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Extremism and Social Learning

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  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Cass R. Sunstein

Abstract

When members of deliberating groups speak with one another, their predeliberation tendencies often become exacerbated as their views become more extreme. The resulting phenomenon -- group polarization -- has been observed in many settings, and it bears on the actions of juries, administrative tribunals, corporate boards, and other institutions. Polarization can result from rational Bayesian updating by group members, but in many contexts, this rational interpretation of polarization seems implausible. We argue that people are better seen as Credulous Bayesians, who insufficiently adjust for idiosyncratic features of particular environments and put excessive weight on the statements of others where there are 1) common sources of information; 2) highly unrepresentative group membership; 3) statements that are made to obtain approval; and 4) statements that are designed to manipulate. Credulous Bayesianism can produce extremism and significant blunders. We discuss the implications of Credulous Bayesianism for law and politics, including media policy and cognitive diversity on administrative agencies and courts.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13687.

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Date of creation: Dec 2007
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Publication status: published as Journal of Legal Analysis (Winter 2009) 1 (1): 263-324. doi: 10.4159/jla.v1i1.10
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13687

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  1. Edward L. Glaeser, 2004. "Psychology and the Market," NBER Working Papers 10203, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Miles, Thomas J. & Sunstein, Cass R., 2007. "The Real World of Arbitrariness Review," Working paper 550, Regulation2point0.
  3. Shleifer, Andrei & Mullainathan, Sendhil & Schwartzstein, Joshua, 2008. "Coarse Thinking and Persuasion," Scholarly Articles 11022284, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Edward L. Glaeser & Bryce A. Ward, 2006. "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2100, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  5. Stephen Morris, 1999. "Political Correctness," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1242, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  6. Glaeser, Edward L. & Ward, Bryce A., 2006. "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography," Working Paper Series rwp06-007, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  7. Edward L. Glaeser & Bryce A. Ward, 2006. "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 119-144, Spring.
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Cited by:
  1. Rupert Sausgruber & Jean-Robert Tyran, 2009. "Tax Salience, Voting, and Deliberation," NRN working papers 2009-25, The Austrian Center for Labor Economics and the Analysis of the Welfare State, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.

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