What is group-think?

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There was a famous psychological test that was put to camera in the 1950’s on the show Candid Camera. In fact, this video became one of best tests of group conformity in psychology and social science. Candid Camera had 7 actors walk into an elevator with one regular person (a non-actor). They staged this experiment so all the actors would intentionally face the back of the elevator door to see how the non-actor would respond. Once in the elevator, the 7 actors immediately faced the back of the elevator as if it was the custom. This left the one lone person who wasn’t aware of the set up to decide if he was going to do what he thought of as normal (face the front) or conform to the group’s bizarre behavior in facing the back.

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This classic social experiment was recently put to the test on the TV show Would You Fall For That? Given this, I’m going to zoom in on this popular social experiment and draw out what it tells us about what’s inside the mind of a person and ultimately, what is guiding our thoughts. As the video illustrates when all the actors are facing backwards, the non-actor becomes at first confused because the entire group is doing the opposite of what the non-actor thinks is normal. Obviously, the logical way of thinking is to stand facing the front in an elevator. This way you can see what number floor the elevator is on and you can exit easily by facing the doors. It makes no sense to stand looking at the back of the elevator. However, as the non-actor sees that everyone is facing backward, she becomes nervous and showcases an uncertainty about herself and her way of thinking. Slowly (or in some cases immediately) the non-actor complies with the majority and faces backward. Here, we see how people can abandon a common sense way of thinking in favor of whatever the majority of the group thinks. This study profoundly illustrates how people can go from thinking normally and logically to now thinking bizarrely simply because everyone else thinks a certain way. Sadly, the experiment reveals that a person will acquiesce to the group even if there remains no good reasons as to why the group thinks the way it does.

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What this study shows is the deep power of “group-think.” Psychologists call this phenomenon “asch paradigm.” Asch paradigm is when a person yields to the thinking of the masses over and above reason and common sense. Here, a person becomes highly influenced and manipulated by how others think rather than what the truth reveals. In short, group-think is old-fashioned peer pressure on a large scale. Group-think makes a person sheepishly nod in approval to whatever the majority spits out without even questioning it. In this stage, a person really doesn’t think independently, rather he or she lets the group do their thinking for them.

This phenomenon further reveals that what really guides people’s thoughts is primarily based on how the masses think and behave. Group-think also demonstrates that people are obsessed with what others think of them. People are so desperate to fit in with the group and have others like them, they’ll embrace absurd ideas. With group-think, logic and common sense go out the window if the group doesn’t conform to it. You do something not because you have good reasons to do it, but simply because everyone else is.

For example, in the show Would You Fall For That, the narrator comments on a woman who conformed with the group and faced backward in the elevator: “She went along with it without even questioning.” This statement is revealing as the woman did something bizarre without even questioning it. Why? Because her master, the group, was doing it. Therefore, group-think turns a person from an independent, rational being into a non-thinking person that is completely dependent and controlled by the group. There was also a scene where actors began dancing in the elevator – and true to form, the non-actor also participated. His explanation:  “I am not going to be the one not participating.” This statement is again revealing. According to this, giving in to the group goes without question. He cannot do anything that is counter to the group. Here, a person is driven by the group pressure to social conformity.

This study suggests an echo of social engineering that was constructed under Socialism. That is, group-think gets the person to chant all things of the group (i.e., society) so much so that the person doesn’t even question it. We try to maintain our individuality but can’t due to group-think. The bigger the group, the more power group think has over a person.

What does group-think do to a person? Group-think prevents a person from utilizing his or her critical thinking abilities. In short, it prevents the human brain from working correctly. It takes you away from your original, pure logical, natural being into a hypnotized individual who has been manipulated by an outside source. With group think, you are not a free thinker. Rather, your thoughts and actions are controlled by the masses. Therefore, under “group-think” you are not real but become fake. What distinguishes human beings from the animals is our rational capacity to think. The second someone abandons reason they slowly cease to be fully human. What is also interesting is that because people are so desperate to gain approval of the group, group-think forces a person to follow what is “new” over what is true.   

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One of the key signs of group-think is brainwashing. Webster’s defines brainwashing as “persuasion by propaganda.” Notice it is not “persuasion by truth.” In other words, because an entity cannot provide good reasons for their philosophy, they utilize brainwashing tactics to manipulate the audience to their way of thinking. In a real sense, they dehumanize a person from thinking like a rational person and turns them into a puppet they now control. Then, group-think gets the person to recite the group’s talking points over and over without ever asking what these words or phrases actually mean.

