Caterpillar Groupthink

Pine Processionary Caterpillars bring new meaning to the term Groupthink. In Jean-Henry Fabre’s famous experiment,each caterpillar had its head on the butt of the one in front of it, going round and round on the rim of a pot.

In the center of the pot was enough food and water to have saved their lives, if only they could have broken free from the group to go there.

But no, as if each figured the one in front of it knew what it was doing, they stayed on their circular journey to nowhere and died.

Apparently they haven’t gone extinct, but then typically they live only a year or so, and we’re shooting for better than that. So what is Groupthink?

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink was first described in the 70’s by social psychologist Irving Janis, as applied to historical events, such as the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor…

This mental condition occurs when people set aside independent thought to merge with the thinking of the group.

Yes, there are times when there is strength in numbers and unity, times when we can’t have everyone doing their own thing like a herd of cats.

But people on teams, in organizations, within society at large may too often leave independent thought behind for the safety and strength they find in group.

Sometimes it’s not even other people. Sometimes we blindly follow what is inside of our own heads; our traditions, customs, habits of the mind — simply because it seems easier and more efficient than the effort it may take to take a stand for a newer, more creative, independent thought — out there on your own.

So for this Independence Day, what if we practiced cultivating a more Independent Mind?

Overcoming Groupthink 

What if we each thought of a way we would like to make a difference. Then, what if we each picked out a group we identified with. Then maybe we could craft an alternative to the way the group thinks about whatever the issue is, an authentic, creative, independent way of seeing and being in the world just to try. An upgrade perhaps.

Old habits die hard, so this may not be easier said than done. And here is a bit of commentary on why this is so from an earlier post:

Our beliefs tie us together. Strength in numbers. They are a vital part of how we know that we are not alone in this chaotic world. Anything, like new and accurate information, that threatens the strength of these beliefs threatens the strength of the social bonds on which we depend psychologically for our sense of well-being in the world. Our beliefs define us as individuals too, or at least we think so, even if my philosophy tutors are quick to point out that’s just the Ego talking, and the Ego talks too much….

So the next time you may find yourself mired in a ‘groupthink’ belief that is potentially obnoxious to others, or even obnoxious to a part of your own more rational self, good time to pause and remind: There goes thinking – thinking, thinking, thinking. Thoughts are not facts. They are events or ideas of the mind. Other people’s thoughts are events and ideas of their own. We are all right, based on what we can see, and not so much on what we cannot.

But I really like the idea of an exercise on freeing the mind from groupthink to honor this upcoming Independence Day, and hope you will too. Feel “free” to try this or an exercise of your own making, and let us know what you find.

Warm wishes to you and yours for the holiday,