Scientists have found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. This could help explain some of the crazy concepts that seem to be going on in our government right now! (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). The scientists used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.
Researcher Boleslaw Szymanski says, "When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10%, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. (But) once that number grows above 10%, the idea spreads like flame."
To reach their conclusion, the scientists developed computer models of various types of social networks. One of the networks had each person connect to every other person in the network. The second model included certain individuals who were connected to a large number of people, making them opinion hubs or leaders. The final model gave every person in the model roughly the same number of connections. The initial state of each of the models was a sea of traditional-view holders. Each of these individuals held a view, but were also, importantly, open minded to other views.
Once the networks were built, the scientists then "sprinkled" in some true believers throughout each of the networks. These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.
Researcher Sameet Sreenivasan says, "In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models." To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models "talked" to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener’s belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.
"As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change,” Sreenivasan says. "People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further. If the true believers just influenced their neighbors, that wouldn't change anything within the larger system, as we saw with percentages less than 10."
As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. “In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks.” Here at home, we have rumors about "death panels" and elderly voters casting ballots for people who are AGAINST the things that are keeping them alive: Social Security and Medicare.
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