PT - JOURNAL ARTICLE
AU - Mason, Winter
AU - Watts, Duncan J.
TI - Collaborative learning in networks
AID - 10.1073/pnas.1110069108
DP - 2012 Jan 17
TA - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
PG - 764--769
VI - 109
IP - 3
4099 - http://www.pnas.org/content/109/3/764.short
4100 - http://www.pnas.org/content/109/3/764.full
SO - Proc Natl Acad Sci USA2012 Jan 17; 109
AB - Complex problems in science, business, and engineering typically require some tradeoff between exploitation of known solutions and exploration for novel ones, where, in many cases, information about known solutions can also disseminate among individual problem solvers through formal or informal networks. Prior research on complex problem solving by collectives has found the counterintuitive result that inefficient networks, meaning networks that disseminate information relatively slowly, can perform better than efficient networks for problems that require extended exploration. In this paper, we report on a series of 256 Web-based experiments in which groups of 16 individuals collectively solved a complex problem and shared information through different communication networks. As expected, we found that collective exploration improved average success over independent exploration because good solutions could diffuse through the network. In contrast to prior work, however, we found that efficient networks outperformed inefficient networks, even in a problem space with qualitative properties thought to favor inefficient networks. We explain this result in terms of individual-level explore-exploit decisions, which we find were influenced by the network structure as well as by strategic considerations and the relative payoff between maxima. We conclude by discussing implications for real-world problem solving and possible extensions.