When Is a Crowd Wise?


    loading  Checking for direct PDF access through Ovid

Abstract

Numerous studies and anecdotes demonstrate the “wisdom of the crowd,” the surprising accuracy of a group’s aggregated judgments. Less is known, however, about the generality of crowd wisdom. For example, are crowds wise even if their members have systematic judgmental biases, or can influence each other before members render their judgments? If so, are there situations in which we can expect a crowd to be less accurate than skilled individuals? We provide a precise but general definition of crowd wisdom: A crowd is wise if a linear aggregate, for example a mean, of its members’ judgments is closer to the target value than a randomly, but not necessarily uniformly, sampled member of the crowd. Building on this definition, we develop a theoretical framework for examining, a priori, when and to what degree a crowd will be wise. We systematically investigate the boundary conditions for crowd wisdom within this framework and determine conditions under which the accuracy advantage for crowds is maximized. Our results demonstrate that crowd wisdom is highly robust: Even if judgments are biased and correlated, one would need to nearly deterministically select only a highly skilled judge before an individual’s judgment could be expected to be more accurate than a simple averaging of the crowd. Our results also provide an accuracy rationale behind the need for diversity of judgments among group members. Contrary to folk explanations of crowd wisdom which hold that judgments should ideally be independent so that errors cancel out, we find that crowd wisdom is maximized when judgments systematically differ as much as possible. We reanalyze data from 2 published studies that confirm our theoretical results.

    loading  Loading Related Articles