groupthink three ways

Played Wits & Wagers this weekend but only for a precious 30 minutes or so; I wanna play again! It’s a trivia game based on numerical answers (percentage of drivers in a country, number of award nominations for a television show, number of players on a sports team, etc.) and players submit an answer to the board, and then bet on the resulting choices. The answers are arranged from large to small which basically creates a spread each time based on the group’s response, very similar to the normal distributions/bell curves I’ve been working with in statistics class. We found consistently that despite people’s initial responses, they gravitate towards the central value; the board itself is weighted to the tails meaning that there is minimal payoff if you go with the average but are rewarded when you go with outliers. Very much recommended.

In my chemistry class, we play a similar game using the iClicker, a remote control that our professor uses to gauge class participation and keep us on our toes. I haven’t been in college for a long time but damn, I didn’t think I would have needed to purchase a remote control to learn chemistry. This article in the Village Voice came out a few weeks into the semester, and we all found it amusing. Basically, our professor uses it to quiz us throughout the class with maybe a dozen or so questions. He sometimes puts the program into “live” mode so the results tally in real time; if the answer is predominantly “C” then you will see everyone quickly change their answers and you can see the bar chart for the relative frequencies change before our eyes; good for laffs.

Quite funny, but true: the larger the sample, the more accurate the assessment about the population; asking a reasonable question (or even a ridiculous one like guessing how many jellybeans are in a jar) can usually be solved just by taking the average; if you want to win one of those prizes for guessing the number of some minute object in a large container, just wait until everyone else writes down their answers, take the average and you’ll pretty much get the right answer; I’ve seen it happen a few times and it’s a genius technique. Additional perspectives are available but I like the groupthink route the best.