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http://ssrn.com/abstract=1150411
 
 

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Extremism and Social Learning


Edward L. Glaeser


Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government, Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Cass R. Sunstein


Harvard Law School

June 19, 2007

Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2009
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-14

Abstract:     
When members of deliberating groups speak with one another, their predeliberation tendencies often become exacerbated as their views become more extreme. The resulting phenomenon-group polarization-has been observed in many settings, and it bears on the actions of juries, administrative tribunals, corporate boards, and other institutions. Polarization can result from rational Bayesian updating by group members, but in many contexts, this rational interpretation of polarization seems implausible. We argue that people are better seen as Credulous Bayesians, who insufficiently adjust for idiosyncratic features of particular environments and put excessive weight on the statements of others in situations of (1) common sources of information; (2) highly unrepresentative group membership; (3) statements that are made to obtain approval; and (4) statements that are designed to manipulate. Credulous Bayesianism can produce extremism and significant blunders-the folly of crowds. We discuss the implications of Credulous Bayesianism for law and politics, including media policy and cognitive diversity on administrative agencies and courts.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 64

Keywords: polarization, bayesians, behavior, credulous bayesianism, legal theory

JEL Classification: K00

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Date posted: June 24, 2008 ; Last revised: February 27, 2009

Suggested Citation

Glaeser, Edward L. and Sunstein, Cass R., Extremism and Social Learning (June 19, 2007). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-14; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-14. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1150411

Contact Information

Edward L. Glaeser
Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government, Department of Economics ( email )
Littauer Center
Room 315A
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2150 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)
Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036-2188
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)
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