Two Heads Are Indeed Better Than One

Two Heads Are Indeed Better Than One

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Wise groups follow the advice of confident decision makers. So do foolish groups. But a group’s success or failure depends on whether what’s commonly known corresponds to the truth in a given situation, a new study finds. Heeding recommendations of the most confident member of a two- or three-person group often works well, says psychologist Asher Koriat of the University of Haifa in Israel. That’s because in many settings, high confidence is associated with majority opinions, which are frequently correct about general types of knowledge, Koriat reports in the journal Science.

Confidence-based group decisions go awry when majority opinions don’t jibe with reality. Most people assume, for example, that the larger of two countries in area also has a larger population, but there are exceptions to this rule. In these instances, the opinion of the least confident group member is most accurate, Koriat observes. This finding raises the provocative possibility that, in uncertain environments where common knowledge can’t be trusted or doesn’t exist, groups should rely on the guidance of those who express the most doubt about a decision.

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