Sunday, October 23, 2011

Collective vs. Individual Thinking

By: Clarence Parler

 For some time there has been a debate whether collective thinking has the potential to be more beneficial than individual thinking. Some would argue that collective thinking has the advantage of utilizing the skill sets of all of its members, while others would argue that individual thinking is a tool that can be used to promote personal expression and creative ability. Is there any possibility that we can overcome societal demands and become individualistic in our approach? There are those that will argue that one is not better than the other.  It is rational to accept the fact that it is all about personal preference. One may be better for an individual. I personally learn better and get things done quicker through solitary thinking. Others may benefit from social interaction and sharing new ideas. On a personal level, thinking is very private. Independent thinking is the desire and ability to convince ourselves that the information being presented is true or reasonable. Independent thinkers have the need to make sense of the world based on personal observations and experiences rather than just going along with the thoughts of others. While dependent thinkers uncritically accept whatever they are taught and don’t find the need to question information or ask themselves if the information really makes sense. Individuals think what they want. We as individuals can be as submissive or as aggressive as we choose to be within the confines of our own heads. There it is safe to think absolutely anything, because no one else knows.

Collective thinking is a hindrance to an individual’s personal growth and achievement potential. Individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking are compromised when group cohesiveness is placed at the forefront. Members of collective thinking groups are likely to avoid promoting their own point of views. There are several reasons for this. Many members within a group tend to avoid singling themselves out for fear of being viewed as foolish. They also may have a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering the other members of the group.  The Asch Experiment is one of many experiments conducted to measure the effect peer pressure could have on the thinking of an individual. According to Martyn Shuttleworth, “The Asch experiment showed that one voice can make a difference amongst many.”  In other words, it only takes one difference of opinion to cause the rest of the group to conform. Group thinking drastically alters the ability to think independently. Especially in instances such as the groups we are most closely associated with. The society in which  we grow up in has great influence on the person we become. If it is not carefully managed, humans have the tendency to take on the traits of those around them. They act and do as those around them act and do. Sociology is just one science that primarily focuses on social behavior and human groups. It studies social relationships and how those relationships influence people’s behavior. Richard T. Schaefer asserts, “A society is the largest form of human group. It consists of people who share a common heritage and culture. Member of this culture learn and transmit it from one generation to the next."  With that being said, it is safe to assume that we as humans are products of our surroundings. A good example of the adverse affects of collectivism would be the media. The underlying message that comes through media outlets is another form of group thinking that causes conformity to slogan thinking. We live in a society that depends on communication and information to keep moving in the “right” direction. We are exposed to it so much that it affects our everyday lives. The media basically shapes our beliefs, values, and decisions.  We are constantly exposed to images of violence, advertisements, sex, and much more. The media makes billions of dollars with advertising they sell and that we are exposed to. After seeing thousands of advertisements, we buy according to what we are told to be good. We make our buying decisions based on what we saw on TV, newspapers or magazines to be a product we can trust.

Dont  want to be confusing or contradictory, but I also dont want to be accused of being ethnocentric either. It can be argued that collective thinking is of great benefit to the member involved in the group. Group thinking allows you to draw on each group member’s knowledge and different perspectives. Groups are great for motivation as well. They force you to be responsible to others, allowing you to do more and better work on a project than you can do when only responsible for yourself.  Group thinking is effective at problem solving by incorporating the collective effort of the entire group. Gerard M Blair, author of “Groups that Work” asserts that “there is an added incentive that through belonging to a group each can participate in achievements well beyond his/her own individual potential.” This simply means each member of the team has their own unique abilities and expertise which enables them to collectively combine ideas and surpass the ability of an individual. Some of our greatest achievements in history have been made by a group of people. As one person has an idea, another person can add to it, until it is the best idea it can be. Everyone has strong points and weak points. By being in a group atmosphere, your weak points can be strengthened, and your strong points can be shared.

At the end of the day there is no clear cut winner. There are only those that prefer one or another.
You decide.


  1. I think this is a very well writen post! After reading it I tried to decide which type of thinker I was and realized that I seem to have traits that fall into both categories. My preference is the same as yours as to being an individual thinker. Although, I also like to get differenet perspectives so I can make sure that I am not being closed minded or ignorant; especially on the really important decisions! I feel though that once I have all of the facts then I am back to thinking individually in order to come to a conclusion.

  2. I've always noticed some group thinking in society to some extent. Fortunately, I think that the older and wiser you get, the less group think affects you. Maturity means more priorities and less worrying about what other people think. I believe most people, including myself are affected less by group think as they get older.