The Value of Disagreement

In 1907, Francis Galton famously found that when a crowd were asked to guess the weight of an ox, the average value of their responses was surprisingly accurate — in Galton’s experiment, it fell within 1 percent of the ox’s true weight. This is “the wisdom of crowds”: By canceling errors across individuals, the mean response often proves more accurate than individual estimates.

Interestingly, the same phenomenon can arise when we aggregate multiple estimates made by a single person (the “wisdom of the inner crowd”). And organizational behavior researchers Philippe van de Calseyde and Emir Efendić now find that the accuracy can be refined still further when people are asked to consider a question from the perspective of someone they often disagree with.

“In explaining its accuracy, we find that taking a disagreeing perspective prompts people to consider and adopt second estimates they normally would not consider as viable option, resulting in first and second estimates that are highly diverse (and by extension more accurate when aggregated),” the researchers write. “Our results suggest that disagreement, often highlighted for its negative impact, can be a powerful tool in producing accurate judgments.”

(Philippe van de Calseyde and Emir Efendić, “Taking a Disagreeing Perspective Improves the Accuracy of People’s Quantitative Estimates,” PsyArXiv, Nov. 15, 2019.)