Gavrilets, S., Auerbach, J., & Van Vugt, M. (2016).Convergence to consensus in heterogeneous groups and the emergence of informal leadership, Scientific Reports. 6:29704 | DOI: 10.1038/srep29704
When group cohesion is essential, groups must have efficient strategies in place for consensus decision-making. Recent theoretical work suggests that shared decision-making is often the most efficient way for dealing with both information uncertainty and individual variation in preferences. However, some animal and most human groups make collective decisions through particular individuals, leaders, that have a disproportionate influence on group decision-making. To address this discrepancy between theory and data, we study a simple, but general, model that explicitly focuses on the dynamics of consensus building in groups composed by individuals who are heterogeneous in preferences, certain personality traits (agreeability and persuasiveness), reputation, and social networks. We show that within-group heterogeneity can significantly delay democratic consensus building as well as give rise to the emergence of informal leaders, i.e. individuals with a disproportionately large impact on group decisions. Our results thus imply strong benefits of leadership particularly when groups experience time pressure and significant conflict of interest between members (due to various between-individual differences). Overall, our models shed light on why leadership and decision-making hierarchies are widespread, especially in human groups.