Inside Rensselaer
* Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for Spread of Ideas

This visualization shows 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).

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Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for Spread of Ideas

Scientists at Rensselaer 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, 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. Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

“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,” says center director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

As an example, the recent 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.”

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.

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,” says Associate Professor of Physics Gyorgy Korniss, co-author of the paper. “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 put 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.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 13, September 9, 2011
©2011 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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