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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Cass R. Sunstein, 2007. "Extremism and Social Learning," NBER Working Papers 13687, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13687
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Rupert Sausgruber & Jean-Robert Tyran, 2008. "Tax Salience, Voting, and Deliberation," Discussion Papers 08-21, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    2. Levy, Gilat & Razin, Ronny, 2015. "Does Polarisation of Opinions Lead to Polarisation of Platforms? The Case of Correlation Neglect," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 10(3), pages 321-355, September.
    3. Laurent Denant-Boemont & Enrico Diecidue & Olivier l’Haridon, 2017. "Patience and time consistency in collective decisions," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 20(1), pages 181-208, March.
    4. Antony Millner & Hélène Ollivier, 2016. "Beliefs, Politics, and Environmental Policy," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 10(2), pages 226-244.
    5. Attila Ambrus & Ben Greiner & Parag Pathak, 2009. "Group Versus Individual Decision-Making: Is there a shift?," Economics Working Papers 0091, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
    6. W. Viscusi & Owen Phillips & Stephan Kroll, 2011. "Risky investment decisions: How are individuals influenced by their groups?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 43(2), pages 81-106, October.
    7. Glaeser, Edward L. & Sunstein, Cass R., 2015. "A Theory of Civil Disobedience," Working Paper Series rwp15-036, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    8. Bougheas, Spiros & Nieboer, Jeroen & Sefton, Martin, 2015. "Risk taking and information aggregation in groups," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 34-47.
    9. Bryan Caplan & Stephen Miller, 2012. "Positive versus normative economics: what’s the connection? Evidence from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy and the General Social Survey," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 150(1), pages 241-261, January.
    10. Inés Moreno de Barreda & Gilat Levy & Ronny Razin, 2017. "Persuasion with Correlation Neglect: Media Power via Correlation of News Content," Economics Series Working Papers 836, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    11. Daniel Stone & Basit Zafar, 2014. "Do we follow others when we should outside the lab? Evidence from the AP top 25," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 49(1), pages 73-102, August.
    12. Attila Ambrus & Ben Greiner & Parag Pathak, 2013. "How Individual Preferences Get Aggregated in Groups - an Experimental Study," Working Papers 13-21, Duke University, Department of Economics.
    13. Xiu Chen & Fuhai Hong & Xiaojian Zhao, 2016. "Concentration and Unpredictability of Forecasts in Artificial Investment Games," Economic Growth Centre Working Paper Series 1608, Nanyang Technological University, School of Social Sciences, Economic Growth Centre.
    14. Levy, Gilat & Razin, Ronny, 2015. "Segregation in Education and Labour Market Discrimination: The Role of Peer Beliefs," CEPR Discussion Papers 10394, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    15. Ambrus, Attila & Greiner, Ben & Pathak, Parag A., 2015. "How individual preferences are aggregated in groups: An experimental study," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 1-13.

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    • A1 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics

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