Diversity of opinions promotes herding in uncertain crowds
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Classic and recent studies demonstrate how we fall for the ‘tyranny of the majority' and conform to the dominant trend when uncertain. However, in many social interactions outside of the laboratory, there is rarely a clearly identified majority and discerning who to follow might be challenging. Here, we asked whether in such conditions herding behaviour depends on a key statistical property of social information: the variance of opinions in a group. We selected a task domain where opinions are widely variable and asked participants (N = 650) to privately estimate the price of eight anonymous paintings. Then, in groups of five, they discussed and agreed on a shared estimate for four paintings. Finally, they provided revised individual estimates for all paintings. As predicted (https://osf.io/s89w4), we observed that group members converged to each other and boosted their confidence following social interaction. We also found evidence supporting the hypothesis that the more diverse groups show greater convergence, suggesting that the variance of opinions promotes herding in uncertain crowds. Overall, these findings empirically examine how, in the absence of a clear majority, the distribution of opinions relates to subjective feelings of confidence and herding behaviour.
Royal Society Open Science