Notion of 'group think' questioned

March 25, 2010

A University of Alberta researcher is questioning the notion of "group think"— a common psychological phenomenon—that has been used to explain some of the extreme things people do once they are within the confines of a group. Rob Wilson, a professor in the Department of Philosophy, rejects the popular idea that groups tend to have a mind of their own and says the notion of a collective mind is problematic.

"Groups are not thinking entities and do not share a collective consciousness," Wilson said. "The mind does not begin or end in the skull, but it's still the mind of the individual. It is individual minds, not group minds, that exists. The idea of group minds [is] either an ontological extravagance or an outright mystery."

In addition to arguing that groups don't have minds, Wilson says also in a recently published book, Boundaries of the Mind, that groups can have positive effects on people by helping them overcome challenges in their lives. He says groups (and by his definition "group" can mean two people) can play a key role in augmenting the cognitive abilities of individuals suffering from certain diseases, and could help those trying to lose weight.

"If someone is suffering from a and they're with a lifelong partner, they can remember things they couldn't otherwise recall, partly because they need their partner's support to compensate for their deficits, for example," Wilson said. "Likewise, someone in a dieting class would be able to regiment themselves and stick to a plan that's more demanding, more readily if they're in a group that's doing the same thing. They get reinforcement from their group."

And Wilson says that in each instance, it is the individual doing the thinking and that the group acts as an extended cognitive system—an extension of the —that enhances the of the individual members in a group.

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7 comments

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fourthrocker
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
The crowd mind is real. Unfortunately it has the IQ of an idiot and the ethics of a mass murderer, both of which are directly proportional to the size of the crowd. I wonder if a crowd of geniuses would act differently.
NonRational
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
What is this supposed to mean: "The mind does not begin or end in the skull"

I'm glad he is questioning this label though. There is no evidence for "collective consciousness" and the words "group think" imply there is.

There is probably hardly any thinking going on in groups in a herd like setting.
Lordjavathe3rd
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
Don't mind the negative rating fourthrocker, we apparently have some idiots among us.

I think Mr. Wilson has seriously misconstrued what was intended with the phrase "group think". Just a little man lost in someone else's work it seems.
gregh
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
I wonder if a crowd of geniuses would act differently.

Please review the Brain Storm episode of Stargate Atlantis: http://www.fancas...episodes
ormondotvos
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
Sound like provocative language to sell books that just make humdrum points. Of course, no one means there's a collective mind. That's an abstraction, and a straw man. What is being described in shorthand, to be efficient, is the very fast interaction of crude social emotional responses among the members of a group, which can be qualitatively different that slower and more measured and rationally evaluated responses from the group superego. Ooops, there I did it again.
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
It is no easier to prove that a human has a mind (in terms of the supporting neural components and its exact location in the brain) than it is to identify a group mind ~ that is the major weakness of this philosopher's musings: he assumes a higher degree of scientific modelling of 'the mind' than actually exists.
bottomlesssoul
not rated yet Mar 28, 2010
@fourthrocker
I wonder if a crowd of geniuses would act differently.
It's called a lunch break at a science symposium. They are fun and exciting and sometimes tasty but never threatening. :-)

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