The Dark Side of the Vote: Group vs. Individual Decision-Making

[ Music ] -We were interested in studying a
question raised by Condorcet, a French revolutionary about whether groups can
make better decisions than individuals through voting, sort of a wisdom of the
crowds question, and we wanted to find out if this was true. Imagine a situation where you have a lot of people (who) have little pieces of information but nobody
knows the truth, but everybody would like to make the right decision. So you might
match in a situation where there’s somebody on trial and there’s a
defendant and you would like to convict the guilty and let the innocent go free. Well, we can’t really study it in the naturally occurring world because of the
difficulty of being able to measure what the truth is and how much information
everybody has, but at the laboratory we could control that and we could vary the
difficulty of the questions that people had to answer, so we chose the set of
questions that had a true answer and we had some that were very easy and some
that were difficult or misleading. Example of a tricky or misleading
question is, where did Sigmund Freud die? And most people would say Vienna because
that’s where he lived most of his life but he actually died in London. Another thing we looked at was social information. So, some of the groups got
information of voting of previous groups on the questions before they voted, and
we found that when questions were easy and simple that there’s a bright side of
voting, and voting led to better decisions, but when questions were
misleading or difficult there’s a dark side and we had worse decisions. And we found that social information could make the bright side brighter but the
dark side darker. The implications of the research is that we have to be very
careful in how we design institutions for groups making decisions. Sometimes voting can be very useful for a group to make decisions when questions
are easy or simple, but when questions are difficult or misleading it might be
better perhaps not to use voting as a way to make those decisions. So it’s really great to do this research at NYUAD where we have a fantastic lab,
colleagues, and staff but we also have this fantastically diverse subject pool
that comes from all over the world. Students on campus, non-students, and
students at other universities, and it allows us to answer really interesting
questions. My name is Rebecca Morton. I’m a professor of politics and director of
the Social Science Experimental Laboratory at NYU Abu Dhabi. [ Music ]

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