Most critics of democracy often invoke the uninformed citizen as one its problems. But a recent finding suggests ‘that uninformed individuals support the decision of the majority and may prevent a particularly determined minority from prevailing over the rest... this means that individuals who are undecided need not necessarily present a risk to the democratic decision-making process; on the contrary, they can offer protection against the dominance of a small but strong-willed group.’
According to a press release from Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, a team of researchers using a variety of computer models ‘have demonstrated that uninformed individuals can also bring about a majority decision, even if the minority is more determined than the majority.’
“Our results are therefore applicable to all systems in which individuals would rather follow one another than enter into conflict and make decisions in the interests of their neighbours. This is true of various social organisms, such as, for example, shoals of fish, flocks of birds or herds of mammals. And of course our findings are also transferable to human societies,” Ian Couzin from Princeton University explains.
According to the press release, ‘as a reality check for the model, the researchers also studied the behaviour of shoaling fish... the fish began with a predilection for the colour yellow, so that those trained to swim to the yellow disc acquired a much stronger preference than those trained to swim to the blue disc.’
The results confirmed the results of the computer model: five fish trained to strongly prefer yellow placed with six fish trained to prefer blue but with a weaker focus ensured the whole shoal swam towards the yellow target; ‘however, when, in a second series of tests, the researchers introduced five or ten untrained
fish, these altered the outcome of the collective decision. Despite their strong predilection, the fish trained to prefer yellow were unable to prevail. The untrained and therefore uninformed fish sided with the majority, and all of them then headed for the blue disc.’