Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas


SCNARC visualization
In this visualization, we see the tipping point where minority opinion (shown in red) quickly becomes majority opinion. Over time, the minority opinion grows. Once the minority opinion reached 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green). Image credit: SCNARC/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. – See more at: http://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/2902#sthash.UC7jODRB.dpuf*

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found  that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable  belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of  the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks  Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, 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.

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, 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,”  said SCNARC Director Boleslaw  Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10  percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

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.”

The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an  article titled “Social  consensus through the influence of committed  minorities.”

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of  committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network  in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the  percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a  society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how  or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

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.

“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,” said SCNARC    Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet  Sreenivasan. 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 said. “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.”

The research has broad implications for understanding how opinion spreads. “There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to  suppress a developing opinion,” said Associate Professor of  Physics and co-author of the paper Gyorgy Korniss.  “Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to  move before a hurricane or spread new information on the  prevention of disease in a rural village.”

The researchers are now looking for partners within the  social sciences and other fields to compare their computational  models to historical examples. They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where  the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one  traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing  viewpoints. An example of this polarization would be Democrat  versus Republican.

The research was funded by the Army Research Laboratory  (ARL) through SCNARC, part of the Network Science  Collaborative Technology Alliance (NS-CTA), the Army  Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research  (ONR).

The research is part of a much larger body of work taking  place under SCNARC at Rensselaer. The center joins researchers  from a broad spectrum of fields – including sociology, physics,    computer science, and engineering – in exploring social  cognitive networks. The center studies the fundamentals of  network structures and how those structures are altered by  technology. The goal of the center is to develop a deeper  understanding of networks and a firm scientific basis for the  newly arising field of network science. More information on the  launch of SCNARC can be found at     http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2721&setappvar=page(1)

Szymanski, Sreenivasan, and Korniss were joined in the research by Professor of Mathematics Chjan Lim, and graduate  students Jierui Xie (first author) and Weituo Zhang.

Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco                          Phone: (518) 276-6542                          E-mail: demarg@rpi.edu


Read article here: http://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/2902

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