This research provides evidence regarding the causal effect of group conformity on task performance in stable and variable environments. Drawing on studies in cultural evolution, social learning, and social psychology, we experimentally tested the hypotheses that conformity improves group performance in a stable environment (H1) and decreases performance (by hindering adaptability) in a temporally variable environment (H2). We compare the performance of individuals, low conformity groups, and high conformity groups in a four-arm randomized lab experiment (N = 240). High conformity was manipulated by rewarding agreement with the group’s majority and imposing a cost on disagreement. The monetary implications of conformity impaired performance in a variable environment but did not have a significant effect on performance in the stable environment. Intragroup individual-level analyses provide insights into the mechanisms that account for the group-level results by showing that lower conformity in groups facilitates efficient adaptability in the use of social information.
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- Cultural evolution
- Decisions from experience