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Most important decisions in our society are made by groups, from cabinets and commissions to boards and juries. When disagreement arises, opinions expressed with higher confidence tend to carry more weight 1,2. Although an individual's degree of confidence often reflects the probability that their opinion is correct 3,4, it can also vary with task-irrelevant psychological, social, cultural and demographic factors 5-9. Therefore, to combine their opinions optimally, group members must adapt to each other's individual biases and express their confidence according to a common metric 10-12. However, solving this communication problem is computationally difficult. Here we show that pairs of individuals making group decisions meet this challenge by using a heuristic strategy that we call 'confidence matching': They match their communicated confidence so that certainty and uncertainty is stated in approximately equal measure by each party. Combining the behavioural data with computational modelling, we show that this strategy is effective when group members have similar levels of expertise, and that it is robust when group members have no insight into their relative levels of expertise. Confidence matching is, however, sub-optimal and can cause miscommunication about who is more likely to be correct. This herding behaviour is one reason why groups can fail to make good decisions 10-12.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature Human Behaviour

Publication Date