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Four Failures of Deliberating Groups


Cass R. Sunstein


Harvard Law School

Reid Hastie


University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

April 2008

U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 401
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 215

Abstract:     
Many groups make their decisions through some process of deliberation, usually with the belief that deliberation will improve judgments and predictions. But deliberating groups often fail, in the sense that they make judgments that are false or that fail to take advantage of the information that their members have. There are four such failures. (1) Sometimes the predeliberation errors of group members are amplified, not merely propagated, as a result of deliberation. (2) Groups may fall victim to cascade effects, as the judgments of initial speakers or actors are followed by their successors, who do not disclose what they know. Nondisclosure, on the part of those successors, may be a product of either informational or reputational cascades. (3) As a result of group polarization, groups often end up in a more extreme position in line with their predeliberation tendencies. Sometimes group polarization leads in desirable directions, but there is no assurance to this effect. (4) In deliberating groups, shared information often dominates or crowds out unshared information, ensuring that groups do not learn what their members know. All four errors can be explained by reference to informational signals, reputational pressure, or both. A disturbing result is that many deliberating groups do not improve on, and sometimes do worse than, the predeliberation judgments of their average or median member.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: deliberation, cascades, group polarization, hidden profiles

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Date posted: April 18, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R. and Hastie, Reid, Four Failures of Deliberating Groups (April 2008). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 401; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 215. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1121400 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1121400

Contact Information

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)
Reid Hastie
University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )
5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
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