There was a great post on ‘The Frontal Cortex‘ a few days ago related to one of the many potential problems our Commander-in-Chief is having with the Iraq War.

So what is Bush thinking? Why is he refusing to listen to the advice of his generals and the Joint Chiefs, who are against a troop surge? I think part of the answer is that admitting defeat and de-escalating the war (i.e., bringing the troops home) would simply be too painful a decision for Bush to make. Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon: loss aversion.

Not only will this serve to place another 20,000 US troops in harms way, but will also necessitate the increase in off-budget spending, growing Congressional appropriations beyond the staggering $355 billion mark.

This loss aversion has likely been reinforced to date by a variety of factors including groupthink. Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and under considerable pressure to produce quality decisions. It results in few alternatives, poor information gathering and lack of contingency plans. Groups have an illusion of invulnerability particularly following some noticeable successes. Sales teams, for example, have a tendency to develop over-inflated egos and extreme superiority upon achieving lofty goals.

Several ways to avoid groupthink have been recommended such as having impartial leaders and initiating a ‘Devil’s advocate’ within the group. Chen and Lawson (1996) discovered that groups with promotional leaders produced more symptoms of group think and discussed fewer facts than those with impartial leaders; findings that were corroborated by Ahlfinger and Esser (2001). The Devil’s advocate, however, warrants further study as present findings do not indicate any significant effects upon decision quality (Chen and Lawson, 1996).

In the case of the current administration, having several advocates in the military ranks from generals to a new Secretary of Defense have yielded few positive results. Perhaps from a broader perspective the American public needs to assume the role as the Devil’s advocate; a position it appears many took in the recent mid-term elections. Having been on the ground in Iraq for a brief period of time, I have the utmost respect for our military, its soldiers and their capabilities. It’s time we collectively address the biases behind their current mission and bring them home.

See related Heuristics of War and What Does Barack Obama Know About Behavioral Economics?