Groupthink Phenomenon

Our professor gave us an interesting discussion, if there was a situation in our hands that we could save 1 person or 5 people, what would you do? We combined groups and discussed what the best solution could be.

The first scenario was we were the spectator and a train was running down the tracks and there was 5 people working ahead of the tracks. The lever was right in our hands and we could change the course of the train but it will kill one person. What would you do? My group had 7 people and we discussed what we would do. We came to the conclusion that we would not change the course of the train and try our best to save one person (but the point of this discussion is somebody has to die); at least we would try our best to help the person. Our main argument with this discussion was by changing the course of the track, people’s lives are depended on our judgment and action by pulling the lever.

The second scenario was if there was a “very fat” person in front and could push him onto the tracks and save all the people would we push him? We came to the conclusion that we could not push him onto the tracks but try our best to save lives. Our main discussion here is that we could not make the decision to “murder” somebody to save people’s lives.

It was pointless in discussing one person’s decision within a group, especially when the decision requires a split second judgment. However, our professor’s point was this particular scenario was not the importance of this subject but how individual’s thought in a group discussion. As the professor predicted, the more people within a group, the harder it was to come up with a conclusion. This can be applied to real organizations, for an example, government processes are painfully slow. On the other hand, small organizations tend to come to a solution way faster, such as small non-profit organizations.

Groupthink tends to have a negative aspect but there are also positive outcomes such as leading to a quick solution. Cultural backgrounds are also considered important when groupthink is a norm such as countries in East Asia. Groupthink is a phenomenon and cannot be explained perfectly, but just having this concept in mind might help meetings in all organizations to be productive.