Diversity in a Social Context

Diversity in a Social Context

On the Role of Diversity of Perspectives in Groups

Patrick Grim, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Philosophy, SUNY Stony Brook
Sean McGeehan, SAS 2016


Project Start Date: 
May, 2015September, 2015

A lot of human interaction occurs in groups, particularly groups of people that have some goal in mind, such as political, scientific, and social institutions. When we evaluate these groups, we often look not just at the overall skill of the group but also its diversity of perspectives and skills.  For example, we might praise an incoming freshman class for being extremely diverse, or rebuke a neighborhood social club for being incompetent at planning the weekly dinner because it only considered a small number of options.

Our goal with this research is to understand how diversity of perspectives in groups affects the overall skill of a group. In some groups, increasing diversity helps the group do better — this has been the common wisdom about incoming classes of college students for decades. But there can also be groups in which increased diversity means reduced overall group expertise. So we ask, what exactly is the interplay between group diversity and group expertise?

We pursue that goal by using multiple agent-based computer simulations, collecting data from those models, and analyzing how those data bear on diversity in groups. We are currently working with models of expertise and diversity inspired by Hong and Page (2004) as well as Weisberg and Muldoon (2009). In the end, we hope to create and analyze a unified model of diversity and expertise that can help us understand several things: how breadth and depth of expertise and experience contribute to human flourishing; how we ought to organize society and relate to others; and what role diversity of perspectives plays and ought to play in society.

The project team includes philosophers, political scientists, and complex systems researchers from Penn and other institutions around the globe. For more information, please contact Prof. Daniel Singer.