Social information can undermine individual performance in exploration-exploitation tasks

AbstractIn many daily life situations, people face decisions involving a trade-off between exploring new options and exploiting known ones. In these situations, observing the decisions of others can influence people’s decisions. Whereas social information often helps making better decisions, research has suggested that under certain conditions it can be detrimental. How precisely social information influences decision strategies and impacts performance is, however, disputed. Here we study how social information influences individuals' exploration-exploitation trade-off and show that this adaptation can undermine their performance. Using a minimal experimental paradigm, we find that participants tend to copy the solution of other individuals too rapidly, thus decreasing the likelihood of discovering a better solution. Approximating this behavior with a simple model suggests, that individuals' willingness to explore only depends on the value of known existing solutions. Our results allow for a better understanding of the interplay between social and individual factors in individual decision-making.


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