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Paper published in PLoS Computational Biology

posted Jan 19, 2011, 9:42 AM by Michael Maes   [ updated Jan 21, 2011, 3:19 AM ]
Together with Andreas Flache and Dirk Helbing, I published an article in PLoS Computational Biology. Click here to read the article.

Modern societies are characterized by a large degree of pluralism in social, political and cultural opinions. In addition, there is evidence that humans tend to form distinct subgroups (clusters), characterized by opinion consensus within the clusters and differences between them. So far, however, formal theories of social influence have difficulty explaining this coexistence of global diversity and opinion clustering. In this study, we identify a missing ingredient that helps to fill this gap: the striving for uniqueness. Besides being influenced by their social environment, individuals also show a desire to hold a unique opinion. Thus, when too many other members of the population hold a similar opinion, individuals tend to adopt an opinion that distinguishes them from others. This notion is rooted in classical sociological theory and is supported by recent empirical research. We develop a computational model of opinion dynamics in human populations and demonstrate that the new model can explain opinion clustering. We conduct simulation experiments to study the conditions of clustering. Based on our results, we discuss preconditions for the persistence of pluralistic societies in a globalizing world.