Biases in Collective Decision-Making – Part 1

In groups, all is not a bed of Roses, and forming a group is not enough to make good collective decisions. On the contrary, groups are confronted with several difficulties called in social psychology: biases.

In this first article we will see in more details one of the bias, then we will see in future articles the other biases in group decision-making. In total three biases will be explored in the blog.

If you remember, in a previous article we talked about the notion of group. We wondered how to define it, and gave a few tricks that could improve the group. In you wish, you may have a look at this article here.

In fact, it is not simple to make a good decision. It is not because we think that each member of the group has spoken that the decision will be of good quality. In this first article, we will discuss one of the difficulties a group frequently encounters in making a decision: the bias of information sharing.

What is it? 

It is defined by Claudia Toma and coauthors (in 2012) (1) as the tendency of group members to focus on information that is common to all, and not on particular pieces of information that only a few members of the group know. To reveal this tendency, the authors have set up a paradigm:

The hidden profile paradigm:

Two options A and B are presented to the group. One of this option is the optimal answer (A). The information is distributed, so that group members can not find the solution individually, it is “hidden”. Some information is known by all members, while some other is only known by a few of them. To find the solution, group members have to share all information.

The tendency is verified 

Indeed, when we share information, we share only common information. That is, information held by all members of the group. Yet, some other information would be worth sharing. It consists in unique information, which is held only by very few members of the group. Common information is therefore more discussed among the members, which often leads to a bad decision.
This kind of bias is common, and exists in everyday life. For example, this is what can happen at a class council, when teachers give their opinion on an undisciplined student. If all information held by the teaching team is not shared, it can have important consequences.
Fortunately, there are some techniques to counter the information sharing bias.

Tips to enhance information sharing

This non-exhaustive list shows how to bypass the issue of information sharing.

First tip:

Group members should be informed of the existence of this bias. In psychological jargon, this is called meta-information. According to Dimitri Vasiljevic (in 2010) (2), this kind of meta-information informs members of the group on the unequal distribution of information before discussions. Thus, all information may be taken into account and it leads to a better decision.

Second tip:

Experts from various fields within the group should be identified. These designations could improve the sharing of unique information. Since it comes from experts, it will be welcomed and discussed by the whole group.

To conclude

It is always difficult, in a real context, to be aware of the elements that may harm the group. Bias in information sharing is the most common, as inter-individual differences play an important role. Each person acts according to what she considers important or not, and therefore chooses to disclose information or not. Even knowing the existence of this bias, there is no automatic technique which guarantees it will be avoided. There may always be a doubt that subsists or a small voice in ones head: “maybe I will sound stupid if I speak…”.

Nevertheless, being aware that our thoughts and knowledge may be key elements in decision making, is important and stimulates our contributions.

If you have opinions on this subject, feel free to comment 

References :
(1) Toma, c., Vasiljevic, D., Oberlé, D., & Butera, F. (2012). Assigned experts with competitive goals with hold information in group decision making. British Journal of Social Psychology.

(2) Vasiljevic, D. (2010). A quelles conditions les groupes échappent-ils aux biais dans le raisonnement ? Le rôle des méta-informations. Thèse de doctorat. Université Paris Ouest, Paris, France.

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