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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds

Ruchira Paul (a woman penetrating the blawgosphere) writes in with an editorial that emphasizes the wisdom of crowds in responding to disasters: the example used by the editorial is the ability for the Air France crash victims to evacuate in two minutes.  You can read about it here.  Here is what Ruchira had to say:

This is an interesting perspective to  human resilience in times of disasters.  With all the awareness about possible terrorist strikes, it may be helpful to our general psyche if we start thinking about this new danger as another safety issue like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and plane crashes. Just as we prepare ourselves for the eventualities of those but don't lose sleep over them daily, we should build a similar attitude towards terrorism .... as something that may happen but is not bound to.  The politicians should be candid with the public that not all loopholes can be plugged in the prevention of disasters (not just terrorism) and while we will do the best we can to save maximum lives, the public should have more confidence in its own common sense and cooperative spirit.

Of course, one could imagine that some forms of external coordination (by elites and experts) could help facilitate and optimize the self-generative coordination of groups.  Dan Kahan's recent post at Balkinization is on point, perhaps: Kahan discusses people's ability to accept information at odds with a strongly held belief.  He writes:

Cohen et al. show that individuals are much more willing to accept information that threatens a strongly held political value (e.g., opposition to the death penalty or opposition to abortion) shortly after some self-affirming experience -- e.g., doing well on a particular kind of test or being made aware that they possess traits that others respect. The mechanism behind this effect is that such affirmation buffers the threat to self that individuals would otherwise experience as they contemplated revising an opinion that they hold in common with others with whom they share a strong group identity.

So we all have the capacity to accept information that threatens our core political beliefs.  But certain external tinkering can give us the ability to do it better.

Enough pop psychology for the day.

Posted by Ethan Leib on August 9, 2005 at 01:58 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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