A democracy depends on uninformed individuals, we are informed

A democracy without a substantial number of uninformed individuals, may not know what it’s doing, metaphorically speaking. So implies this new study:

Uninformed Individuals Promote Democratic Consensus in Animal Groups,” Iain D. Couzin [pictured here in a blurry photo], Christos C. Ioannou, Güven Demirel, Thilo Gross, Colin J. Torney, Andrew Hartnett, Larissa Conradt, Simon A. Levin, Naomi E. Leonard, Science, December 16, 2011, vol. 334, pp. 1578-80. (Thanks to investigator Kevin Ma for bringing this to our attention.) The researchers, who hail from three democracies (USA, German and UK), explain:

“Conflicting interests among group members are common when making collective decisions, yet failure to achieve consensus can be costly. Under these circumstances individuals may be susceptible to manipulation by a strongly opinionated, or extremist, minority. It has previously been argued, for humans and animals, that social groups containing individuals who are uninformed, or exhibit weak preferences, are particularly vulnerable to such manipulative agents. Here, we use theory and experiment to demonstrate that, for a wide range of conditions, a strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice, but the presence of uninformed individuals spontaneously inhibits this process, returning control to the numerical majority. Our results emphasize the role of uninformed individuals in achieving democratic consensus amid internal group conflict and informational constraints.”

BONUS: Emily Badger’s take on the matter.

BONUS: Uninformed may not be the same thing as misinformed.