Health, groupthink & surprising news about lemmings

Lemmings courtesy of Flickr user quikelopez

Did you know that the reputation lemmings have for committing mass suicide, mindlessly jumping off a cliff, is actually a misconception? I didn’t know that. More about this in a minute.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about destructive flash mob type activity: rioting and looting in England and more recently a flash mob robbery in Maryland in the U.S. This activity appears to be orchestrated through the use of social media.  

Also in the news recently was an interesting article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times about preventing “groupthink”. Groupthink is a term coined by psychology professor Dr. Irving Janis in the 1970’s. Janis wrote a book entitled “Groupthink” about the dangers of a group making bad decisions because of pressure to agree. Two examples often cited are failing to anticipate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the decision to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. A more recent example might be the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. It’s a peer pressure sort of thing that impairs group decision-making. It seems more important to “go with the crowd” than to think independently and be different, even if right.

William Morgan, D.C. of the American Chiropractic Association, in The Dangers of Groupthink, explains it very clearly, “Group think describes what happens when individual thought cedes to the will of group consciousness. ” Groupthink can impact health. Dr. Morgan explains how a group of physicians may discuss the nuances of a surgical procedure without questioning the need for surgery.

Perhaps a little stranger is a study reported by Randy Dotinga of HealthDay in which the manipulation of social influence created false memories in the subjects, and in this way showed that groupthink can affect memory.

You’ve probably also heard news reports of studies reversing earlier studies regarding the performance of particular drugs. Does it seem like groupthink first favors a drug, and then it doesn’t?

What’s the lesson in all this? Isn’t it to think for ourselves rather than to cede individual thought to the will of group consciousness? In health care, isn’t it to think for ourselves and take responsibility for our own health care choices?

Consciousness affects health.  How important then not to cede individual consciousness to group consciousness.

I find that the only consciousness that it’s always safe to cede my thought to is the divine consciousness, which is always right, always good, always safe. And isn’t this one goal of prayer? This is not stubbornly making my own decision or accepting whatever comes and then calling it God’s will. But rather, it’s a humble willingness to listen and respond to divine inspiration, wisdom and love. I find that this yields a decision for me that is the highest sense of right under the circumstances, even though not necessarily what group consciousness would settle on.

So, back to the lemmings. As it turns out, lemmings are not suicidal and they don’t suffer groupthink and jump off a cliff as if directed by a mob mentality to do so.  And they actually are pretty good swimmers. This news isn’t really new. The misconception comes from a behavior where they migrate in large groups to alleviate excessive population density and food scarcity, sometimes swimming across a large body of water, and drowning if taking on more of a swim than they can handle; this along with unexplained population fluctuations among Norwegian lemmings.

A bit ironic, isn’t it? Our widespread collective acceptance of the misconception about these little guys is a touch of groupthink, yes?

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