Stuck in the Wisdom of Crowds: Information, Knowledge, and Heuristics
39 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2022 Last revised: 19 May 2022
Collective knowledge is significantly affected by information about others’ viewpoints. However, under what conditions does the “wisdom of crowds” help versus harm knowledge of factual information? In this experiment, we present subjects with the task of answering 50 factual true or false trivia questions, with the potential opportunity to revise their answers after receiving different levels of information about other subjects’ answers and self-assessed confidence levels from an independent session. We find that information about others’ answers improves performance on easy questions, but tends to harm performance on difficult questions. In addition, information about answers provided by other subjects mainly improves performance for those with lower initial knowledge levels. Subjects in our Moderate-Information condition outperform those in either the Low or High-Information conditions, implying an optimal level of social information provision, in which the Majority Rule and Maximum Confidence rule complement one another. Although the Maximum Confidence rule can improve performance, yielding the lowest overall error rate out of the heuristics considered, subjects generally underutilize the information on other subjects’ confidence levels in favor of the Majority Rule heuristic. These findings shed light on possible directions for policies that can cultivate factual knowledge on online opinion platforms.
Keywords: wisdom of crowds, information provision, decision heuristics, majority rule, surprising popularity, maximum confidence
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