Collective Power

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Science  09 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6073, pp. 1148
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6073.1148-d

What percentage of Americans own pets? This question obviously has an answer; just as obviously, any single individual is unlikely to know it or to be able to offer a close estimate. Nevertheless, the average of a number of such guesses may end up quite close indeed. Using questions of this type, covering U.S. commerce, geography, and demography, Minson and Mueller describe a study of how individuals and pairs perform when asked to answer these questions and how ready they are to incorporate input from outsiders. They found that pairs generated estimates that were closer to the true values than individuals working on their own were able to do. On the other hand, when individuals were given a chance to revise their estimates upon hearing of the judgments of others, they did so to a greater extent than the pairs, so that the original accuracy advantage enjoyed by the pairs disappeared. It appears that the justifiably greater confidence exhibited by the pairs in the first stage may have led them to discount the value of the opinions of others.

Psychol. Sci. 23, 10.1777/0956797611429132 (2012).

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