IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

From dissonance to resonance: cognitive interdependence in quantitative finance


  • Beunza, Daniel
  • Stark, David


This study explores the elusive social dimension of quantitative finance. We conducted three years of observations in the derivatives trading room of a major investment bank. We found that traders use models to translate stock prices into estimates of what their rivals think. Traders use these estimates to look out for possible errors in their own models. We found that this practice, reflexive modelling, enhances returns by turning prices into a vehicle for distributed cognition. But it also induces a dangerous form of cognitive interdependence: when enough traders overlook a key issue, their positions give misplaced reassurance to those traders that think similarly, disrupting their reflexive processes. In cases lacking diversity, dissonance thus gives way to resonance. Our analysis demonstrates how practices born in caution can lead to overconfidence and collective failure. We contribute to economic sociology by developing a socio-technical account that grapples with the new forms of sociality introduced by financial models - disembedded yet entangled; anonymous yet collective; impersonal yet, nevertheless, emphatically social.

Suggested Citation

  • Beunza, Daniel & Stark, David, 2012. "From dissonance to resonance: cognitive interdependence in quantitative finance," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 45604, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:45604

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Open access version.
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Franklin Allen & Douglas Gale, 1998. "Optimal Financial Crises," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 53(4), pages 1245-1284, August.
    2. Harrison, J. Michael & Kreps, David M., 1979. "Martingales and arbitrage in multiperiod securities markets," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 381-408, June.
    3. Francesca Cornelli & David D. Li, 2002. "Risk Arbitrage in Takeovers," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 15(3), pages 837-868.
    4. Arthur, W Brian, 1989. "Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In by Historical Events," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(394), pages 116-131, March.
    5. Hsieh, Jim & Walkling, Ralph A., 2005. "Determinants and implications of arbitrage holdings in acquisitions," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(3), pages 605-648, September.
    6. Officer, Micah S., 2007. "Are performance based arbitrage effects detectable? Evidence from merger arbitrage," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 13(5), pages 793-812, December.
    7. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-337, May.
    8. Millo, Yuval & MacKenzie, Donald, 2009. "The usefulness of inaccurate models: Towards an understanding of the emergence of financial risk management," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(5), pages 638-653, July.
    9. Daniel Beunza & David Stark, 2004. "Tools of the trade: the socio-technology of arbitrage in a Wall Street trading room," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(2), pages 369-400, April.
    10. Wanda J. Orlikowski, 1992. "The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 3(3), pages 398-427, August.
    11. Larcker, David F. & Lys, Thomas, 1987. "An empirical analysis of the incentives to engage in costly information acquisition : The case of risk arbitrage," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 111-126, March.
    12. Philippe Jorion, 2000. "Risk management lessons from Long‐Term Capital Management," European Financial Management, European Financial Management Association, vol. 6(3), pages 277-300.
    13. Smith, Vernon L & Suchanek, Gerry L & Williams, Arlington W, 1988. "Bubbles, Crashes, and Endogenous Expectations in Experimental Spot Asset Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(5), pages 1119-1151, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Kellard, Neil & Millo, Yuval & Simon, Jan & Engel, Ofer, 2017. "Close communications: hedge funds, brokers and the emergence of herding," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 64766, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. repec:eee:aosoci:v:61:y:2017:i:c:p:53-67 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. David Stark, 2014. "On Resilience," Social Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(1), pages 1-11, February.
    4. M├╝tzel, Sophie, 2013. "On coordination: Stories and meaning making in markets," economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, vol. 14(2), pages 4-9.
    5. Castelle, Michael & Millo, Yuval & Beunza, Daniel & Lubin, David C., 2016. "Where do electronic markets come from? Regulation and the transformation of financial exchanges," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 68650, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    6. repec:bla:jomstd:v:54:y:2017:i:5:p:711-738 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Bronk, Richard, 2013. "Hayek on the wisdom of prices: a reassessment," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 50371, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F3 - International Economics - - International Finance
    • G3 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:45604. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (LSERO Manager). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.