FEATURE30 March 2016

Size matters

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Behavioural science Europe Features Impact

Two brains are better than one, but do too many cooks spoil the broth? A new mathematical model claims to identify the optimal size of a crowdsourcing group, and bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. By Bronwen Morgan

Size matters crop

Crowdsourcing – the process of getting ideas, work, or funding from a crowd of people – has become central to modern business and, in the guise of online communities, to market research. It would be easy to assume that the bigger the group, the better the outcome. But new research suggests that this may not be the case.

A team of academics, led by Zoran Levnajic of the Faculty of Information Studies in Slovenia, has created a new mathematical model that says – for some tasks – crowdsourcing a problem works best when a certain subset of the population chooses not to participate.

“Human beings probably have an innate tendency to operate in groups, ” the paper explains. “The emerging skill of social problem-solving has allowed our ancestors to face the challenges of gradually increasing complexity. This factor not only determined our evolutionary success, but still shapes our cultural and social behaviour.”

But the paper points out that while the ...