Groupthink Makes Us Sheep-ish

Clive Thompson has an insightful piece on groupthink in this month’s issue of Wired:

Can you persuade someone to like a product by telling them that it’s popular? Do teenagers like Taylor Swift because she’s good or because everyone else they know likes her — so hey, she must be good, right?

Sociologist Robert Merton dubbed this tendency to base what we think we think on what other people are doing the “self-fulfilling prophecy” in 1949, and since then social scientists have tried to measure how powerful it actually is. Now, based on some studies conducted with the help of the Internet, it seems clear that we’re often just sheep.

Thompson goes on to describe a controlled experiment in which investigators tested the relationship between song ratings and the total number of downloads.  Did the subjects download the songs they actually liked or the songs they thought other people liked?  Read on.

So what does this have to do with fraternity life?  Everything.  Fraternities tend to go downhill when the leaders make poor decisions (or allow other members to make poor decisions).  And the root cause of these decisions is often groupthink and other phenomena of group psychology.

Do hazers perpetuate the arbitrary treatment of new members because they actually think it works, or because they see everyone around them doing it?  Teach your members to think for themselves and watch things change for the better.  Simply making them aware of these phenomena can make all the difference.

Learn more about groupthink and how to prevent it here.

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