Authoritarians and dictators will disagree, but democracies work better. It has long been held that decisions made collectively by large groups of people are more likely to be accurate than decisions made by individuals. The idea goes back to the “JURY THEOREM” of Nicolas de Condorcet, an 18th-century French philosopher among the first to apply mathematics to the social sciences. Now it is becoming clear that group decisions are also precious for the success of social animals, such as ants, bees, birds, and dolphins. And those animals may have few things to teach people about collective decision-making. Specifically, animals that live in groups make two sorts of choices: (a) consensus decisions in which the group makes a single collective choice, as when house-hunting rock ants decide where to settle, and (b) combined decisions, such as the allocation of jobs among worker bees.
Condorcet’s theory describes consensus decisions, outlining how democratic decisions outperform dictatorial ones. If each jury member has only partial information, the majority decision is more likely to be correct than a decision arrived at by an individual juror. Moreover, the probability of a right decision increases with the size of the jury. But things become more complicated when information is shared before a vote is taken. People then have to evaluate the information before making a collective decision. According to some scientists who have studied group decision-making in humans and animals, this approach is what bees do, and they do it rather well. Specifically, a computer model on the decision-making process of the bees, developed at the London School of Economics (LSE), concluded that the ability of the bees to identify the best site quickly depends on the interplay of bees’ interdependence in communicating the whereabouts of the best place and their independence in confirming this information. This approach is something that the political members of the various parliaments, congresses, and senates should think about instead of voting along party political lines, even though the incentives to do so are far less than at national interests. There is danger in blindly following the party line, a threat that the honeybees seem to avoid.
Thus the dynamics of collective decision-making are closely interwoven with implementing these decisions. How this pertains to choices that people might make is unclear. But it does indicate the importance of recruiting active leaders to a cause because, as the ants and bees have discovered, the essential thing about collective decision-making is to get others to follow.
Georgios Ardavanis – 05/05/2023