Learning Through the Grapevine

Research Seminars

The paper presented in this ZEW Research Seminar examines how well people learn when information is noisily relayed from person to person; and they study how communication platforms can improve learning without censoring or fact-checking messages. They analyze learning as a function of social network depth (how many times information is relayed) and breadth (the number of relay chains accessed). Noise builds up as depth increases, so learning requires greater breadth. In the presence of mutations (deliberate or random) and transmission failures of messages, they characterize sharp thresholds for breadths above which receivers learn fully and below which they learn nothing. When there is uncertainty about mutation rates, optimizing learning requires either capping depth, or if that is not possible, limiting breadth by capping the number of people to whom someone can forward a message. Limiting breadth cuts the number of messages received but also decreases the fraction originating further from the receiver, and so can increase the signal to noise ratio. Finally, they extend their model to study learning from message survival: e.g., people are more likely to pass messages with one conclusion than another. The authors find that as depth grows, all learning comes from either the total number of messages received or from the content of received messages, but the learner does not need to pay attention to both.


  • Prof. Matthew O. Jackson Ph.D.

    Prof. Matthew O. Jackson Ph.D. // Stanford University, USA

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