Research project by Farm in the Cave International Theatre Studio

Analysis of group irrationality

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" is Edmunt Burk’s famous statement. It makes each of us think of what we can do to prevent the spread of evil. We usually omit the basic question: "How to recognize the evil?". The Crusaders, while trying to liberate the Holy Tomb, fought against evil. Muslims, who opposed them, fought against evil. The Holy Inquisition, frenzied Jacobins during the French Revolution and the Russian Bolsheviks fought against evil. The German Nazis brought huge sacrifices in the struggle against "evil".

We humans have a tendency to accept willingly arguments supporting our worldview while we overlook opposite arguments. No wonder that we think that our worldview (= belief = faith) fully corresponds to the reality. And we are often angry that other people are spreading totally different worldviews.

This paradox can be explained by group behavior. A group of people with a common goal tends to "streamline" its members, if they dare to vent non-conformist views. If you are an atheist, try to express the fear of eternal punishment in the presence of other atheists, if you are a supporter of the right, try to compliment a socialist politician, if you are a Christian, question the Immaculate Conception, if you are a voter of the left, try to recommend a reduction taxes on the rich. Hardly anyone is going to try such an experiment. Try to imagine such a situation, and you will probably find that a kind of inner block works here. It prevents us from pronouncing "sacrilegious" thoughts and destroy the unity of our group.

Is it possible to detect group irrationality or even to determine its intensity? Yes – because strongly irrational groups, regardless of what its members believe, are more prone to demagogy. This is revealed by the way they communicate. The more irrational attitudes they hold, the more aggressively they refuse a confrontation with reality. Members of such groups are usually people with low self-esteem. They do their best to compensate for this. They cling to their group and persecute others for expressing disagreement with the group opinions. They also worship symbols, the leader and  founder and the "higher" ideals. Words from the following seven categories occur in their speeches and written texts:

1. Aggression: Members of the irrational group have tendency to attack and even to create rivals.

2. Sales of illusion: Frequent emphasizing values, in which the group believe. The fuzzier are they defined, the better.

3. Dogmatism: Black and white world-view is reflected in the language. Everything is "absolute," "total" or "indisputable".

4. Groupism: Each ideology is based on a collective. This is indicated by a frequent use of the term "we are".

5. Ideological thinkg: Enemies must tagged. Therefore, words ending in –ism and –ist are used.

6. Using words like blood, death, fight: A fanatic person lives by constantly fighting. This is reflected in his speech.

7. References to symbols: A member of irrational groups does not live in the real world. Her or his ideological world is built by symbols like the flag, emblem, etc.

There is a relationship between the number of expressions in texts of a political party and its attitudes. The most irrational parties do not allow women to reach high posts are more prone to age discrimination and their MP´s work less in the parliaments.


Note: Author is IT specialist interested in psychlogical apsects of human decision making process. He wrote a book “Hidden Authority” focused on phenomenon of irrationality – with name “Skrytá autorita” available in Czech language.

Milan Petrák

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