.

The rescue team focused so much on the assumption that the victim might have been suffering from a contagious disease instead of saving his life. It is embracing that they did not consider any chance that the victim might not have been suffering from any contagious disease. In fact, there was no chance that they could have been infected during the rescue process.

It is therefore clear that the rescue team was influenced by groupthink because they lacked a team leader and clear decision-making channels. The work of an emergency rescue team is to save life at all cost. It is evident that the group did not question the decision they made and its effect to the victim and the public.

Decision-making mechanisms were not clear and hence the group made decisions unanimously. In addition, individual creativity and desires in the team was not considered because the rescue members wanted to maintain harmony in the group. It is also clear that they treated the victim based on prejudgments that he did not want to be saved and that he was involved in a crime before.

The rescue team was protected by their expertise from the bystanders who thought that the team was always right. Although the rescue team did very little to save the victim, they did not stop Garrett Couples from rescuing the victim. This is a clear indication to demonstrate that the rescue team knew that it was possible to be save Matthew but they lacked the motivation and creativity to save him.

Although the rescue team did nothing much to rescue Matthew Buford, Garrett Couples saw the situation and took a serious action. Even though the rescue team was not able to stop Matthew Buford from jumping into the river, Garrett Couples saved him. He did not give excuses for not taking action. It is clear that Garrett Couples was motivated to help the victim. Motivation is the reason why people make a decision to help or not to help. According to social psychology, individuals have to be motivated to do something.

Motivation is defined as the desire to eliminate pain and maximize on pleasure (Smith and Mackie 120). Motivation is divided into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Smith and Mackie 120). Intrinsic motivation is motivation that is from within (internal). It is derived from personal enjoyment and not external forces.

Intrinsic motivation does not focus on external rewards. While extrinsic motivation is based on external forces (external). Individuals perform a task because of the rewards or punishment that comes with the task (Smith and Mackie 117). Motivation directs individual actions and behaviors. Existing goals can also motivate people to engage in certain activities.

In case of an emergency, individuals can be motivated to help others by intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Garret Couples who was a bystander took the action to help Matthew Buford although the rescue team did not help. Garret Couples might have been motivated by the desire to do something that is morally acceptable.

Alternatively, Garret Couples might have saved Matthew Buford from committing suicide because this made him to feel good. People can be motivated to do good things to others especially in public places because they believe that helping is the right thing to do. It is morally correct to assist other people, but for others helping people brings some form of satisfaction. Assisting other people can be motivated by different rewards associated with the action of helping.

Garret Couples might have been motivated by compassion towards Matthew, which made him to take the risk in order to save the victim. He knew the right thing to do was to save the victim without depending on others (particularly, the bystanders). Regardless of the fact that there was no external motivation such as a reward from the police or any other department, Garret couples was willing to assist Matthew Buford. This shows that Garret Couples had internal motivation that triggered him to rescue the victim.


In conclusion, social psychology explains that individuals are influenced by presence of people whether imagined or real and their immediate environment. In addition, being in a group determines the kind of decisions that people make. In most cases people in a group experience groupthink when they are required to make important decisions urgently. However, it must be noted that groupthink denies members their individual creativity.

Because of this, groupthink can result to wrong decision making. In the case of Matthew Buford who wanted to commit suicide, the emergency rescue team portrayed characteristics of a groupthink. They failed to reason logically. However, Garret Couples was motivated by intrinsic motivation to help the victim.

Works Cited

Baron, Branscombe, and Donn Byrne. Social Psychology. (12th Ed.). Boston, MA: Ally and Bacon, 2009. Print.

Donelson, Forsyth. Group Dynamics. Michigan: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Eliot, Smith, and Diane Mackie. Social Psychology. New York: Psychology Press, 2000. Print.

Hewstone, Miles, and Stroebe Wolfgang. Introduction to Social Psychology: A European Perspective. New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell, 2001. Print.

Irving, Janice. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983. Print.