Why so many big lines into terrible restaurants…

It must be a good restaurant since the line is so long. Hm… you are likely just failed to update your beliefs in a rational way.

Imagine you are in a classroom and there is an urn with three balls in front of everyone. You don’t see the colour of balls, but you do know equally likely it could be majority blue (2 blue 1 red) or majority red (1 blue 2 red). Since you don’t know which urn exactly is there (true state of the world) you need some evidence before making a guess. Now every person in class one by one come and pick one ball from the urn and without showing it announces his choice. Believe it or not, but this is your restaurant choice situation.

Two possibilities for the urn is an analogue to whether this restaurant good or bad. A person that comes to make a choice has several pieces of information to combine. Taking one ball from urn is the same as if you have read some review about the restaurant before. The information is not perfect, the reviews could be biased or not representative for your taste. However, you also observed the choices of people before you. You do not know their private signal (what ball they picked from urn, i.e. what was their conclusion after studying the restaurant reviews), but you do know their choices.

Claiming that the restaurant must be good because the line is long would be true only if all people that come sequentially followed only their private signals. Then when your time has come to make a choice the line indicates independent draws of balls from the urn. If it the true state of the world was that the urn is majority blue you would have much more people that say so.

The thing is that those draws are clearly not independent. At some point, a person that has a private signal that states the urn is majority blue might see too many people choosing majority red and he will abandon his private signal and follow the crowd. So that when it is your turn to make a choice and you observe a line (i.e. heaps of people claiming their choice) it does not necessarily mean that the restaurant is good. Put differently, you do not account for correlation of public beliefs (a belief based on the observed choice before seeing your private signal) and private signals.

Well that is herding. And here is a presentation about it….

If that stuff sounded crazy awesome then read this and in the very very end this

It is obviously not about restaurants at all, it could be a choice of major for a college degree. Is being a doctor a good choice or not? There is no way to know for sure, you just have to combine your private signal with the public belief. If you don’t have a strong private belief, then it will be overwhelmed by the public belief and you just follow the crowd. It also could explain why in Russia or Germany during good times aaalll people would put out Nazi flags outside or put Stalin’s portrait on the wall at home and office. Or pretty much anything that involves guessing the state of the world by combining information from your guess and choices of others.

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