I develop a model of (individually rational) collective reality denial in groups, organizations and markets. Whether participants’ tendencies toward wishful thinking reinforce or dampen each other is shown to hinge on a simple and novel mechanism. When an agent can expect to benefit from other’s delusions, this makes him more of a realist; when he is more likely to suffer losses from them this pushes him toward denial, which becomes contagious. This general “Mutually Assured Delusion” principle can give rise to multiple social cognitions of reality, irrespective of any strategic payoff interactions or private signals. It also implies that in hierarchical organizations realism or denial will trickle down, causing subordinates to take their mindsets and beliefs from the leaders. Contagious “exuberance” can also seize asset markets, leading to evidence-resistant investment frenzies and subsequent deep crashes. In addition to collective illusions of control, the model accounts for the mirror case of fatalism and collective resignation. The welfare analysis differentiates valuable group morale from harmful groupthink and identifies a fundamental tension in organizations’ attitudes toward free speech and dissent.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Cognitive Dissonance and Groupthink
No sooner do I rail against the avoidance of cognitive dissonance theory by behavioral economists than a major paper employing CD in new and powerful ways appears: "Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets" by Roland Benabou. This paper places CD in a social context, where a club good is being produced, and individual effort depends on estimations of the future, but there is also utility or disutility from the state of expectation (influenced by information). Individuals “choose” to accept or reject new information (or combine the two in mixed strategy form), as in most formalizations of CD. The result is a social process that exhibits less or more CD at the individual level. Here is the abstract: