The spread of minority beliefs

Posted on September 2, 2011 by


egyptian revolution

A study from the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State, USA analysed the influence of committed minority beliefs on populations.  Researchers found that once the minority beliefs of a population pushes beyond 10 percent it rapidly decreases the amount of time needed for the belief to spread to the majority.  Once that critical threshold is breached an opinion is able to spread widely according to the study, while those that fail to reach 10 percent will not have their opinions spread.  According to authors of the study, this would hold true regardless of the type of network that a group of committed believers are using.  The findings are based on computer models of different kinds 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. Science Blog

Researchers found that once ‘committed agents’ were added to the networks, minority opinion was eventually adopted by the majority.  If there are indeed situations where this holds true say for example the recent political revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, or belief in human-induced climate change in the US, then there may be a tipping point within social networks that is central to the spread of beliefs.  The study seems confident that this is indeed the case and that tipping points are present in social networks where minority views become majority views:

In closing, we have demonstrated here the existence of a tipping point at which the initial majority opinion of a network switches quickly to that of a consistent and inflexible minority. There are several historical precedents for such events, for example, the suffragette movement in the early 20th century, and the rise of the American civil-rights movement that started shortly after the size of the African-American population crossed the 10% mark. Such processes have received some attention in sociological literature under the term minority influence. ‘Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities’. Physical Review E

There are other factors to account for including time as well as the possibility that committed agents in a network could also be influenced.  If this 10 percent rule is true then influencing a minority of ‘committed believers’ could bring about a particular social change.  Gyorgy Korniss, a co-author of the study, said that “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”.  It will be interesting to see how this work is used in the future, especially if other researchers find similar results with actual events.


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

Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities. Physical Review E

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