Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Solving problems in social groups

30 October 2017

People often face shared problems, ranging from finding resources to avoiding external threats. Would it be possible for individuals to interact and be more accurate than independent individuals? In a Letter in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Jeroen Bruggeman, sociologist at the University of Amsterdam, solves this problem mathematically.

To solve a problem at hand, people have to make sense of it and develop an accurate idea of a solution. "The wisdom of crowds" means that, even though most people‚Äôs ideas are inaccurate, the average idea tends to be accurate. Once people socially interact, however, they tend to convergence to a collective inaccurate idea, called "groupthink." 

Jeroen Burggeman shows that the best outcome is obtained when people know the reputations of others' expertise and, when interacting, pay the lion share of their attention to experts in the problem at hand, who in turn should be self-confident. This mechanism of consensus is fairly robust to noise, too (i.e. inaccurate reputations and biased self-confidence).

Publication details

'Solving problems in social groups', by Jeroen Bruggeman in PNAS. The Letter is now published online, before print, DOI10.1073/pnas.1713474114.

Published by  AISSR