Thursday, December 4, 2008

Social voting for group decision making

An interesting couple of paragraphs from Honest Signals, a book on "network science" (via the comments on OB):
In our close cousins the apes, whose only known communication is nonlinguistic, decision making via the use of social signaling is a familiar scenario. ... (Stewart and Harcourt 1994) ... Sue Boinski and Aimee Campbell describe how capuchin monkeys use trilling sounds to cooperatively decide when and where the troop should move (DeWaal 2005). Monkeys at the leading edge of the troop trill [a vibrational form of speech] the most, encouraging others to follow the path they have found, and others take up the trilling in order to coordinate everyone's movements.

Similar processes of social decision making are common in many animals and virtually all primates ... [C]ycles of signaling and recruitment, until a point is reached where everyone in the group accepts that a consensus has been reached (Conradt and Roper 2005; Couzin et al 2005; Couzin 2007). Some evolutionary theorists think that this type of "social voting" process could be the most common type of decision making for social animals ...
In President Bush's recent interview with Charlie Gibson, he emphasized that going to war in Iraq was largely a collective decision by members of Congress and other world leaders. Plus, let's not forget that a majority of the country supported the decision at the time.

Social voting is still the predominant way that we make decisions, even in our "advanced" society. We need to recognize that while this may be a common way to make emotionally-charged decisions, it should not be used as evidence that a decision is good or bad. For that, you need an unadulterated cost-benefit analysis.