An economics and psychological approach to solving the mystery of group decision making

LANGUAGE ≫ Japanese

OKANO Yoshitaka

Specialized field

Game theory, Experimental economics

For Details


What is the difference between individual and group decision making?

When we engage in economic activities, the formation of groups cannot be avoided. Please imagine this scenario: people discuss a common goal and then have to make a decision as a group.

Assistant Professor Okano explains, "Let's take policy as an example. You may object if you are told that one politician has decided the policy, but you may accept placidly if you are told that a group of politicians have discussed the matter and decided the policy. In other words, it seems that we tend to expect a good outcome from collective decision-making."

Then, what is the significance of discussion in groups? How do the characteristics of collective decision making differ from those of individual decision making? With these questions as a starting point, Dr. Okano determined the differences between individual and group decision making using experimental economics methodology to elucidate the economic features of group decision making. From those results he aims to construct a new economic theory.

Based on a series of experiments to study decision making in various configurations of individuals and groups, Dr. Okano has determined that decision making by individuals is different from decision making by groups, and that people make more self-interested, sophisticated and rational decisions as a group. This result seems to lend support to the traditional economic theory that characterizes humanity as selfish and rational.

Moreover, his results indicate that in the decision-making process, a group can process more information than an individual. He comments, "An answer that we were hoping for has emerged regarding a factor of collective decision making."

Further development of the theory through collaboration with other fields

A number of questions arise. Is it best to make decisions collectively in all cases? Does it depend on the case? Now let's think about a case where although it would be better for the group if the group members were to cooperate, it could be beneficial for an individual if that person did not cooperate.

For example, take the example of global environmental issues. It is necessary to have cooperation by all the countries of the world to achieve benefit for society as a whole; however, to do so, much effort and cost would be required, so for one country, not cooperating might better serve that country's interests. Dr. Okano has conducted experiments to identify and compare the characteristics of individual and group decision making in such societal dilemma scenarios.

Previous research has found that groups pursue their own interests and make more rational decisions than individuals; however, if that is the case, if people pursue their own interests, it will not be beneficial for society. In such a social dilemma scenario, how would groups respond? This research confirms the findings of previous studies: that in decision making, groups tend to pursue their own interests. Thus, in the end, we cannot generalize and say that group decision making in the context of societal dilemmas is always good.

Dr. Okano is currently working to solve the mystery of why differences in decision making occur between groups and individuals. For that analysis, he uses the social value orientation (SVO) measure, a tool used in social psychology. In his experiments, he classified people into two types, prosocial (those who act to benefit other people), and proself (those who pursue their own interests). He found that if prosocial people and proself people join to form a group, the group will be more selfish than groups consisting of only prosocial people or only proself people. One mystery related to human nature has been explained; this will afford some wisdom that can be applied to making better judgements, depending of course on group composition and situation.

Dr. Okano concludes, "The major reason I could get these progressive results was the fact that I adopted social psychology indicators in my experiments. This was possible thanks to the structure of KUT, where we have opportunities for regular discussion with researchers from diverse fields, including psychology."