Conformity Constrains Creativity

Source: BBC, Jan 2016

A researcher at University College London, he is interested in how people’s thinking is influenced by those around them – for example, whether seeing other people’s choices affects our own.

The decisions people make as a group tend to be more prejudiced and less intelligent than the ones they make individually. “When people interact, they end up agreeing, and they make worse decisions,” he says. “They don’t share information, they share biases. We’re trying to figure out why that is, and how we can make collective decisions better.”

Group conformity stands in marked contrast to the “wisdom of crowds” effect, whereby aggregating the opinions of large numbers of people gives answers or predictions more accurate than those of any individual. This happens only when members of a crowd make their judgements independently of each other, and it is most effective when a crowd is diverse. In cohesive groups, on the other hand, where members share an identity, the urge for unity overrides all. So when Richardson presents us with a picture of a killer whale and asks us how much the creature weighs, he’ll be better off taking the average of the answers we give independently, rather than following the scramble of dots on the screen.

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