Professor in Political Science and Computer and Information Science

David Lazer

Collective Cognition

How do we think together?


Our ability to solve problems surely has a critical collective component. The ever present existential question present for most of human/prehumen history of “how do I survive another day” was probably usually “how do we survive another day.” How our cognitions are linked together has emerged as one of the most interesting questions of the 21st century, as the Internet has removed many of the barriers to connectedness that have existed up to now.

My research in this area has focused on issues of exploration and exploitation in problem solving, focusing on how we collectively balance the need to produce novel solutions while taking advantage of what we know works. An interesting conundrum hinted at in my work is that there are times that connectedness is actually dysfunctional, because it results in a level of systemic homogeneity that squelches novelty—a theme I am exploring in some of my current research (stay tuned to this page if you are interested in seeing more).

Collective Cognition: Publications List

Publications list

D. Lazer, E. Bernstein, “Problem solving and search in networks,”, in Todd, P.M., Hills, T.T., and Robbins, T.W., Cognitive search: Evolution, algorithms, and the brain. Strüngmann Forum Reports, vol. 9. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, forthcoming in 2012.

D. Lazer and A. Friedman, “The network structure of exploration and exploitation,” Administrative Science Quarterly, December, 2007.

N. Katz,D. Lazer, H. Arrow, and N. Contractor, “Network Theory and Group Research,” in Poole, M. S., & Hollingshead, A. B. (Eds.) (in press). Theories of Small Groups: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 2005.

N. Katz, D. Lazer, H. Arrow, and N. Contractor “Network Theory and Small Groups,” Small Group Research 35(3), June 2004.

Journal Article
Publication date: 
Thomas T. Hills
Peter M. Todd
David Lazer
A. David Redish
Iain D. Couzin
The Cognitive Research Group

Search is a ubiquitous property of life. Although diverse domains have worked on search problems largely in isolation, recent trends across disciplines indicate that the formal properties of these problems share similar structures and, often, similar solutions.

Journal Article
Publication date: 
Jesse Shore
Ethan Bernstein
David Lazer

Using data from a novel laboratory experiment on complex problem solving in which we varied the structure of 16-person networks, we investigate how an organization's network structure shapes the performance of problem-solving tasks. Problem solving, we argue, involves both exploration for information and exploration for solutions.

Journal Article
Publication date: 
Jason Radford
Andy Pilny
Ashley Reichelmann
Brian Keegan
Brooke Foucault Welles
Jefferson Hoye
Katherine Ognyanova
Weleed Meleis
David Lazer

Experimental research in traditional laboratories comes at a significant logistic and financial cost while drawing data from demographically narrow populations. The growth of online methods of research has resulted in effective means for social psychologists to collect large-scale survey-based data in a cost-effective and timely manner.