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Friday, June 18, 2021

Wise teamwork: Collective confidence calibration predicts the effectiveness of group discussion

Silver, I, Mellers, B.A., & Tetlock, P.E.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 96, September 2021.


‘Crowd wisdom’ refers to the surprising accuracy that can be attained by averaging judgments from independent individuals. However, independence is unusual; people often discuss and collaborate in groups. When does group interaction improve vs. degrade judgment accuracy relative to averaging the group's initial, independent answers? Two large laboratory studies explored the effects of 969 face-to-face discussions on the judgment accuracy of 211 teams facing a range of numeric estimation problems from geographic distances to historical dates to stock prices. Although participants nearly always expected discussions to make their answers more accurate, the actual effects of group interaction on judgment accuracy were decidedly mixed. Importantly, a novel, group-level measure of collective confidence calibration robustly predicted when discussion helped or hurt accuracy relative to the group's initial independent estimates. When groups were collectively calibrated prior to discussion, with more accurate members being more confident in their own judgment and less accurate members less confident, subsequent group interactions were likelier to yield increased accuracy. We argue that collective calibration predicts improvement because groups typically listen to their most confident members. When confidence and knowledge are positively associated across group members, the group's most knowledgeable members are more likely to influence the group's answers.


People often display exaggerated beliefs about their skills and knowledge. We misunderstand and over-estimate our ability to answer general knowledge questions (Arkes, Christensen, Lai, & Blumer, 1987), save for a rainy day (Berman, Tran, Lynch Jr, & Zauberman, 2016), and resist unhealthy foods (Loewenstein, 1996), to name just a few examples. Such failures of calibration can have serious consequences, hindering our ability to set goals (Kahneman & Lovallo, 1993), make plans (Janis, 1982), and enjoy experiences (Mellers & McGraw, 2004). Here, we show that collective calibration also predicts the effectiveness of group discussions. In the context of numeric estimation tasks, poorly calibrated groups were less likely to benefit from working together, and, ultimately, offered less accurate answers. Group interaction is the norm, not the exception. Knowing what we know (and what we don't know) can help predict whether interactions will strengthen or weaken crowd wisdom.