Today, the pop culture represents a massive “group-think” mechanism. The modern culture merely gets people to repeat certain slogans like “don’t be close-minded” or “don’t be intolerant.” However, critical thinking will reveal that everyone is close-minded and intolerant to murder, rape, torture, etc. Group-think is also responsible for the popular, yet strange concept of gender identity in which a biological man “knows” he is actually a woman (or vice versa) without logically thinking through it. So, if all your doing is chanting these popular slogans and emotional platitudes without examining what they actually mean, you have fallen victim to group-think. Here, you stand in position of the non-actor that sheepishly turns from forward to backward in the elevator because your primary concern is not what is true, but rather what the masses are saying or doing.

Do we notice that the vague chanting slogans of the pop culture eliminate the person from his rational nature? Group-think is a sad transformation of a person from thinking to nonthinking. From real to fake. From being free to becoming a slave of the group.

Today, young people think that the pop culture sets them “free.” It doesn’t at all. The pop culture simply makes them a slave of the group that strips away their real self. Adults as well fall trap to grip think too. Adults are very tactical. They will say and think whatever in order to match how the group thinks. And they do this primarily so they will look good in the eyes of others.

Sadly, group-think is our default position. It’s what we do without thinking. If people are merely guided by the pop culture (group-think) they slowly cease to be the real, authentic person they were created to be. Here, they exchange their intellectual reasoning for popularity in which they conform to the group. In short, they become a sell-out to whatever the group declares. They become akin to a lifeless fish that floats downstream with all the other fishes. What a sad state when a human being reaches this position. How is it that we can become alive and move upstream against the mantra of group-think?images2

Where does one go to regain himself away from the brainwashing of group-think? Well, it would make sense to go to the very entity that created you – God. And it would make sense to go to the one that didn’t define himself in terms of what is new or popular. Rather, to the one who identified himself as truth itself (see John 14:6, 18:37, 8:31-32). Additionally, if one wants to free himself from the group-think trap, he would want to go as far away group-think as possible. There remains only one institution in the entire world that is as opposite as group-think as you can get. In fact, those who embrace group-think will readily admit that this institution is a complete reversal of popular thinking. This institution is, of course, the Catholic Church.

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The teaching of the Catholic Church is clearly not concerned about what is popular. For example, the messaging of the pop culture is to pursue money, power and sex – all for pleasure, whereas those who work for the Church believe the opposite brings them happiness – chastity, poverty, and obedience. Does anyone seriously think the Church’s teaching that sex for life over sex for pleasure is based on popularity? Or, the Church’s teaching on confession, purgatory, self-denial, penance, Sacraments, and the idea to embrace suffering is based on popularity? Clearly, the Church isn’t after what is new or what is popular. Rather, she is concerned with what is true. Rather, her unpopular doctrines come about because of the sad, yet real truth of human dysfunction.

If looking into the Church is one way to break free of the group-think ploy the final move to escape group-think is to dump the idea that you need to be concerned what others think of you. If a person is too worried about what others think, then all this reveals is that this person is really into himself. In this state, their only need is self-approval – victory of the self. To get out of this bland self-absorption, one needs to go well outside the self and allow the self to die (metaphorically speaking). Here, the words of Jesus ring true:

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16: 24-25).

“Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever losses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33, see also John 12: 25).

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Another curious fact that group-think unearths is because people are so preoccupied with what others think of them, they naturally display a void of God in their life. In other words, because they aren’t as attached to God, they then need to seek their attachment, identity, and affirmation from others. The problem with clinging to what others think is that a person will never be satisfied because they’ll be forced to alter all their thoughts and beliefs to the ever-changing, wide variety of bizarre thoughts of the group. It is humanly impossible to please and agree with all people. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”

This idea of replacing a relationship with the group to substitute your relationship with God will eventually leave a person unfulfilled. And as a result, you’ll be clinging to a false source (the group) while missing your real source of identity – your maker. In short, group-think represents a crummy substitute for God. Conversely, if you have a strong relationship with God, you won’t need “the group” for your happiness and identity. In fact, with God as your primary source of identity others will naturally follow you much like the saints attracted a crowd wherever they went.

Ultimately, when a person is not concerned what others think, that person has detached himself from the brainwashing of “group-think.” The one who faces the front of the elevator isn’t concerned what the group thinks of him. Why should he not care? Because he has the truth – to face front. To only worry what others think over and above the truth is like a mother who only feeds her baby the food the baby likes. Who cares what the child thinks of vegetables as long as its nutritious for him. As long as you have the truth who cares what others think. In fact, once you have the truth, you’ll have what those in the group desperately crave.

How sad that group-think turns a free, rational, living human person into a non-thinking lifeless soul that becomes manipulated by the power of the group. If you or anyone you love suffers from “group-think,” I propose the best antidote is to look to God. Only God can take a person from this zombie-like trance of group-think and free them to the person they were made to be.

 

 


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