Aggregated knowledge from a small number of debates outperforms the wisdom of large crowds

Joaquin Navajas, Tamara Niella, Gerry Garbulsky, Bahador Bahrami, Mariano Sigman

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The aggregation of many independent estimates can outperform the most accurate individual judgement. This centenarian finding, popularly known as the 'wisdom of crowds', has been applied to problems ranging from the diagnosis of cancer to financial forecasting. It is widely believed that social influence undermines collective wisdom by reducing the diversity of opinions within the crowd. Here, we show that if a large crowd is structured in small independent groups, deliberation and social influence within groups improve the crowd’s collective accuracy. We asked a live crowd (N = 5,180) to respond to general-knowledge questions (for example, "What is the height of the Eiffel Tower?"). Participants first answered individually, then deliberated and made consensus decisions in groups of five, and finally provided revised individual estimates. We found that averaging consensus decisions was substantially more accurate than aggregating the initial independent opinions. Remarkably, combining as few as four consensus choices outperformed the wisdom of thousands of individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-132
Number of pages7
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2018

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