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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 Note: ED LE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Matthew A. Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2004. "Media, Education and Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, pages 117-133.
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    3. Erik Eyster & Matthew Rabin, 2005. "Cursed Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(5), pages 1623-1672, September.
    4. Edward L. Glaeser, 2004. "Psychology and the Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 408-413, May.
    5. Sendhil Mullainathan & Joshua Schwartzstein & Andrei Shleifer, 2008. "Coarse Thinking and Persuasion," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(2), pages 577-619.
    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," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2100, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    8. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-877, October.
    9. Peter M. DeMarzo & Dimitri Vayanos & Jeffrey Zwiebel, 2003. "Persuasion Bias, Social Influence, and Unidimensional Opinions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 909-968.
    10. Colin F. Camerer & Teck-Hua Ho & Juin-Kuan Chong, 2004. "A Cognitive Hierarchy Model of Games," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(3), pages 861-898.
    11. 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, 2008. "Tax Salience, Voting, and Deliberation," Discussion Papers 08-21, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.

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    JEL classification:

    • A1 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics

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