December 8, 2021 Leave your thoughts

new paper: Disinformation trumps honesty in competition for social influence

Ralf Kurvers, Uri Hertz, Jurgis Karpus, Marta Balode, Bertrand Jayles, Ken Binmore, Bahador Bahrami: “Strategic disinformation outperforms honesty in competition for social influence“. iScience 2021

Why is it that politicians (take your pick for a name here) who are repeatedly found out to be lying still manage to enjoy public support? Our paper provides a definitive answer to this very difficult question

We start by asking if there is an optimal strategy for gaining social influence? It runs out there is: if you already have influence (eg party in government) be vague & avoid saying anything radical. If ignored (eg opposition party), be loud, exaggerated, attention-grabbing and most importantly, be ready to lie.

The Science of social influence has rarely examined the role of competition between influencers. Our study is the first one to do this and we shows that, once we think of social influence as a competition, we understand why crazy outliers or loudmouth radicals stand a good chance of influencing others. Our analysis demonstrates why those who successfully trade in social influence – eg politicians, celebrities etc, aren’t successful because of their smart or correct, but because they have a better strategy for attracting and managing the attention of those listening.

“We show that a strategic, rational adviser communicates information to the client honestly when the client favours them, but lies about it when the client favours the competitor,” explains Dr. Jurgis Karpus, a behavioural game theorist and a philosopher at LMU Munich. “Taking an empirical approach, we show, across seven experiments, that such a strategic adviser is indeed able to outperform an honest adviser in swaying individuals, the majority vote in anonymously voting groups, and the consensus vote in communicating groups of clients,” adds Dr. Uri Hertz, a cognitive scientist at the University of Haifa.

“The sobering observation from our results is that individuals, majority-voting groups, and consensual groups can indeed be swayed by a disingenuous strategy that is not committed to truth, but to beating the competition,” explains Dr. Bahador Bahrami, a social neuroscientist at LMU Munich. “A key psychological insight emerging from our work is that the slogan of ‘voting for change’ can be exploited by a manipulative adviser that follows the game-theoretic optimal strategy,” adds Ralf Kurvers. The results highlight an important point: unsubstantiated opinions that are at odds with mainstream views can often appeal to a broad audience of voters who are electing someone to make decisions on their behalf. The next step will be to investigate which human character traits are especially vulnerable to such manipulative strategies that thrive on deception, and to develop ways to empower people to see through such opportunistic lies.

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