do we think one head is better than two?

Robb Willer sent me a link to this study “When Multiple Creators Are Worse Than One: The Bias Toward Single Authors in the Evaluation of Art.” It presents a series of experiments suggesting that people have a lower evaluation of artwork if it is presented as a collaborative effort rather than as a work of a single artist.

Of course this gets one thinking about the strong premium that is placed in some quarters of sociology on sole-authored work. Granted, this usually comes up in the context of individual evaluation, with the argument that it is hard to determine what the contribution of one person is on a multiple-authored work. But, can it have consequences for the evaluation of the work itself? Given that the findings of the experiment are about art, one possibility is that bias varies along the humanities science spectrum in sociology, where there’s bias toward single-authored work in humanities-oriented sociology and perhaps even against it in science-oriented sociology.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

2 thoughts on “do we think one head is better than two?”

  1. Thanks for the reference! Unfortunately, none of my universities have access to this article. That said, the abstract suggests that this result is related to work I’ve done using observational data from the Scratch online remixing community.

    Scratch is a website for users (mostly kids) to share animations and interactive games. We also found that, controlling for exposure, collaborative remixed works were systematically rated lower by the community than de novo works. In our case, we also had a measure of qualities of the projects including some variables that you might think are related to the humanities/science continuum you mention. We found as projects increased in the amount of code they included, this gap in the ratings of collaborative and remix projects narrowed. That said, as projects increased in the amount of media elements they included, the gap was larger.


  2. The forms of artwork in the experiments were sculptures, paintings, and poems, i.e., forms of artwork that can easily be done by a single person and for which it would be unusual to have multiple creators. The experimental forms of artwork thus seem to reflect forms of artwork biased toward “too many cooks spoil the broth” instead of “two heads are better than one.” (The authors seem to appreciate this.)

    One of the reasons why there might be bias in favor of multiple-authored works in science-oriented sociology is that the science-oriented sociology seems to have a higher demand for a separate role regarding methodology. So, for evaluating multiple-person social science, it might matter who the multiple authors are and what our perception of their roles is.


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