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Understanding "Centrality Bias" in Teams

Understanding "Centrality Bias" in Teams

Think for a moment about the group of people you would describe as your "team." These may be frequent co-authors, other teachers at your school, administrative staff with whom you work daily, etc. For me, for example, this "team" is the HASTAC staff.

Now imagine going through a list of your "teammates," and assigning a numeric value to the degree to which you are interdependent on one another. Do you provide information or materials which are necessary for them to do their job? To what extent are the tasks you each do related? Now imagine that everyone in the group does a similar exercise, quantifying their own relationship to everyone else.

According to research from Jonathon Cummings of -Duke's Fuqua Business school, you are likely to overestimate the degree to which others on your team depend on you! At a talk hosted by the Duke Network Analysis Center, Dr. Cummings shared a current project which explored this "centrality bias."

There are many reasons that this type of bias could be bad for an organization. It tends to make groups more difficult to manage and creates friction when different facets of a project are integrated into a final product. Dr. Cummings' research suggests, fortunately, that there are several factors that reduce this self-misperception. People in leadership roles and people who spend more of their time on a project tend to be less biased in their evaluations, as do pairs of individuals who have known each other for longer periods of time, or who work in close physical proximity.

Dr. Cummings also made the very salient point that many aspects of this type of research have been explored by one discipline or another, but that there is very little work that integrates these findings across fields. Specifically, network researchers have found that people are generally quite poor at reporting how frequently they interact with others in their network, and there is a good literature on the task interdependence and labor re-integration. There is also a lot of very interesting work in psychology on cognitive and motivational biases -- individuals tend to overestimate their own importance, and attribute success to their own actions, but failures to their environment (See this interesting review in Science).

Dr. Cummings' work brings these research threads together in an interesting way, producing important research questions and generating even more captivating answers.

The unbelievably themativally-relevant image at the top of this post is courtesy of on Flickr.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1243622. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

1 comment

Thanks for sharing this research! The centrality bias is certainly happening all the time. I tend to think it has both pros and cons. From the other way around it could be the source of motivation and sense of responsibility. I guess it might interact with other, say, personality variables. For example some people may get pumped when they feel they are making important contribution to the group but some others may take this feeling to a negative direction. This bias can easily form if people in the group lack awareness of other people's activities, so it is always important to increase the transparency and awareness during collaboration.