Political deliberation, interest conflict, and the common knowledge effect

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Deliberation depends on the ability of deliberators to learn from each other through the exchange of information. However, the Common Knowledge Effect (CKE) finding, a well-established phenomenon affecting small-group discussion, shows that when people talk in groups they tend to ignore novel information and instead discuss commonly known information; things that everyone knew before discussion started. Some theorists have worried that the CKE makes small group discussion - one of the most common features of recent democratic innovations - a poor tool for making deliberative democracy a reality. However, most research on the CKE is limited to situations where group members share a common goal or interest, while political deliberation generally happens in situations where citizens have at least some conflicting interests. This paper looks for evidence of the CKE in two group-discussion experiments where subjects had partially conflicting interests, ultimately finding find no evidence of this effect. Scholars of deliberation frequently view conflicting interests as an obstacle to the success of deliberation; this result suggests that conflicting interests may, in fact, enhance deliberation b reducing the overreliance on commonly-known information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalJournal of Public Deliberation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 3 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author thanks Tali Mendelberg, Adam Meirowitz, Martin Gilens, Larry Bartels, Chris Karpowitz, Shawn Rosenberg, Chuck Myers, Michael Neblo, Joshua Pasek, Dave Glick, Dustin Tingley, Ben Lauderdale and participants in Princeton's American Politics Research Seminar and the University of Michigan's Interdisciplinary Workshop on American Politics for helpful feedback, discussion, and comments on this project. Jason Anton, Elizabeth Ingriselli, Anand Krishnamurthy, Nora Xu, Fiona Wilson, Mark Benjamin, Shaina Watrous, Kai Khor, and Pritha Dasgupta provided research assistance. Financial support at various phases was provided by the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, Princeton University, and the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Program. All errors are of course my own.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 International Association for Public Participation.All Rights Reserved.


  • Common knowledge effect
  • Deliberation
  • Group discussion
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