Two Heads Are Cockier Than One

Two heads are better than one. Anyone who has ever played a trivia game knows this. Working in groups allows people to combine the knowledge of each participant to improve decision-making and accuracy. In the literature, “research on quantitative judgement has shown that individuals often improve their decision making by integrating outside input into their judgments.” Therefore, effective collaboration is based on the acceptance of outside advice: but, are people always willing to listen?

Researchers Julia Minson and Jennifer Mueller point out that not only does being part of a group increase accuracy in the group’s answers to questions, but it also increases confidence in chosen answers. This confidence may cause groups to overestimate the accuracy of their answers to a point where any further advice would be deemed less accurate. Therefore, researchers propose that the simple process of collaboration limits the acceptance of input from outside the  group.

To test this, Minson and Mueller asked research participants to come up with answers to a series of trivia questions in either a dyad group (collaborative) or individually (non-collaborative), and asked to rate their confidence in the decision. After marking their answers, each group/individual was given outside input from another group/individual and the option to change their answers. Researchers calculated the confidence and degree of answer shifting in dyads compared to individuals. They found that not only were groups more confident in their answers, but they also shifted their answers far less. This was unaffected by where the advice was coming from (group vs. individual).

So what? While groups are often better than the individual at decision-making, there are a number of limiting factors. The most notable is the problem of Group Think (see 12 Angry Men), but ignoring outside advice can be just as problematic. Collaboration is made effective by listening to the multiple internal voices, and may be even stronger listening to the external ones as well. Therefore, while two heads may be better than one, it is important to stay open to ideas, even when they come from outside your group.

Research Report:

Julia A. Minson and Jennifer S. Meuller
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
The Cost of Collaboration: Why Joint Decision Making Exacerbates Rejection of Outside Information
Psychological Science, first published February 17, 2012


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