Opting in or Opting Out: The Conditions for Developing Consensus
35 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2009 Last revised: 15 Feb 2010
Date Written: November 13, 2009
In legal, political, and social settings, people must reach a consensus before particular outcomes can be achieved and failing to reach a consensus may be costly. Although many scholars identify conditions that make consensus more or less likely, they typically ignore key features of communication that may affect a group’s ability to reach a consensus. In this paper, we conduct experiments that take into account the costs associated with communicating, as well as the difficulty of the decisions that groups make. We find that when there is even a small cost (relative to the potential benefit) associated with speaking and/or listening, groups are much less likely to reach a consensus, primarily because they are less willing to communicate with one another. We also find that difficult problems significantly reduce group members’ willingness to communicate with one another and, therefore, hinder their ability to reach a consensus.
Keywords: consensus, experiments, political communication
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