Ethnic Diversity Reduces “Groupthink,” Economic “Bubbles”

Despite progress in raising awareness about implicit bias and stereotypes, most people are less likely to trust recommendations and evaluations from people of different ethnic groups.

Sheen Levine

Sheen Levine

However, this bias may reduce the “herd mentality” that characterized recent price “bubbles” in U.S. housing and global financial markets, reported Columbia’s Sheen S. Levine, Evan P. Apfelbaum of MIT, Goethe University’s Mark Bernard, Texas A&M’s Valerie L. Bartelt, Edward J. Zajac of Northwestern, and University of Warwick’s David Stark.
They concluded that, “Diversity facilitates friction that enhances deliberation and upends conformity.”

Economic “bubbles” occur when the majority of traders, probably influenced by a type of “groupthink,” set inaccurate prices, leading to a mismatch between market prices and true asset values.

Irving Janis

Irving Janis

Groupthink can occur when three conditions interact, according to Yale’s Irving Janis:

  • Group Cohesiveness
    • Deindividuation,” when group cohesiveness becomes more important than individual dissenting views,
  • Group Structure
  • Context
    • Stressful external threats,
    • Recent failures,
    • Decision-making difficulties,
    • Moral dilemmas.
Scott E. Page

Scott E. Page

A mathematical model, developed by University of Michigan’s Scott E. Page and Lu Hong of Loyola University, demonstrated that a wider range of viewpoints leads to less groupthink and more balanced decisions.

Diverse groups ran into fewer “dead ends” in developing solutions than homogenous groups full of smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.

David A. Thomas

David A. Thomas

Likewise, additional experimental evidence by Georgetown’s David A Thomas and Robin J. Ely of Harvard confirmed that identity-diverse groups can outperform homogeneous groups.
Group errors depended on group member ability and member diversity, expressed in the formula:

Collective Accuracy = Average Accuracy + Diversity.

To test the impact of group diversity on market “bubbles,” Levine’s group constructed experimental markets in Singapore and Texas, USA, in which participants traded stocks to earn money.

Evan Apfelbaum

Evan Apfelbaum

More than 175 volunteers with backgrounds in business or finance were randomly-assigned to groups of six ethnically-homogeneous or ethnically- diverse participants.

Traders knew the ethnic composition of their groups, but they couldn’t communicate with each other.
In addition, their “trades” of dividend-paying stock during 10 rounds were anonymous.

Homogeneous groups set inflated selling prices, yet traders in those groups still bought the stock, resulting in increasing stock prices.

Mark Bernard

Mark Bernard

In contrast, traders in diverse groups refused inflated selling prices, so the stock price fell to approximately the price in an “ideal” market with “rational” traders.

When traders and other decision-makers come from similar ethnic, social, and attitudinal backgrounds, they tend to place undue confidence in others’ opinions and decisions, and tend not to subject them to rigorous analysis and scrutiny.

Valerie Bartelt

Valerie Bartelt

As a result, they may be more likely to accept prices and deals that deviate from actual underlying values.
Levine’s group concluded that “homogeneity…imbues people with false confidence in the judgment of coethnics, discouraging them from scrutinizing behavior.”

  • How do you mitigate “groupthink” in organizational decision-making?


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©Kathryn Welds


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