Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas?
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has posted an announcement of recent research results concerning the process of social transformation. Titled "Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas," the announcement offers the counterintuitive conclusion that when a belief is held by 10 percent of a population, a tipping point has already been reached. The "visualization" above is explained:
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 reaches 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green).But there's a condition essential to this ideological transformation:
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 ten percent must hold their belief fanatically. The rest of society adopts the new belief but holds it in a rather different manner:
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.In short, the other 90 percent of society simply shifts from one belief to another without having a strong commitment to either. But why do people shift this way?
"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.With an acronym like SCNARC (Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center), this group might be hard to take seriously, and I do have my serious doubts about these 'findings'. The study was done purely as a computer model, but reality is a lot more complex, so I doubt that even a fanatical 10 percent minority would be the tipping point. Moreover, if "people do not like to have an unpopular opinion," why would they 'convert' to a belief held by merely 10 percent of the population? Nevertheless, the research results are intriguing and worth considering, particularly for analyzing the spread of religious beliefs, where fanaticism does play a significant role. For instance, its application to the rapid spread of Islamist ideas in recent years might be illuminating in some respects. But I've not read the original paper, so I'm not qualified to apply its findings.
Just for the official record, the authors of the scientific paper were Boleslaw Szymanski (SCNARC Director), Sameet Sreenivasan (SCNARC Research Associate), and Gyorgy Korniss (Associate Professor of Physics), along with Chjan Lim (Professor of Mathematics), Jierui Xie (graduate student), and Weituo Zhang (graduate student).