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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tolerance to failure unleashes the benefits of cognitive diversity in collective problem solving


Collective problem solving is supposed to benefit from cognitive diversity (e.g., when a team consists of individuals with different learning strategies). However, recent evidence for this claim fails to rule out an alternative explanation: that the benefit is due to moderate non-conformity, not diversity. We extend a previous agent-based simulation to distinguish these hypotheses, and demonstrate that diverse learning strategies alone do not yield the expected benefit. We extend the model further, based on an idea from the philosophy of science: Group-level benefits in complex problem solving often entail individual-level failures. Accordingly, we parameterize tolerance for failure, and show that there is an interaction between tolerance for failure and diversity. When tolerance for failure is zero, heterogeneous and homogeneous groups perform equally; when non-zero, diverse groups can outperform heterogeneous groups. Our agent-based simulations help clarify when cognitive diversity benefits collective problem solving.

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