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Information Sampling, Belief Synchronization, and Collective Illusions

Author

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  • Jerker Denrell

    () (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, United Kingdom)

  • Gaël Le Mens

    () (Department of Economics and Business, Barcelona School of Management and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 08005 Barcelona, Spain)

Abstract

We demonstrate that a sampling-based mechanism can offer an alternative explanation for belief synchronization in social groups and the persistence of collective illusions. Our model assumes that people are more likely to sample popular alternatives than unpopular alternatives. We show that this mechanism is sufficient to explain belief synchronization: a strong majority of opinions will likely emerge in favor of one alternative. The reason is that the group is unlikely to move away from a state in which one alternative is very unpopular. If by chance most people come to dislike alternative A, they are all unlikely to sample it again and their opinions of A remain the same. When A is in fact the best alternative, a collective illusion has emerged because people mistakenly believe that a suboptimal alternative is the best. Our model implies that such a collective illusion is persistent. The model thus offers an existence proof that a collective illusion can occur even in settings where people do not infer that popular alternatives are better. The model also casts new light on the effect of online recommendation systems on attitude homogenization and the effect of majority voting on beliefs and attitudes. This paper was accepted by Yuval Rottenstreich, judgment and decision making .

Suggested Citation

  • Jerker Denrell & Gaël Le Mens, 2017. "Information Sampling, Belief Synchronization, and Collective Illusions," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 63(2), pages 528-547, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:63:y:2017:i:2:p:528-547
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2015.2354
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Fabrizio Germano & Vicenç Gómez & Gaël Le Mens, 2019. "The few-get-richer: a surprising consequence of popularity-based rankings," Economics Working Papers 1636, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

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