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Dr. Srini Pillay, Best-Selling Author, Examines Social Media and the Dangers of Groupthink

Dr. Srini Pillay, a best-selling author, neuroscientist, tech entrepreneur and an assistant professor at Harvard University, has spent a large chunk of his career subverting ideas on creativity and the processes behind human thinking. He recently wrote on the topic of Millennial suicide and depression, and now he’s ready to share his thoughts on social media and the suppression of the human voice.

Pillay states that he considered writing on the topic after coming across many different viewpoints on Michael Jackson’s character after the release of the “Finding Neverland” documentary. Although many people were in support of the documentary’s findings, others, such as Macaulay Culkin, rushed to defend Michael Jackson’s legacy. These differing opinions caused Pillay to reconsider prior thoughts on groupthink and one-sided viewpoints.

What are the risks of groupthink? Pillay believes the first of these is false confidence and dangerous authority. In 2009, political psychologist Jerrold Post and his colleagues explained that groups can sanction dangerous behaviors when large numbers falsely inspire confidence and authority. In fact, the end results are often dehumanizing. Throughout history, there are significant examples of crimes of obedience. “Living in Massachusetts, I am very aware of the Salem witch trials in 1692,” explains Pillay, “as a result of this bizarre groupthink, 20 innocent Puritans were killed.”

Groupthink can be a dangerous stronghold that people can be blind to. Unfortunately, the Internet is a breeding ground for history repeating itself unless people can open themselves to opinion-diversity again, which didn’t happen with the recent Michael Jackson case.

The second risk to groupthink is social loafing. “Social loafing” refers to the phenomenon where people exert less effort in a group than when they are alone. In 2014, economics professor Russell Mannion and his colleague explained that social loafing is common in groupthink. People have to be mentally tough to avoid the process, and this is not usually the mindset of most people casually browsing gossip columns or social media.

Russell Mannion also pointed to “escalation of commitment” as a result of groupthink. This is a phenomenon where people keep doing something or believing something despite all evidence suggesting that they should shift course. People who want to fit a certain social mode are more likely to fall for this, to their detriment.

Finally, the last risk is victimhood culture. “Over 70 percent of people have been exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetimes. That’s why so many people can relate to people being sad, angry, or looking to garner support,” explains Pillay, “but what happens when social media rewards victimhood with sparse evidence? We develop an exaggerated victimhood culture.”

Overall, the risks to groupthink are plenty, and it’s important for the population to realize this as the internet grows and becomes even more interconnected in the coming decades. “Like all of science, the research I quote is not absolute. There is still tremendous good to social media, and many advantages to thinking on teams and exchanging opinions and influencing one another in society,” concludes Pillay, “but if we enter this field blindly, or if we inadvertently fall prey to the psychological biases that happen with groupthink, we will end up reducing ourselves, and as a result, disrupt the fabric of society as well.”

Dr. Pillay is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist with a clinical practice, a former nationally funded brain-imaging researcher, a Leadership Development expert and a Certified Master Executive Coach. He trained in the specialty of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, where he graduated as a top award winner in the United States, garnering 13 rewards. Following this, he continued an active clinical practice, and completed 17 years of nationally funded research in brain-imaging. On account of his corporate clientele with stress and anxiety, he became a certified master coach and was an early pioneer in neurocoaching. As of 2018, no neurocoach worldwide had completed as much in-depth psychological work as Dr. Pillay.

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