Wisdom-of-Crowds Approaches for Improving Predictions from Surveys

In this project we investigate how survey accuracy can be improved using the wisdom of crowds. Surveys are important tools for making inferences about current attitudes, opinions, and behaviors as well as making forecasts about future trends. However, they are facing threats to their validity that can decrease the accuracy of their inferences. The project explores the value of two methods based on the wisdom of crowds for improving survey accuracy. One method entails using respondents' knowledge of their social circles, that is, asking respondents to predict the behavior of friends and family. The other method is a scoring procedure that rewards honest and careful answers. By conducting fine-grained tests of the mechanisms underlying these methods, the project will provide insights regarding how to reduce common threats to the validity of surveys. The project also will inform ways to capture the early indications of opinion change relevant for elections and other societal trends. The results could change the way election polls are conducted and improve election predictions. Members of the project team include Henrik Olsson (PI), Mirta Galesic (Co-PI), Wändi Bruine de Bruin (Co-PI), and Drazen Prelec (Co-PI). This project is supported by a grant from NSF (SES 2019982).

The Role of Individual and Social Networks in the Formation and Change of Beliefs

One unique feature of human thought is the development and maintenance of beliefs. People carry with them an enduring sense of what is true or false, and whether or not things exist in the world. The nature of human beliefs -- their structure, function, and change -- has been the subject of study across many fields of science over many decades. Past theories and research have approached the subject in two distinct ways. One, most common in the behavioral and cognitive sciences, is to understand how a single person's network of beliefs relate to one another. Another, most common in the social and economic sciences, is to understand how one person's beliefs are related to the beliefs of other people in one's social network. All of these efforts to understand the nature of beliefs are motivated by important broader impacts. For example, public health campaigns aim to change beliefs, and ultimately behaviors, in service of the health and welfare of society. The aim of this project is to develop a new theoretical framework that integrates understanding of belief networks at both the individual and social levels. One expected outcome is a better understanding of why some beliefs are resistant to change while others are not. Members of the project team include Henrik Olsson (PI), Mirta Galesic (Co-PI), Jonas Dalege, and Tamara van der Does. This project is supported by a grant from NSF (BCS 1918490).

Influence of Peers on Beliefs About Vaccination and GM Food: Mechanisms and Interventions

Beliefs that are not aligned with the current scientific evidence can have important consequences for national health, prosperity, and welfare. For example, insufficient rates of vaccination could place U.S. children at greater risk of vaccine-preventable diseases and preventing the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops can hurt local economies and farmers. Why are people sometimes reluctant to adopt beliefs that are in line with scientific consensus? We investigate the social influence of peers, a factor that is known to be important for belief formation but is still insufficiently understood: For example, parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their healthy children are often clustered in the same neighborhoods, and information from social environments and cultural differences have a strong influence on the acceptance of GM food. In a longitudinal experimental study of parents and their peers, we investigate the mechanisms underlying peers? social influence: informational cues one receives from peers, and social network cues that reinforce the need to be in sync with peers' views. For example, disagreeing with a well-connected peer can lead to disapproval by others in one's social network and loss of valuable connections; whereas disagreeing with a less prominent member might not matter as much. This project will inform the design of public education interventions that leverage the theoretical knowledge about how social networks influence people?s beliefs about science, while providing transparent information about scientific consensus and promoting people?s own agency when forming their beliefs. These interventions can be applied to a broad range of science topics of national interest. Members of the project team include Henrik Olsson (Co-PI), Mirta Galesic (PI), and Tamara van der Does. This project is supported by a grant from NSF (SES 1949432).