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College of Liberal and Fine Arts


Study Suggests Tipping Point For Use of Expertise

July 29, 2013


Small Group Research has published "Member Awareness of Expertise, Information Sharing, Information Weighting, and Group Decision Making", a paper authored by Dr. Michael Baumann, Associate Professor of Psychology. 


Groups who identify and make use of their experts drastically outperform groups who do not. Unfortunately groups aren’t very good at identifying their experts. This is a problem for many types of groups, including new groups and groups with changing membership. In such groups it is unlikely that all members know who the expert is, but it is possible that some subset of members knows. This led us to wonder how many members / what proportion of the group had to know who the expert was for the group to make optimal use of their expert.  Our reading of the literature suggested a sudden shift in discussion and weighting might occur once a majority of members knew who the expert was. To test this, we assembled groups and had them perform a decision making task involving a fictional company. This allowed us to control what decision-relevant information each member knew prior to the start of discussion. In each group, we used that control to create an expert (i.e., one member with more information) and to manipulate the number of members aware of the expert’s identity prior to discussion.

We found that “who needed to know” the expert’s identity for the group to benefit from it depended on the benefit in question.  The tipping point for improved discussion was half the group.  Groups in which more than half the members knew who the expert was discussed the problem significantly more thoroughly than those in which half or fewer knew who the expert was.  Things were more complex when it came to how groups use the information. Rather than one tipping point, the improvement appears to occurs in two steps. The first shift occurred when even one member entered discussion aware of expertise, and the second when a majority entered discussion that way.  Interestingly, neither pattern was found for members’ ratings of expertise (i.e., explicit recognition). 

These findings suggest not all members need to be aware who the expert is for the group to obtain the full benefits of recognition of expertise. They also raise the possibility that the processes leading to improved information sharing and weighting may differ from each other, and that explicit recognition may not be necessary for either.

The paper discussed above, “Member Awareness of Expertise, Information Sharing, Information Weighting, and Group Decision Making,” by Michael R. Baumann (UTSA) and Bryan L. Bonner (University of Utah) is forthcoming in Small Group Research and now available in the journal’s OnlineFirst section.

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