What groups talk about

Groups talk about what they already know:

A new meta-analysis (pdf) of 72 studies, involving 4,795 groups and over 17,000 individuals has shown that groups tend to spend most of their time discussing the information shared by members,
which is therefore redundant, rather than discussing information known
only to one or a minority of members. This is important because those
groups that do share unique information tend to make better decisions.

Another important factor is how much group members talk to each other. Ironically, Jessica Mesmer-Magnus and Leslie DeChurch found that groups that talked more tended to share less unique information.

Hey, Alex, demand curves slope downwards!  Hey Robin, people signal!  Hey, Bryan, etc.


I wonder whether the Internet increases or dampens this effect. There are blogospheres, but every now and then they at least get enraged at each other.

I'm pretty sure I saw this in a Dilbert Cartoon 10 years ago.

That's why it is probably utility maximizing to have contrarians around. I live in Cambridge MA and I try to bring up non-liberal perspectives in conversations if I can.

I think in general groups spend a lot of time reinforcing their social ties, which means talking about what's common between them. My g/f is taking a "group dynamics" class and she said the same thing.

To talk about what is not common is an invitation to conflict, which people don't want. Instead they want to strengthen their social bonds and increase trust. It's always good to have people you know and trust.

Remember that social bonds and trust are very very important. If you want people to share more dissimilar ideas, this is not cost-free.

One problem with this type of research is the lack of information specificity that makes the meta-analysis less useful. Several of the studies that were aggregated (some in this study are in my review piles-- I mean file system) make no attempt at categorizing information depth or type.

Sharing declarative information is most common in communication and it serves a useful purpose: "He was looking at the small margins of CDOs." Anyone reading this here in MR knows the declarative meaning of CDOs and margins. It's not ironic that active functional communication groups groups tend to share less unique information-- it's is because they share common language and information cues.

A better set of questions would revolve around how groups discuss procedural matters (it's harder and more complex because you must share understanding not only of declarative information but of order, magnitude, and methods); and how groups deal with contextual information (yet more difficult because of shared declarative, procedural, and contextual info details that must be shared).

Sharing information in groups means very little. What size of group they are, the type of information they are communicating, and at what quality of common understanding-- that's the really interesting question.

Let the Russell's Paradox-structured jokes begin.

A possibly useful function of talking about what we already know is overcoming the barrier between theoretical knowledge and knowledge that impacts practice. Members of the group would not know which of its values are core values if they did not talk about them repeatedly.

If I'm in a group and one person "knows" something no one else does I tend not to believe that person.

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