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In face-to-face groups, i.e. in groups made up of two or more individuals who interact and influence each other, there are two motivational principles  guiding adherence to the group norms:

  1. The acquisition of the  mastery

members conform to group norms because they believe they adequately reflect reality. The convergence of many opinions often testifies to their correctness. It is indeed possible  that one individual sees things incorrectly, but this is unlikely to happen to many individuals at the same time.

   2. The search for affiliation

consists in searching  support, sympathy and acceptance by the people and groups that interest us and who are the object of our esteem. Adhering to the rules helps to make people feel loved and respected by the other members of the group.


The adherence of individuals to the social norms of the group can take two different forms:

- inner adhesion: when individuals are intimately and sincerely persuaded that the group is a model  fair, appropriate, and let the thoughts and behaviors of others guide theirs.

- public conformity: when individuals conform to group norms because they feel to not have other choice.

This happens when individuals are pressured and consequently with words and deeds pretend to accept the norms of the group, but in reality they feel that the group is wrong. People comply publicly because they fear ridicule, incarceration or even worse punishment.

Public conformism reflects the awareness that groups distribute rewards to those who are in tune with consensus and punish those who are not. Who does not conform to the other members of the group feel to expose himself to negative reactions and his fears are most of the time founded.


Consensus in the group can only be considered valid and reliable when it is obtained through correct decision making.

This does not happen in "group thinking," a compromised decision-making process with a strong motivation to quickly reach a consensus regardless of how that consensus is reached.

Very often the group thinking produces negative outcomes.



Characteristics of the group thinking:

  1. Consent is obtained without taking into account all available information

The members of the majority devise expedients to avoid the dissemination of information that could fuel dissent, such as a guardian of the mind, that is, an individual who protects the members of the group from unwanted information that can destroy trust in consent. Having only favorable data and opinions available, the group undertakes a process of justifying and consolidating its decision, which strengthens the consensus rather than subjecting it to verification.

Consent, therefore, is not based on valid evidence.

   2. Consensus is tainted because group members' judgments are not independent.

We are talking about groups in which the members share the same cultural background and similar points of view. Such groups often isolate themselves from external influences and views different from their own.

The consensus, therefore, does not reflect the convergence of multiple points of view.

   3. Consent is obtained through public conformity and not through interior adhesion.

The pressure to conform is often intense and the tolerance for any kind of disagreement is low; the dissident minority is abruptly called to order or excluded from the group.

Those who have doubts voluntarily suffocate them through self-censorship.

Consent, therefore, does not reflect the true beliefs of the members.


How to counteract group thinking:

  • encouraging dissent and a critical mindset

  • involving people outside the group to validate decisions

  • minimizing the role of the leader


In 1961, following an improper group decision-making process that culminated in the unfortunate landing at the Bay of Pigs, President John F. Kennedy modified the procedure by which his pool of advisors expressed strategic and political opinions.

  • Kennedy abandoned her habit of stating her personal preferences at the start of a debate

  • he insisted that there was an open and sincere discussion about evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of every possible course of action, also encouraging the demonstration the slightest doubts and any form of perplexity

  • he named his brother, Justice Minister Robert Kennedy, "the devil's advocate". The task was to question the decisions of the group by pointing out any flaws in reasoning

  • to avoid contamination by shared preconceptions he arranged for his advisors to meet in two separate subgroups.

The fact of having therefore to consider and analyze two different solutions led to a lively debate and ensured that as many opinions as possible were expressed.


Unfortunately, we have already highlighted this, not always decision-making groups have the will or the ability to replicate  Kennedy's intuition.

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