Researchers in the US 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.
Not only that – but one of the researchers reckons that once the number of supporters grows above 10%, “the idea spreads like flame.”
This research into the shaping of conventional wisdom is fascinating for Alf, who is sure he can use it to his advantage. It simply remains to come up with the right idea.
The research was undertaken by a bunch of boffins at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center and was published in the journal Physical Review E.
It tackles some important questions for we politicians: What does it take for an idea to spread from one to many? And for a minority opinion to become the majority belief?
The answer – according to the study – is just 10%.
In other words, once 10% of a population is committed to an idea, it’s inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing opinion of the entire group. The key is to remain committed.
Alf was alerted to this research and its findings by the latest blog post at Freakonomics.
Here’s the abstract:
We show how the prevailing majority opinion in a population can be rapidly reversed by a small fraction p of randomly distributed committed agents who consistently proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to influence.
Specifically, we show that when the committed fraction grows beyond a critical value pc=10%, there is a dramatic decrease in the time Tc taken for the entire population to adopt the committed opinion. In particular, for complete graphs we show that when ppc, Tc~lnN.
We conclude with simulation results for Erdos-Rényi random graphs and scale-free networks which show qualitatively similar behavior.
Freakonomics gave Alf his steer to a press statement from the research centre, headed Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas.
The statement says the scientists used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.
But let’s not fuss too much about the methods used to establish the 10% tipping point.
More important, 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.”
Szymanski gives as an example the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt.
“In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks.”
Matthew Philips, the author of the post at Freakonomics, points out that the research has implications for all kinds of things, from understanding how religious and political beliefs spread, to why certain fashion trends catch on.
And it certainly sheds new light on the seemingly intractable debt ceiling debate, and how a committed minority can drive the entire conversation.
The research actually validates the entrenched strategy of the handful of House Republicans threatening to sink John Boehner‘s budget proposal.
Turns out if you’re in the minority, you have less of an incentive to compromise than the majority does. Because if you stick to your guns, and reach that crucial 10%, your ideas eventually win out.
Let’s hope none of this reaches the strategists in the the Labour and Green party camps.