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How to Convince a Majority

Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/09/from-sushi-to-tunisia-a-guide-to-swaying-majority-opinion/244589/

In class, our discussion of networks so far has been limited to the basic model of friendship networks in which people are friends or not friends, strong or weak friends, and the implications of these networks. In real life though, these friendship networks do more than just create a bond of friendship between people. These networks also act as sources of support, and most importantly sources of information. The most direct source of information on a wide variety of subjects for most people is from their friendship network. Because of the personal nature of these relationships, information from these sources is invariably linked with personal opinions of the source. How personal opinions of several individuals affect the general opinion of an entire network is a question that deserves further inspection.

The article that I have decided to write my blog post on deals with how the flow of information within a network can influence the position people have on different issues. In a new study published in the journal Physical Review E, researchers have found that a passionate small minority of a network can effectively convince the majority to switch over to the minority point of view. They called this the “critical-threshold rule”. From studies of various scenarios, they concluded that only 10% of the population is needed to convince the other 90% provided that 2 conditions are met: the majority is flexible with their views and the minority is determined and passionate. 10% of the population is the critical threshold needed for the minority to convince people in the majority. This new finding is especially relevant in the world today as according to the authors, the critical-threshold rule explains how even after decades of oppressive rule, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were able to succeed so quickly. The authors also pose that the critical threshold rule also is relevant in explaining the explosive popularity of sushi in mainstream American cuisine and the woman suffrage movement in the early 20th century.

As explained by the researchers, the general logic behind this finding relies on the strength of opinion in the minority. This is similar to the logic behind the Strong Triadic Closure Theory discussed in class which relies on the strength of friendships between people. Strong Triadic Closure Theory poses that two people with strong links to a common mutual friend will at least become weak friends as well. Having the strong mutual friend means a greater chance of the two people eventually meeting each other. In critical-threshold rule, a person in the majority was converted after two interactions with people with strong views in the minority – one to introduce the idea and one to drive it home. In both Strong Triadic Closure Theory and the critical-threshold rule, the strength and weakness of the relationship/opinions are a crucial part of the theories.

An interesting follow-up experiment would be to study the aspects of these two theories in conjunction with each other. How would including the strength of the relationship as well as the strength of the opinion affect the critical-threshold rule? Would people in the minority be more likely to be convinced if they had a strong relationship with someone in the minority with a strong opinion? I believe studying the link between these two aspects would generate even more interesting findings. I challenge everyone reading this blog to think about how these two aspects would affect each other, and if you dare, actually do some research on it.

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