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Majority rules: how good are we at aggregating convergent opinions?

  • Hugo Mercier (a1) and Olivier Morin (a2)


Mathematical models and simulations demonstrate the power of majority rules, i.e. following an opinion shared by a majority of group members. Majority opinion should be followed more when (a) the relative and absolute size of the majority grow, the members of the majority are (b) competent, and (c) benevolent, (d) the majority opinion conflicts less with our prior beliefs and (e) the members of the majority formed their opinions independently. We review the experimental literature bearing on these points. The few experiments bearing on (b) and (c) suggest that both factors are adequately taken into account. Many experiments show that (d) is also followed, with participants usually putting too much weight on their own opinion relative to that of the majority. Regarding factors (a) and (e), in contrast, the evidence is mixed: participants sometimes take into account optimally the absolute and relative size of the majority, as well as the presence of informational dependencies. In other circumstances, these factors are ignored. We suggest that an evolutionary framework can help make sense of these conflicting results by distinguishing between evolutionarily valid cues – that are readily taken into account – and non-evolutionarily valid cues – that are ignored by default.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Institut Jean Nicod, Département d'études cognitives, ENS, EHESS, PSL University, CNRS, ParisFrance. E-mail:


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