Series on Examining Biases and Mindsets – Group think & Confirmation Bias

Why is that perfectly rational and logical men and women, when part of a group, question their own thoughts and believe that if everyone thinks in a certain way that MUST be the way to do it. Read on to understand the unconscious bias that Group Think creates in minds of many…

Great sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, Grand Slam and the Olympics, capture the World’s attention and offer us many insights into the human spirit and mindset. The recent US Open that concluded with 20 year of Naomi Osaka beating Serena Williams, who holds 23 Grand Slam titles, in an unprecedented win, has opened doors to much speculation and controversy. While Serena’s behaviour on court and the repercussions it led to, is a whole new plane of discussion, what was disturbing, was the crowd’s behaviour. The pro-Serena crowd seemed to have grown a new-found fondness for booing. While booing every time she was given a penalty can be understood, they continued their booing well into the award ceremony. The booing was so persistent, that the young Osaka who deserved every bit of her win, actually apologised to the crowd for winning. She said she knew they expected a different outcome and was sorry for how it turned out!!! Unbelievable and just plain Sad!!

But this really can’t be the first time sport fans have behaved in less than desirable ways. Every country has its share of embarrassments for fans going berserk: torching items, destroying public property, becoming unruly and violent and much worse behaviour! The interesting part being that many individuals who are part of these mobs are likely to be very reasonable, law abiding and sensible individuals who use logic and reasoning as a precedent to most of their actions. Yet, we will find them booing when a part of them knows it is wrong, going berserk and violent, when they actually do know that it is not something they normally do and most likely don’t subscribe to such behaviour in general.

What then are the triggers?
Psychologists have studied this behaviour termed such phenomenon as mob mentality
Mob mentality is the mentality by which people adopt the behaviours and opinions of their peers. They are unable to take a stand that contests that of their peers and go with the flow
We see a more refined version of this mentality at the work place as well, commonly known as “group think” & “Confirmation Bias”.

Take for example, the American Auto Industry in general. American Auto Manufacturing Industries as a whole, for decades viewed their enormous growth, productivity and profit, as an unbeatable economic force. Over a few decades they cultivated a culture and leadership that believed that they were the undisputed leaders and that they knew exactly what car loving Americans wanted.

Despite the rising influence, innovation and appeal of the energy-saving small cars being marketed by foreign automakers like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, American manufacturers continued producing the vehicles they thought would perform best-huge fuel-inefficient SUV’s and Minivans.

As the markets shifted, the auto industry slumped. Same with Swiss Air. The money spinning airline made a series of wrong organizations changes only to wreck it’s future and empty it coffers, with the full support of all its top leaders and key stake holders.

Then one stops to wonder why no one saw it coming? Why were brightest minds in the Auto Industry and a leading airline, blind to the perils of their decisions?

Psychology Professor Irving Janis studied many such fiascos. He concluded that members of a close knit group cultivate team spirit that often supersedes the niggling voice in their head that could be telling them that they should inspect and analyse before agreement. Instead they question their own thoughts and believe that if everyone thinks in a certain way that MUST be the way to do it.

Janis documents some symptoms of group think, as quoted by Psychologists for Social Responsibility:

1. Illusion of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.

2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.

3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical / moral consequences of their decisions.

4. Stereotyped view – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.

5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.

6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.

So we must practice to speak our mind the next time we find ourselves in a tight close knit group, even if it means we will stand out and not be liked. We must question assumptions and unanimity and be vary of ignoring warning signs. Although companies emphasis on Team work, we must be careful to distinguish between collaboration and group think.