Fermian guesstimation can boost the wisdom-of-the-inner-crowd

Sci Rep. 2024 Feb 29;14(1):5014. doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-53639-3.


How can people's ability to make accurate estimations be boosted? Psychological research on the wisdom-of-the-inner-crowd suggests that people's judgments improve when they use a simple consider-the-opposite-strategy, dubbed-inspired by Enlightenment philosopher Hegel-dialectical-bootstrapping: A person generates a first estimate (thesis), then rejects it and generates another one (anti-thesis), and finally integrates both (synthesis). Yet, the wisdom-of-the-inner-crowd-phenomenon comes with controversy concerning its measurement, robustness, and moderators. We (1) introduce a novel class of strategies to elicit the wisdom-of-the-inner-crowd. These strategies root in physics, where Nobel-laureate Enrico Fermi used back-of-the-envelope guesstimation, for instance, when assessing the explosive yield of the first tested nuclear bomb. Fermian strategies prescribe decomposing an estimation problem into subtasks, solving the subtasks separately, and ultimately integrating those solutions into a final estimate. In an experiment using a new task-environment, we find (2) that a similarity-based Fermian-strategy boosts the wisdom-of-the-inner-crowd even more than consider-the-opposite does, (3) that the provision of a memory aid differentially affects those two strategies' performance, and (4) that data trimming matters. Moreover, and for the first time, we document (5) overprecision in wisdom-of-the-inner-crowd estimations. Finally, we (6) replicate previous results, including that the collective intelligence of two persons still outperforms asking oneself twice.