Today’s Obsession: Don’t Believe a Crowd

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Wild Crowd

let's be social, just because! (photo: flickr member amerainey)

Do you remember a couple of years ago how everyone in the world was flipping out about crowdsourcing, like it was going to make labor costs drop to nothing and give tons of useful data like pots of gold from over the rainbow? Well, wrong. Here’s an interesting study at The Big Think that shows what actually happens in crowds.

When a person makes a decision on their own, fine. It’s a clear and solid sample, free of outside influence. But if the person giving the sample knows that other people will be giving samples as well, they will consider what they think other people might say. And if they have some idea of what other peoples’ opinions might be, they are likely to defer to someone else’s opinion entirely.

Designers have known for years that decision-by-committee never works. But interestingly, the social group is always given more credence than the iconoclast in group scenarios. That is scary—to know that we’re hard-wired to listen to our group instincts before we listen to someone who might actually know better.