Network dynamics of social influence in the wisdom of crowds [Social Sciences]
A longstanding problem in the social, biological, and computational sciences is to determine how groups of distributed individuals can form intelligent collective judgments. Since Galton’s discovery of the “wisdom of crowds” [Galton F (1907) Nature 75:450–451], theories of collective intelligence have suggested that the accuracy of group judgments requires individuals to be either independent, with uncorrelated beliefs, or diverse, with negatively correlated beliefs [Page S (2008) The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies]. Previous experimental studies have supported this view by arguing that social influence undermines the wisdom of crowds. These results showed that individuals’ estimates became more similar when subjects observed each other’s beliefs, thereby reducing diversity without a corresponding increase in group accuracy [Lorenz J, Rauhut H, Schweitzer F, Helbing D (2011) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:9020–9025]. By contrast, we show general network conditions under which social influence improves the accuracy of group estimates, even as individual beliefs become more similar. We present theoretical predictions and experimental results showing that, in decentralized communication networks, group estimates become reliably more accurate as a result of information exchange. We further show that the dynamics of group accuracy change with network structure. In centralized networks, where the influence of central individuals dominates the collective estimation process, group estimates become more likely to increase in error.
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