New Research Suggests a Way to Improve Crowd Wisdom

It could make political forecasting of the future much more accurate.

Researchers from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out a way to cut through “crowd wisdom” (popular information that’s not necessarily accurate) to get to the correct answer, according to research they recently published in the journal Nature.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The researchers found that when you have two possible answers, the correct answer is the one that’s more popular than you’d expect. Here’s an example from the study: The researchers asked people to answer yes or no to whether Philadelphia is the capital of Pennsylvania and to guess how many people would agree with them.

Most people responded “yes”, which is incorrect (Harrisburg is the capital). The majority of the crowd, even those who knew “no” was the right answer, thought most people would get the answer wrong. The actual number of people who said “yes” to Philadelphia as the capital was lower than expected, making “no” the “surprisingly popular” and correct answer.

The findings could make crowd surveys used in political and economic forecasting much more accurate, according to a Scientific American article on the study. “In principle, it could be applied everywhere we use majority voting, where it’s feasible to ask people not only for their own decision, but also what proportion of people they think will agree,” said Stefan Herzog, a researcher in decision-making at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, who wasn’t involved in the study but was interviewed about it by Scientific American.

Read more on Scientific American.