Research Article: When those who know do share: Group goals facilitate information sharing, but social power does not undermine it

Date Published: March 11, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Annika Scholl, Florian Landkammer, Kai Sassenberg, Jan De Houwer.


Good team decisions require that team members share information with each other. Yet, members often tend to selfishly withhold important information. Does this tendency depend on their power within the team? Power-holders frequently act more selfishly (than the powerless)—accordingly, they might be tempted to withhold information. We predicted that given a task goal to ‘solve a task’, power-holders would selfishly share less information than the powerless. However, a group goal to ‘solve the task together’ would compensate for this selfishness, heightening particularly power-holders’ information sharing. In parallel, an individual goal to ‘solve the task alone’ may heighten selfishness and lower information sharing (even) among the powerless. We report five experiments (N = 1305), comprising all studies conducted in their original order. Analyses yielded weak to no evidence for these predictions; the findings rather supported the beneficial role of a group goal to ensure information sharing for both the powerful and the powerless.

Partial Text

Imagine a team leader and her assistants making decisions together in a team. This could be a business team discussing the best proposal for a new client or a group of doctors deciding upon the ideal treatment plan for a patient. In such contexts, each team member may have access to unique, important pieces of information—information that the other members do not know about. If the leader and all members share this information with each other, the team can reach an optimal decision together. Yet, at times, team members do not work together well. Rather, each member often selfishly tries to find the solution alone, by oneself—be it to be the best in the team, to maintain status, or for other selfish reasons [1,2]. To achieve this, rather than sharing information with each other, team members tend to keep information to themselves (e.g., [1, 3, 4, 5]). This can cause suboptimal group decisions with potentially high costs—such as, in the examples above, a failing proposal or suboptimal treatment plan (for a meta-analysis, see [6]). It is, thus, important to understand when team members do (not) selfishly refrain from sharing their information with each other.

To test our three hypotheses, we conducted three contrast analyses for each individual experiment. Each contrast captured the specific prediction as described by the (1) corruptive, (2) compensatory, and (3) selfish effect (Fig 1 above). Means, contrast effects, and effect sizes for each single study are reported in Table 1.

Team members making decisions together often have access to unique, important pieces of information that only they possess. When shared with their fellow members, these pieces of information can boost the group’s decision-quality and performance [41]. Yet, team members, per default, often seem to follow an individual goal to ‘solve the task alone’—which brings them to withhold information [2]. Investigating the role of high (and low) power within groups, the present research examined (a) if especially power-holders may selfishly withhold such information and (b) if a group goal can help overcoming this.




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