Group-Level Resistance to Health Mandates During the COVID-19Pandemic: A Groupthink Approach




Public health interventions, such as mandated vaccinating or quarantining during an epidemic, are necessary to limit the spread of communicable diseases, but in many cases, certain groups resist these initiatives. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, antiquarantine groups protested the mandate to socially distance and remain at home, claiming these directives violated their right to assemble, travel, and work. The current analysis examined media descriptions of these antiquarantine groups to determine if these groups’ divergent responses to a legally and medically warranted health initiative resulted from groupthink: the deterioration of judgment and rationality that sometimes occurs in groups. In support of this possibility, accounts of these groups indicated that (a) the conditions that cause groupthink, including high levels of cohesion and isolation, were present and potent within these groups and that (b) the groups exhibited many of the symptoms of groupthink, including group illusions and pressures to conform. Given the ubiquity of these groups—for centuries, public health interventions have generated opposing antiregulation reactions—no amount of planning may be sufficient to prevent such groups. However, a theory-driven approach based on groupthink suggests that group-level interventions that directly address the processes that cause groupthink, such as isolation, conformity pressure, and cohesion, could reduce the influence of such groups on their members and on society.

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