The Wisdom of the Crowd in Combinatorial Problems


should be sent to Mark Steyvers, University of California, Irvine, Department of Cognitive Sciences, 2316 Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway Building, Irvine, CA 92697-5100. E-mail:


The “wisdom of the crowd” phenomenon refers to the finding that the aggregate of a set of proposed solutions from a group of individuals performs better than the majority of individual solutions. Most often, wisdom of the crowd effects have been investigated for problems that require single numerical estimates. We investigate whether the effect can also be observed for problems where the answer requires the coordination of multiple pieces of information. We focus on combinatorial problems such as the planar Euclidean traveling salesperson problem, minimum spanning tree problem, and a spanning tree memory task. We develop aggregation methods that combine common solution fragments into a global solution and demonstrate that these aggregate solutions outperform the majority of individual solutions. These case studies suggest that the wisdom of the crowd phenomenon might be broadly applicable to problem-solving and decision-making situations that go beyond the estimation of single numbers.