Though it is generally considered that people should come up with their own solutions to the problems and that it is unreasonable and even absurd to make decisions based on what the others tell one, it cannot be denied that the opinion of the crowd matters much when it comes to the deciding point.
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Therefore, the idea of crowd thinking is rather vague and ambiguous; while its negative aspects are well known, its advantages are also often mentioned. In addition, the very definition of group thinking stretches from taking the opinions of others into account to making a mixed decision based on what the entire group thinks is right. An issue truly worth researching, group thinking is the focus of the given paper.
There have been many attempts to describe the phenomenon of group mind or at least to show how potentially destructive group mind can be in every meaning of the word. One of the most famous and by far the most controversial researches on the topic, Zimbargo’s The Stanford Prison Experiment offers a number of opportunities to find a definition to the phenomenon of a group mind.
A research that involved a prison simulation has shown that people quickly accept the attitudes and the behavioral patterns that a newly acquired social status offers them; moreover, once one of the group members starts acting in a certain way, the rest of the group members considers the given behavior acceptable.
The given change cannot be attributed to the group members’ aptitude to violence: “Rather, the subjects’ abnormal social and personal reactions are best seen as a product of their transaction with an environment that supported the behavior that would be pathological in other settings, but was “appropriate” in this prison” (Zimbargo 742).
As Zimbargo’s research shows, the people who were supposed to play the role of the “guard” were not instructed to be violent and harsh towards the “prisoners”. However, because of a range of factors, starting with the choice of the uniform for the “guard” and the “prisoners” and up to the fact that the prisoners were not supposed to have names, the group mind made the “guard” change their attitude towards the “prisoners” and became even more violent. Judging by the given example, it can be concluded that a group mind is a phenomenon that makes people within a certain group develop a common type of behavior that can help them stay in a leader’s position.
Another peculiar study worth taking a glance at is Doris Lessing’s “Group Minds.” Unlike the previous study, the given one offers a definition to what a group mind actually is; As the author explains, “When we’re in a group, we tend to think as that group does” (Lessing, 1989). Therefore, group mind is a phenomenon that makes every single member of the group follow the group’s choice. However, putting the issue the way in which Doris Lessing has put it raises even more questions.
For instance, In Zimbargo’s study, it was clear where the moods that were brooding in the group came from – the social roles of a guard and a prisoner already have an underlying idea of punishment, which results in a violent attitude towards the “imprisoned.” In Doris Lessing’s essay, however, there is no setup – the author does not provide any specific situation, merely stating the obvious.
Therefore, in Lessing’ understanding, there will always be a factor that predetermines the mood of the group and the course of decisions that it is going to take. Hence, the definition of a group mind can be taken to a different level; group thinking can be defined as people’s aptitude to come to a single decision or manner of conduct within a certain group disregarding the specifics of the individuals’ personalities.
A slightly different idea of a group mind is offered by Ian McEwan in his Atonement. As the previous experience with Lessing’s story showed, the course of group thinking can be changed by different factors; however, Lessing does not define these factors. McEwan, on the contrary, almost shoves these factors in the reader’s face from the very beginning; called Obedience to authority, the chapter from Atonement makes it crystal clear that under the influence of authority, group thinking can be bent any way possible.
Every single sentence in the novel stresses the influence that the crowd has on a personality; the idea of a group mind is exercised mostly through the images of a physical pressure of the crowd, which makes the idea even stronger: “The exultant crowd exploded from the bar like champagne, hurling Turner and Netty aside” (McEwan 749).
Judging by McEwan’s work, a group mind is a power that can be controlled only by an authority and that takes no account of the opinion of an individual member of the crowd. Adding a final touch to the collection of definitions for the group mind, Solomon Arch’s essay on opinions and social pressure helps define a group mind by discussing the impacts that the choices of a group mind have on an individual (Arch).
In fact, the phenomenon of group mind can also be interpreted from a different position. There is actually a definition of the group mind phenomenon that does not involve the presence of a person who is supposed to control and channel the group mind into performing a certain action, accepting certain types of behavior, etc., in contrast to the theories above.
Aliva has analyzed in great detail the works of Freud, Le Bon and McDougal, the man who actually coined the term “group mind,” to come to a conclusion that a group mind is an intersection of every single individual mind of a specific group. Aliva claims that “individuals’ minds are like affluent rivers feeding the common ocean of the group mind” (Aliva, 2010, 262). Hence, a group mind does not necessarily need a controlling agent – unless it has one, it creates one by itself.
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Summarizing the ideas that the authors of the five readings discussed above are trying to convey, one can conclude that a group mind is a phenomenon that occurs within a group of people and presupposes that they are going to make similar decisions – or, in case of a group decision, forcing the rest of the members to follow the crowd, – exercise similar behavioral patterns and develop similar attitudes.
Group thinking means that none of the group members considers the personal opinion of another member; moreover, it presupposes that the members do not have their personal judgments. Instead, they choose the easiest or the acceptable manner of conduct and are very easy to control.
Despite the fact that the phenomenon of group thinking is rather widespread, it is very hard to nail down the essence of group thinking. According to the results of the discussion above group thinking can be defined as the decision-making process that is carried out within a group and that presupposes that each member of the group follows the rest of the crowd blindly.
Therefore, a group mind is an intrinsically scary phenomenon that cannot be controlled and, therefore, can lead to the most deplorable results, which the works above display in the most graphic way.
Aliva, L. A. (2010). Psychosomatic symptoms and the “group mind.” Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 83, 255–271.
Asch, Solomon. Opinions and Social Pressure. 1955. Web. <http://www.panarchy.org/asch/social.pressure.1955.html>.
Lessing, Doris. Group Minds. 1989. PDF file. Web. <https://www.ucop.edu/elwr/sample1989.html>.
McEwan, Ian. From Atonement. n. d. PDF file. 745-750. Print.
Zimbargo, Philip. The Stamford Prison Experiment. n. d. PDF file. 732-743. Print.