Effective social norms: small groups

March 2015

At Harvard College Effective Altruism we ran a series of weekly dinners with our members. We quickly found out that people tended to cluster into a single conversation group. With fifteen or twenty attendees, that group got pretty unwieldy. In fact, the conversation actually dragged, probably because people were worried about talking in front of so many other that they didn’t know well. The result was that almost nobody got to talk and the discussions weren’t interesting.

Smaller groups make conversations more interesting. And they especially make the environment more friendly for people who are quiet, or less familiar with the ideas of effective altruism. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to encourage them:

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Alex Zhu

Completely agree. I think this applies to basically everything and not just EA.


I disagree that smaller groups are friendlier for quiet people. I think you’re assuming that everyone wants to talk. I often attend events where I know I’ll be below-average informed, and there I want to be a spectator to other people’s conversations. For that purpose, smaller groups are worse.