Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Emerging Technology from the arXiv

A View from Emerging Technology from the arXiv

Decisions and the Influence of Others

Researchers work out a way to measure how much a decision is influenced by the opinions of others.

  • February 20, 2013

“To what extent are the opinions we hold about subjective matters the result of our own considerations or a reflection of the opinions of others?”

So begin Pavlin Mavrodiev and colleagues in describing an experiment to quantify how deeply people’s opinions are influenced by others. The answer gives pause for thought.

These guys, who are at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, studied the data from an experiment in which people were asked six questions with a specific answer that they were unlikely to know. For example, “what is the border length between Switzerland and Italy?”  

They were then shown the average answer given by everybody else in the test and asked to resubmit their answer.

Mavrodiev and co then looked to see if there were any patterns in the way people modified their reply.

It turns out that in these circumstances, the way people modify their answer follows a simple and linear mathematical rule.

That’s a surprise for two reasons. The first is that the questions were designed to produce responses ranging over 10 orders of magnitude. The simple rule held over this entire range.

Second, people seem to follow this rule regardless of their own emotional states and convictions, for example, in their own ideas or in the competencies of others. “Despite individual differences… the same mathematical relationship underlies the individual reactions to social influence,” say Mavrodiev and company.

That could have an important impact on the way social scientists model the behaviour of humans and the accuracy of their predictions about collective decisions.

Interesting stuff!

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1302.2472: Quantifying the Effects of Social Influence

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Online Only.
  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.