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Social influence and Polarization


We often see that during interaction people influence each other and grow more similar in opinions, values, and behavior. Classical modeling studies have demonstrated that social influence should, thus, lead to convergence cascades in which social groups end up in perfect uniformity. Empirical research, on the other hand, does not confirm these convergence tendencies. On the contrary, many empirical studies show that opinion diversity often remains stable and can actually increase over time. Trying to solve this puzzle, we have developed and tested new theories which can explain social diversity despite social influence.
 
We sought to explain two patterns of diversity. First, we sought to develop a model of opinion clustering, the existence of several internally homogeneous but mutually distinct subgroups. The animation movie shows typical clustering dynamics generated by one of our models. Second, we have developed new explanations of polarization, the development of maximally different subgroups. The surface graph shows a typical polarization process generated by one of our models.
 
We have developed several new models which are based on alternative mechanisms. All models, however, have in common that they explain clustering and polarization as emergent phenomena. In other words, models generate these social patterns without making the assumption that individuals seek to increase opinion diversity. Actually, one of our models does not even assume that individuals want to be different from any other member of the population. Still, it predicts that an initially homogeneous population splits up into maximally dissimilar subgroups.

In this project I collaborate closely with Andreas Flache, Dirk Helbing and 
Károly Takács





Clustering dynamics generated by one of our models


The emergence of opinion polarization in a population that was intially characterized by consensus