Sunwater Institute Studies Impact of Social Learners on Group Decisions

October 12, 2021   Matthew Chervenak

  • Group Decision Making
  • Blog

Washington, D.C.— October 12, 2021 — The Sunwater Institute collaborated with several research institutions to  conduct research on the fundamentals of group decision-making. A study investigating the impact of social learners though mathematical modeling has recently been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In collective decision-making systems such as elections, many individuals follow others instead of evaluating the merit of options and making their own choices. In the case of elections the proportion of voters who vote based on the choices made by other voters influences the final results. Previous research reached mixed conclusions concernging these effects because collective decisions emerge from a complex interaction of cognitive and social factors, which have rarely been studied together.

In “Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance”, the authors develop a general mathematical framework to analyze these interactions simultaneously.The model predicts a critical threshold for the proportion of social learners in the group above which the collective performance may be negatively affected, since an option can prevail regardless of its merit.

“We hope the model sheds light on understanding why certain groups settle on a lower-merit option, while the best available option is possible to achieve.” says Ani Harutyunyan, scholar at Sunwater Institute and an author of the publication. “By revealing a mechanism behind group decision-making processes, the model also implicitly points out pathways of improving group decision-making outcomes.” 

 “Many voters couldn’t tell you the policy platforms for the candidates they’re voting for,” says Vicky Chuqiao Yang, an author of the publication and a scholar at Santa Fe Institute “Many individuals are uninformed, and they’re most likely to rely on information they get from others.” 

The Sunwater Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan interdisciplinary think tank. Sunwater Institute’s mission is to strengthen the foundations of democracy through interdisciplinary science, technology, and open dialogue.