Two heads sometimes better than one

Confidence can boost or bust group decisions

4:18pm, April 20, 2012

Wise groups follow the advice of confident decision makers. So do foolish groups. But a group’s success or failure depends on whether what’s commonly known corresponds to the truth in a given situation, a new study finds.

Heeding recommendations of the most confident member of a two- or three-person group often works well, says psychologist Asher Koriat of the University of Haifa in Israel. That’s because in many settings, high confidence is associated with majority opinions, which are frequently correct about general types of knowledge, Koriat reports in the April 20 Science.

Confidence-based group decisions go awry when majority opinions don’t jibe with reality. Most people assume, for example, that the larger of two countries in area also has a larger population, but there are exceptions to this rule. In these instances, the opinion of the least confident group member is most accurate, Koriat observes.

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