The Dynamics of Opinion

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Source: UC Santa Barbara

We see it in politics time and time again: A powerful individual convinces a group of people to disregard a statement of fact — no matter how strong the supporting scientific evidence — and instead take up a false position.

Now, two UC Santa Barbara scholars have analyzed the conditions under which group discussion reaches consensus and propagates either true or false positions depending on the group’s influence system. Their findings, in a paper titled “How Truth Wins in Opinion Dynamics Along Issue Sequences,” appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our research is driven by a mathematical model of how interpersonal influence systems function,” said co-author Noah Friedkin, a professor of sociology at UCSB. “We sought to apply it to the important problem of understanding the substantial hazard rate of groups adopting false positions on issues that have a communicable method for obtaining a true opinion.”

Underlying the research is the reality of human nature. “There are two things at play,” noted co-author Francesco Bullo, a professor of mechanical engineering. “There is the scientific logic, a rational way with actual numbers that say this is the truth, and then there are people who don’t understand the method or who say ‘I don’t believe the method or the outcome.’”  

While classic experiments focused on before and after opinions of individuals participating in group tests, Friedkin and Bullo dialed down to the throughput — complex interpersonal influences swirling among individual members of a group. As they note in their paper https://tinyurl.com/yaol6h5s, the researchers “provide evidence that a general model in the network science on opinion dynamics substantially clarifies how truth wins in groups.”   

According to Friedkin, group tests showed people vary on how open or closed they are to influence, depending on the issue. People who know a topic well are unlikely to be swayed, he said, while those unfamiliar with a particular issue can be manipulated by someone who appears authoritative on the matter.

He pointed out that research shows influence is not necessarily associated with a true or false position. “A person can be highly charismatic, but ignorant,” Friedkin said. “The charisma or authority position may outweigh expertise.”

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a-1511265933 Oct 23, 2017 03:39 PM
The Dynamics of Opinion

Someone may be ignorant without being stupid. Some people, though, prefer to be willfully ignorant, and don't bother to learn the facts when they form an opinion. That's worse than stupid. Just look at all the anti-GMO, anti-vax, and "alternative facts" people.

a-1511265933 Oct 23, 2017 03:20 PM
The Dynamics of Opinion

Funny that they put out a dense research paper that no one but people who already know the results will read. Kinda like putting together a seminar to convince a group of scientists that the world is indeed round when the people that need to have that fact shoved down their throat have already shown that they do not listen to fact or reason - the last thing that is going to convince ignorant people that they are, in fact, ignorant is a peer reviewed study from the Center for Control, Dynamical Systems and Computation.

shorebird Oct 23, 2017 02:54 PM
The Dynamics of Opinion

Translation: If you are enough of a dim bulb you can be made to believe garbage from a moron.

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