The ecological rationality of simple group heuristics: Effects of group member strategies on decision accuracy

Theory and Decision 60 (4):403-438 (2006)


The notion of ecological rationality implies that the accuracy of a decision strategy depends on features of the information environment in which it is tested. We demonstrate that the performance of a group may be strongly affected by the decision strategies used by its individual members and specify how this effect is moderated by environmental features. Specifically, in a set of simulation studies, we systematically compared four decision strategies used by the individual group members: two linear, compensatory decision strategies and two simple, noncompensatory heuristics. Individual decisions were aggregated by using a majority rule. To assess the ecological rationality of the strategies, we varied the distribution of cue validities, the quantity, and the quality of shared information. Group performance strongly depended on the distribution of cue validities. When validities were linearly distributed, groups using a compensatory strategy achieved the highest accuracy. Conversely, when cue validities followed a J-shaped distribution, groups using a simple lexicographic heuristic performed best. While these effects were robust across different quantities of shared information, the quality of shared information exerted stronger effects on group performance. Consequences for prescriptive theories on group decision making are discussed.

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