To Protect Team Cohesion, We Treat All Opinions Equally

Even though some people tend to be right more often than others, we often treat the opinions of everyone equally.

Even though some people tend to be right more often than others, we often treat the opinions of everyone equally, generally moving toward a middle position where consensus wins out over the most correct vision.


That's the conclusion of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which measured how pairs of individuals from across the globe reached conclusions when one person consistently had the right answer more often. The study, which spanned the cultures of China, Denmark, and Iran, is explained by Chris Mooney at The Washington Post.

"In the experiment ... two separate people view two successive images, which are almost exactly the same, but not quite. In one of the images, there is an 'oddball target' that looks slightly different. The images flash by very fast, and the two individuals have to decide which one, the first or the second, contained the target. ... [T]he two individuals didn’t merely have to identify the target. They also had to agree."

You might expect that over the 256 trials each pair experienced, the less accurate group member would favor the views of the more accurate member. But that did not happen. Instead, the worse group member tended to overestimate their view and the more accurate member underestimated their own.

Researchers attempted to tip the scales by giving the more accurate member even more correct responses and then offering cash rewards for reaching the most accurate consensus. But neither strategy did away with the "equality bias."

This is likely due to the importance of preserving team cohesion at the expense of individual members. Groups are capable of achieving more in the long term and keeping them cohesive preserves social networks for future tasks. As international business consultant Stephen Miles explains, creating a team that works well together should be the top priority for any team leader or business manager:

"What CEOs have to grapple with is how do you create a sense of team; how do you create a sense of cohesion and leadership that isn’t sort of — that is better than the individual because in order, by definition, to be a team, you need to be doing more than each individual member of that team and companies need that, so from a CEO perspective, a couple of things are really important."

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