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News and Notes in Finance and Quantitative Finance from MoneyScience

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Synchronicity, instant messaging, and performance among financial traders

March 17, 2011 by Jacob Bettany   Comments (0)

Long-standing problems are quite often solved simultaneously by various people working alone. Take, for example, naturalists Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, who separately proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. Or French physicist Edme Mariotte who independently landed on what is now known as Boyle's law of gases, without knowing that Robert Boyle had just done the same. Robert King Merton, the grandfather of social science, called it the concept of multiples. Most discoveries and inventions, he said, are made by multiple independent individuals unintentionally acting in sync, as opposed to by a single genius. It's not that people are intentionally cooperating, but rather, working in sync seems to increase the probability a problem will be solved.

A team composed of a sociologist, an engineer, and an economist at the Kellogg School of Management has now found a case to clearly demonstrate the truth of this slippery concept. By analyzing the actions of financial traders who buy and sell stocks, they found that trading in sync increased profits. And further, they found that synchrony arose spontaneously via instant messaging rather than through the direct guidance of a news broadcast or a mandate from a leader.

"The instant messaging data has allowed us to make a really a unique contribution to the field of finance," says Kathleen Hagerty, a professor of finance at the Kellogg School and an author on the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...

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