Information sharing interferes with ‘wisdom of crowds’: study

A statistical phenomenon, called the Wisdom of Crowds, happens when a group of individuals make guesses and the average of the guesses reveal accurate average answers. However, researchers have discovered that when the individuals are made aware of other participant’s guesses, there is a clear disruption to the accuracy of the guesses.

The study, led by mathematician Jan Lorenz and sociologist Heiko Rahut from Switzerland’s ETH Zurich published their recent findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showing that even a small amount of social influence on a group can interfere with the Wisdom of Crowd effect.

For the study, researchers brought in 144 students and placed them in isolated locations and asked them to guess things like how many crimes were committed in 2006 and what the population density of Switzerland was. Based on the accuracy of their answers, participants were given a small monetary award and then the process was repeated for a total of four rounds. The students were broken up into two groups, with one group receiving information on what other peers had guessed and the other remaining isolated.

As each round continued, the group with no influence by other peers showed their results becoming more accurate. The individuals that received information on what their peers were guessing however showed less accuracy in their answers.

Researchers found that those receiving social input from their peers either led individuals to second guess themselves or, seeing others may have answered the same, become more confident in their incorrect responses. According to the results of the study, the Wisdom of Groups phenomenon appears to only be accurate when the individuals in the group are not aware or influenced by others in the group.

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