The strength of weak leaders: an experiment on social influence and social learning in teams

  • Berno BuechelEmail author
  • Stefan Klößner
  • Martin Lochmüller
  • Heiko Rauhut
Original Paper


We investigate how the selection process of a leader affects team performance with respect to social learning. We use a laboratory experiment in which an incentivized guessing task is repeated in a star network with the leader at the center. Leader selection is either based on competence, on self-confidence, or made at random. In our setting, teams with random leaders do not underperform. They even outperform teams with leaders selected on self-confidence. Hence, self-confidence can be a dangerous proxy for competence of a leader. We show that it is the declaration of the selection procedure which makes non-random leaders overly influential. To investigate the opinion dynamics, we set up a horse race between several rational and naïve models of social learning. The prevalent conservatism in updating, together with the strong influence of the team leader, imply an information loss since the other team members’ knowledge is not sufficiently integrated.


Social networks Confidence Overconfidence Bayesian updating Naïve learning Wisdom of crowds 

JEL Classification

D83 D85 C91 


Supplementary material

10683_2019_9614_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 1678 KB)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland
  2. 2.Saarland UniversitySaarbrückenGermany
  3. 3.University of HamburgHamburgGermany
  4. 4.University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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