Research ArticleSOCIAL SCIENCES

Wise or mad crowds? The cognitive mechanisms underlying information cascades

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Science Advances  15 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 29, eabb0266
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb0266

Abstract

Whether getting vaccinated, buying stocks, or crossing streets, people rarely make decisions alone. Rather, multiple people decide sequentially, setting the stage for information cascades whereby early-deciding individuals can influence others’ choices. To understand how information cascades through social systems, it is essential to capture the dynamics of the decision-making process. We introduce the social drift–diffusion model to capture these dynamics. We tested our model using a sequential choice task. The model was able to recover the dynamics of the social decision-making process, accurately capturing how individuals integrate personal and social information dynamically over time and when their decisions were timed. Our results show the importance of the interrelationships between accuracy, confidence, and response time in shaping the quality of information cascades. The model reveals the importance of capturing the dynamics of decision processes to understand how information cascades in social systems, paving the way for applications in other social systems.

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