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Process Gains in Group versus Individual Decision Making

15 January, 2016 - 09:22

One important factor that helps groups to outperform individuals on decision-making tasks is the type of interdependence they have. In general, positively interdependent (cooperative) groups tend to make better decisions than both negatively interdependent (competitive) groups and individuals, particularly in complex tasks (Johnson & Johnson, 2012). These process gains come from a variety of factors. One is that when group members interact, they often generate new ideas and solutions that they would not have arrived at individually (Watson, 1931). Group members are also more likely than individuals to notice and correct mistakes that can harm sound decision making (Ziller, 1957). They additionally have better collective memory, meaning that many minds hold more relevant information than one, and superior transactive memory, which occurs when interactions between group members facilitate the recall of important material (Forsyth, 2010). Also, when individual group members share information that is unique to them, they increase the total amount of data that the group can then draw on when making sound decisions (Johnson & Johnson, 2012). Given these obvious advantages, are there ever times when groups might make less optimal decisions than individuals? If you have ever sat in a group where, with hindsight, a fairly foolhardy decision was reached, then you probably already have your own answer to that question. The more interesting question then becomes why are many heads sometimes worse than one? Let’s explore some of the most dramatic reasons.