The Rise of Groupthink In The Time of Coronavirus


It was impossible to avoid joining in - 1984

If you've clapped for the NHS; posted a Meme about 'idiots' in parks not obeying the rules, or felt no need to question the sense of the lockdown, you've probably fallen foul of a little-known psychological phenomenon called 'Groupthink'.


Groupthink is said to occur within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

Irving Janis, a social psychologist credited as the first to develop the theory, defined it as a “psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group.” At first Janis’ take on Groupthink doesn’t seem so bad. A sort of 'general consensus' can't be a bad thing, can it? Except Groupthink isn't the same as consensus, though they may appear, on the surface at least, to be one and the same, they are, in reality, two very different things. Dictionary.com defines Groupthink as “the practice of approaching problems or issues as matters that are best dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals; conformity.” And, there’s the rub. Tucked behind the semicolon is a one-word definition of Groupthink that captures in totality precisely what’s wrong with this phenomenon: conformity.

Just when you thought that conformity was a malady restricted primarily to high school, it rears its ugly head in an army of clones at your workplace, the neighbourhood where you live, and in every corner of your social media feeds.


The Clapathon on a Thursday night is a good example of current Groupthink according to Author and former Doctor Theodore Dalrymple who likened the act of clapping in public for the NHS reminding him of how party members were forced to enthusiastically applaud Communist despots or face being labeled a dissident. He goes on to say: “There is often the implication that if you refrain from making it—and even worse if you actively refuse to make it—you are in some sense an enemy, in this case, of the people,” “Whatever your inner conviction, it is safest to join in. By doing so you avoid drawing attention to yourself and you are assumed to think and feel like everyone else, which is always safest.”


But the weekly clapping is only one example of the kind of Groupthink that can lead to some very unsavoury things. Support for civil liberties being stripped so readily from the public is also a good example of Groupthink.


Former Supreme Court Justice LORD SUMPTION said on Radio 4 recently: The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work. They don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. They want action anyway. And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria."


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