Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance

Vicky Chuqiao Yang, Mirta Galesic, Harvey McGuinness, and Ani Harutyunyan
PNAS August 31, 2021 118 (35) e2106292118;

In collective decision-making systems, such as committees and governments, many individuals follow others instead of evaluating the options on their own. Can a group settle on the option with higher merit when social learners prevail? Previous research has reached mixed conclusions because collective decisions emerge from a complex interaction of cognitive and social factors, which are rarely studied together. This paper develops a simple yet general mathematical framework to study this interaction and predicts a critical threshold for the proportion of social learners, above which an option may prevail regardless of its merit. The results suggest predictable limits to the proportion of social learners in collective situations from teamwork to democratic elections, beyond which the collective performance is affected negatively.

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