Collective Communication and Behaviour in Response to Uncertain “Danger” in Network Experiments


In emergencies, social coordination is especially challenging. People connected with each other may respond better or worse to an uncertain danger than isolated individuals. We performed experiments involving a novel scenario simulating an unpredictable situation faced by a group in which 2,480 subjects in 108 groups had to both communicate information and decide whether to "evacuate." We manipulated the permissible sorts of interpersonal communication and varied group topology and size. Compared to groups of isolated individuals, we find that the social networks suppress necessary evacuations because of the spontaneous and diffuse emergency of false reassurance; yet, social networks also restrain unnecessary evacuations in situations without disasters. At the individual level, subjects have thresholds for responding to social information that are sensitive to the negativity, but not the actual accuracy, of the signals being transmitted. Social networks can function poorly as pathways for inconvenient truths that people would rather ignore.



H. Shirado, F. Crawford, and N. A. Christakis, “Collective Communication and Behaviour in Response to Uncertain “Danger” in Network Experiments,” Proceedings A of the Royal Society, (Jun 2020)

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