A test of synergy in dynamic system control tasks.

Thomas Schultze*, Sylvana Drewes, Stefan Schulz-Hardt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individual performance in controlling complex dynamic systems such as managing production in a company or keeping ecosystems in balance is often suboptimal. In this article, we provide the first unequivocal test of whether groups are superior to individuals when controlling dynamic systems. In addition, we test to what extent performance advantages of groups are simply the result of statistically aggregating a larger number of individual opinions and to what extent they represent true synergy attributable to within-group interaction. In 3 experiments, we compared the system control performance of interacting real groups with that of equally sized nominal groups and with individuals. We provide evidence that groups indeed perform better than individuals in dynamic system control tasks. Furthermore, in comparing real groups with nominal groups, we show that, although the majority of real groups’ performance advantage stems from statistical aggregation, there is also evidence of true synergy. Finally, we identify the mechanism by which groups achieve synergy, namely group-to-individual transfer. Discussion allows group members to exchange critical information about the system, leading to an improved individual capability to control the system, which, in turn, improves group performance. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)890-914
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 01 May 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Psychological Association


  • complex problems
  • dynamic systems
  • group decision-making
  • group performance
  • synergy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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