There are some behaviors that we as a society naturally fall in to when we are together. Lately, due to the ongoing pandemic and the way that we have become more reliant on technology, most of the time we are "together" these days is online. This social spot is a great place to hang out with like-minded friends. In fact, it is a great place to hang out with ONLY our like-minded friends.
While we all have similarities and differences, it is our nature to want to be around those who are similar to our beliefs. When we surround ourselves with people that only agree with what we believe in, we limit our perspectives and world views, and create dangerous social bubbles. These bubbles distort our ability to view the world, and can make it hard for communities to get along in order to conduct business and live in functional and healthy ways.
Sometimes, even within groups we belong to and feel safe in, we can encounter viewpoints that are outside of our realm of comfort. This is where group-think can become a function of a community, and can allow extreme behavior to escalate. The stress of making decisions and of wanting to support the groups we are in, or the groups that we believe in, make it harder for us to speak out when we believe an action goes against our values. According to Psychology Today, when group-think is at play, "in the interest of making a decision that furthers their group cause, members may also ignore ethical or moral consequences."
What is the difference between conformity and group-think? While conformity is related to group mentality and consensus, it comprises of those who shift their mentality in order to fit in with a group. Sometimes people do this consciously, and other times they do it subconsciously. Group-think, however, talks about the process of making a group decision, often when under stress. There are many examples of how stressful situations require individuals to make quick decisions, and many professions and social structures hire people and trust people to make these decisions quickly and with the best intentions possible under the restrictions the situations present.
Jeff McGill - a veteran of law enforcement, who served for over two decades - talks about the layers of group mentality that police culture is accustomed to. From internal hiring and moving up ranks, to trying to apply policy to the streets, McGill logically and rationally discusses the need for law enforcement leaders to encourage opportunities to rethink policy and make changes regularly when things no longer fit social needs. He states in the article, Cut the Groupthink: Why Police Leaders Need to Play Devil's Advocate, "Dissension is often viewed as a direct challenge to the authority rather than a method to improve the agency’s capability." When decisions cannot be challenged (especially when the policy is not working in practice) serious mistakes can happen. While some mistakes are bound to happen in all professions, not all professions have the potential for fatal errors. McGill also states, "preventing group-think should be a priority for law enforcement leaders who are looking to expand their agency’s toolbox and work toward innovative responses to crime and quality of life concerns within their jurisdiction."
A Plan of Action
Social behavior is a very interesting and useful topic to explore. There are so many facets to how people behave and build in order to accomplish incredible things, or to create catastrophic events. There are numerous examples throughout history, and even in controversial social experiments, that we can study and learn from. It can be challenging to advocate for what we believe in and what we would like our communities and our society to reflect, value, and invest in. Self-education is a great tool to help with the process of decision making, contributing, and assessing information and policy. We all have a voice and hand in shaping our community. To learn more about this social phenomenon, check out some of the books in our collection.