When to leave the herd to make a better decision – sciencedaily
People learn valuable information from the time others hesitate before making their decisions, a new study suggests.
The researchers found that when people saw other members of their group hesitate before making a choice, they were about twice as likely to break up with the group and make a different choice.
“When we see other people hesitate before making a choice, it tells us that they were in conflict, that they weren’t quite sure they were making the right decision,” said Ian Krajbich, co- author of the study and professor of psychology and economics. at Ohio State University.
“It makes people less confident in the group consensus and frees them up to make decisions based on their own information. It can help groups escape bad results.”
Krajbich conducted the research with Cary Frydman, associate professor of finance and business economics at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Their study was published this week in the journal Management science.
The findings have implications for group behavior in politics, finance, fashion – any situation where there might be herd behavior, Krajbich said.
“Even if it seems at first glance that everyone is following the same trend, hesitation may reveal that they are not all on the same page,” he said.
“If people start to notice others hesitating before joining the herd, it can slow the momentum or change it altogether.”
For example, think of a political campaign in which a candidate seeks support from popular politicians. Slow approvals that arrive late in a campaign could indicate low support and are less convincing than approvals that arrive earlier in a campaign, Krajbich said.
The study involved 72 students. They participated in groups of eight.
In each of the 30 rounds, all eight participants were given identical virtual bags containing three balls, each marked “A” or “B” (the study was conducted on computers). One at a time, each participant fired a bullet, saw which letter was on it, and then guessed which letter appeared most often in the bag.
For example, imagine that the first member of the group took out a ball marked A. It would be logical for this person to guess that the bag contains more A balls.
Each person following could see what previous participants had guessed, but not what letters were on those previous balls.
This left some attendees later in the chain with a dilemma, Krajbich said.
Let’s say you were fourth and you shot an A bullet. This would suggest that there are more A bullets in the bag. But you see that the previous three people guessed B.
You have to decide whether to go with your information that suggests guessing A, or go with the herd and guess B.
That’s where the reluctance comes in, Krajbich said. If you see that the previous person in the chain has waited a while before choosing B, this can be an important signal.
That previous person might also have fired an A bullet, like you did, and hesitated before choosing B with the herd. In this case, choosing A might actually make sense for you.
This is exactly the number of participants who interpreted situations where their information conflicted with the group, Krajbich said. When their predecessor responded slowly, participants chose against the herd about 66% of the time, compared to only 33% of the time when their predecessor chose quickly.
In cases where the group made the wrong decision, it often resulted in people breaking away from the herd and making the right choice, he said.
“A few bad decisions at the start can lead anyone astray. That’s the behavior of the herd,” Krajbich said.
“But what we have found is that if people can see the reluctance in the choices of others, it can help them break the chain and change the course of the group.”
The same phenomenon can also work in the opposite direction. The quick decisions of others can reinforce their own information. For example, if a person sees their friends quickly choosing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, it can make them more comfortable making the same choice, Krajbich said.
If friends are hesitant about getting the vaccine – even if they end up getting one – it can make a person less sure to get the vaccine, he said.
Krajbich said the results of this study are not necessarily a universal rule. There may be decisions where taking more time to choose might indicate a more thoughtful choice.
“It will be important to know when quick decisions signal confidence or when they rather signal recklessness,” he said.