Collective cognition in humans: groups outperform their best members in a sentence reconstruction task

R.J.G. Clement, S. Krause, N. von Engelhardt, J.J. Faria, J. Krause, R.H.J.M. Kurvers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Group-living is widespread among animals and one of the major advantages of group-living is the ability of groups to solve cognitive problems that exceed individual ability. Humans also make use of collective cognition and have simultaneously developed a highly complex language to exchange information. Here we investigated collective cognition of human groups regarding language use in a realistic situation. Individuals listened to a public announcement and had to reconstruct the sentence alone or in groups. This situation is often encountered by humans, for instance at train stations or airports. Using recent developments in machine speech recognition, we analysed how well individuals and groups reconstructed the sentences from a syntactic (i.e., the number of errors) and semantic (i.e., the quality of the retrieved information) perspective. We show that groups perform better both on a syntactic and semantic level than even their best members. Groups made fewer errors and were able to retrieve more information when reconstructing the sentences, outcompeting even their best group members. Our study takes collective cognition studies to the more complex level of language use in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere77943
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • to-numbers problems
  • decision-making
  • prediction markets
  • group-performance
  • individuals
  • consensus
  • wisdom
  • crowd
  • size


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