Marie Ritter, Meng Wang, Johannes Pritz, Olaf Menssen and Margarete Boos

How collective reward structure impedes group decision making: An experimental study using the HoneyComb paradigm


This study investigates if and under which conditions humans are able to identify and follow the most advantageous leader who will them provide with the most resources. In an iterated economic game with the aim of earning monetary reward, 150 participants were asked to repeatedly choose one out of four leaders. Unbeknownst to participants, the leaders were computer-controlled and programmed to yield different expected payout values that participants had to infer from repeated interaction over 30 rounds. Additionally, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: single, independent, or cohesion. The conditions were designed to investigate the ideal circumstances that lead to identifying the most advantageous leader: when participants are alone (single condition), in a group that lets individuals sample information about leaders independently (independent condition), or in a group that is rewarded for cohesive behavior (cohesion condition). Our results show that participants are generally able to identify the most advantageous leader. However, participants who were incentivized to act cohesively in a group were more likely to settle on a less advantageous leader. This suggests that cohesion might have a detrimental effect on group decision making. To test the validity of this finding, we explore possible explanations for this pattern, such as the length of exploration and exploitation phases, and present techniques to check for confounding factors in group experiments in order to identify or exclude them as alternative explanations. Finally, we show that the chosen reward structure of the game strongly affects the observed following behavior in the group and possibly occludes other effects. We conclude with a recommendation to carefully choose reward structures and evaluate possible alternative explanations in experimental group research that should further pursue the study of exploration/exploitation phases and the influence of group cohesion on group decision making as promising topics for further research.