Study confirms the existence of a special kind of groupthink in large groups.
- Large groups of people everywhere tend to come to the same conclusions.
- In small groups, there's a much wider diversity of ideas.
- The mechanics of a large group make some ideas practically inevitable.
The grouping game<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NDE2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjI2MzA4OX0.RLrswIWbuEzHNqsw0F7EUrp9jPn7OulLPqCxcZT11ik/img.jpg?width=980" id="159b8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0feb15d2d7dde144c710c2f4f1e5350c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2767" data-height="382" />
Some of the shapes used in the experiment
Credit: Guilbeault, et al./University of Pennsylvania<p>The researchers tested their theory with 1,480 people playing an online "Grouping Game" via Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform. The individuals were paired with another participant or made a member of a group of 6, 8, 24, or 50 people. Each pair and group were tasked with categorizing the symbols shown above, and they could see each other's answers.</p><p>The small groups came up with wildly divergent categories—the entire experiment produced nearly 5,000 category suggestions—while the larger groups came up with categorization systems that were virtually identical to each other.</p><p><a href="https://www.asc.upenn.edu/news-events/news/why-independent-cultures-think-alike-its-not-in-the-brain" target="_blank">Says Centola</a>, "Even though we predicted it, I was nevertheless stunned to see it really happen. This result challenges many long-held ideas about culture and how it forms."</p><p>Nor was this unanimity a matter of having teamed-up like-minded individuals. "If I assign an individual to a small group," says lead author Douglas Guilbeault, "they are much more likely to arrive at a category system that is very idiosyncratic and specific to them. But if I assign that same individual to a large group, I can predict the category system that they will end up creating, regardless of whatever unique viewpoint that person happens to bring to the table."</p>
Why this happens<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NDE4NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjkzMDg0Nn0.u2hdEIgNw4drFZ2frzx0AJ_MAxIizuM98rdovQrIblk/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3444" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5da57d66e388fad0f1c17afb09af90a7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="822" />
The many categories suggested by small groups on the left, the few from large groups on the right
Credit: Guilbeault, et al./Nature Communications<p>The striking results of the experiment correspond to a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0607-5" target="_blank">previous study</a> done by NDG that investigated tipping points for people's behavior in networks.</p><p>That study concluded that after an idea enters a discussion among a large network of people, it can gain irresistible traction by popping up again and again in enough individuals' conversations. In networks of 50 people or more, such ideas eventually reach critical mass and become a prevailing opinion.</p><p>The same phenomenon does not happen often enough within a smaller network, where fewer interactions offer an idea less of an opportunity to take hold.</p>
Beyond categories<p>The study's finding raises an interesting practical possibility: Would categorization-related decisions made by large groups be less likely to fall prey to members' individual biases?</p><p>With this question in mind, the researchers are currently looking into content moderation on Facebook and Twitter. They're investigating whether the platforms would be wiser when categorizing content as free speech or hate speech if large groups were making these decisions instead of lone individuals working at these companies.</p><p>Similarly, they're also exploring the possibility that larger networks of doctors and healthcare professionals might be better at making diagnoses that would avoid biases such as racism or sexism that could cloud the judgment of individual practitioners.</p><p>"Many of the worst social problems reappear in every culture," notes Centola, "which leads some to believe these problems are intrinsic to the human condition. Our research shows that these problems are intrinsic to the social experiences humans have, not necessarily to humans themselves. If we can alter that social experience, we can change the way people organize things, and address some of the world's greatest problems."</p>
We have the money to change the world. What's standing in the way?
- What does it actually take to drive large-scale change? Co-Impact founder and CEO Olivia Leland argues that it takes more than money, voting in elections, and supporting your favorite nonprofit. Solving complex global issues takes philanthropy in concert with community advocacy, support from businesses, innovation, an organized vision, and a plan to execute it.
- Leland has identified three areas that need to be addressed before real and meaningful change can happen. To effectively provide support, we must listen to the people who are already doing the work, rather than trying to start from scratch; make it easier for groups, government, and others to collaborate; and change our mindsets to think more long-term so that we can scale impact in ways that matter.
- Through supporting educational programs like Pratham and its Teaching at the Right Level model, Co-Impact has seen how these collaborative strategies can be employed to successfully tackle a complex problem like child literacy.
Historian Rutger Bregman argues that the persistent theory that most people are monsters is just wrong.
- How have humans managed to accomplish significantly more than any other species on the planet? Historian Rutger Bregman believes the quality that makes us special is that we "evolved to work together and to cooperate on a scale that no other species in the whole animal kingdom has been able to do."
- Pushing back against the millennia-old idea that humans are inherently evil beneath their civilized surface, which is known as 'veneer theory', Bregman says that it's humanity's cooperative spirit and sense of brotherhood that leads us to do cruel deeds. "Most atrocities are committed in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, and in the name of helping your people," he tells Big Think. "That is what's so disturbing."
- The false assumption that people are evil or inherently selfish has an effect on the way we design various elements of our societies and structures. If we designed on the assumption that we are collaborative instead, we could avoid the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of selfishness.
The "lone genius" often gets the credit for big ideas, but real-world innovation is a team sport.
- Individuals like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are often idolized as masters of ideas, but according to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, it usually takes many people iterating and taking chances for a company to be truly innovative.
- Using Whole Foods as a case study, Mackey shares a story of how a bar experiment at one of his California markets evolved into a successful feature and spread to other locations.
- By giving teams the freedom to try (and fail) without being micro-managed, organizations can create a culture that allows innovation to happen, not one that tries to force it to happen.
We make school kids read "Lord of the Flies"—but it's only half the story.
- The iconic novel "Lord of the Flies" paints a picture of human beings as naturally selfish and prone to conflict, but that is not the most accurate depiction of humanity, argues historian Rutger Bregman.
- Bregman shares a true story from his research about a group of Tongan students who survived on an island together for 15 months in 1965, not through brutal alliances, but by working together and forming a functional community.
- Darwin's observation of domestication syndrome is apparent in humans, argues Bregman; our evolution into friendlier animals can be seen in our biological features and responses. Evolutionarily speaking, being "soft" is actually very smart, and we evolved to cooperate with one another for mutual gain.