Some of the cruelest, most unjust actions that groups of people have performed over the centuries have been attributed by various scientists and their theories to what is known as “group think.” This common psychological phenomenon is used to account for the actions that individuals take while inside the confines of a group, when under the cover of anonymity. Many experts have proposed countless explanations for what goes on in the human brain at those times, but now a study comes to dispute the very notion that the phenomenon of “group think” exists.
According to investigators at the University of Alberta, in Canada, it is virtually impossible for a group to develop a mind of its own, independent from the minds of all the individuals making it up. The notion of a collective mind is also problematic, in the sense that little background can be gathered to support it. As far as UA Department of Philosophy professor Rob Wilson is concerned, this idea does nothing but provide an escape goat for people not willing to take responsibility for their own actions.
“Groups are not thinking entities and do not share a collective consciousness. 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,” Wilson believes. He expands on this idea in his book “Boundaries of the Mind,” which also goes on to detail the positive aspects of groups – defined as a number of at least two people.
The expert believes that they can provide support for those in need, as well as an augmentation of various cognitive abilities in individuals prone to such influences. Group pressure can also assist people trying to quit smoking, or lose weight, and in this sense they are very beneficial. “If someone is suffering from a degenerative disease 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 believes.
“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,” the expert adds. The group may at most act like an extended cognitive system, but it is the individual alone that is doing the actual thinking, he concludes.