Ignorance is Bliss

Wired talks about a study that appears to demonstrate that ignorance is good for democracy.
Not surprisingly, when the majority of animals had a strong preference to move to one location, the group moved there. Even when the majority’s preference was equal in strength to the minority’s preference, the majority won out. However, when the strength of the minority’s preference was increased past a certain threshold, the minority could dictate the group’s behavior. These results suggest that an opinionated minority can win out over a majority with weaker convictions.
Things got more interesting when the researchers added animals without a preference to the model. Under these conditions, even when the minority’s preference was extremely strong, the presence of the “uninformed” individuals actually returned control to the majority. The more uninformed individuals there were, the stronger this effect became (up to a point; eventually noise took over).
The researchers then used an experimental approach to ask the same questions using golden shiners, a very social species of fish known for their schooling behavior. Some fish were trained to swim to a yellow target in the tank, and some were trained to move toward a blue target. Intrinsically, the fish preferred the yellow target—even after training, their preference for the yellow target was stronger than their preference for the blue target. This created an natural way to test the researchers’ theories.
The results from these lab tests mirrored the findings of the computational model. When the minority of fish in the tank were those trained to go to the yellow target (meaning they had a strong preference for the option), they won out and the group went there. When untrained fish were introduced into the tank, however, the majority regained control, even though their preference for the blue target was weaker.
In this country, we seem to move toward whatever a vocal minority wants, unless there is an opposing vocal minority:  then, it has been my observation, the minority usually wins that has the worse idea.  Perhaps we need more ignorance to straighten things out, although I'm also increasingly thinking that we just need less social tolerance for vocal minorities.

1 comment:

douglas said...

What it tells us is that we need better vocal minorities. The Tea Party is a good start. I've realized that my conservative tendencies to live and let live have to get put away when someone else is being vocal about making that less possible. I'm then beholden to speak up and be a competing vocal minority. If we get enough people to see conservative values as being the better course, we can steer the herd.