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Sci Rep. 2015 May 19;5:10032. doi: 10.1038/srep10032.

How does public opinion become extreme?

Author information

1
1] Levich Institute and Physics Department, City College of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA [2] Departamento de Física, PUC-Rio, 22451-900, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [3] CAPES - Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, Ministério da Educação, 70040-020, Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brazil.
2
Bloomberg LP, New York, NY 10022, USA.
3
1] Levich Institute and Physics Department, City College of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA [2] Departamento de Física, Universidade Federal do Ceará, 60451-970 Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil.
4
Departamento de Física, PUC-Rio, 22451-900, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
5
Departamento de Física, Universidade Federal do Ceará, 60451-970 Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil.
6
Minerva Center and Physics Department, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900, Israel.

Abstract

We investigate the emergence of extreme opinion trends in society by employing statistical physics modeling and analysis on polls that inquire about a wide range of issues such as religion, economics, politics, abortion, extramarital sex, books, movies, and electoral vote. The surveys lay out a clear indicator of the rise of extreme views. The precursor is a nonlinear relation between the fraction of individuals holding a certain extreme view and the fraction of individuals that includes also moderates, e.g., in politics, those who are "very conservative" versus "moderate to very conservative" ones. We propose an activation model of opinion dynamics with interaction rules based on the existence of individual "stubbornness" that mimics empirical observations. According to our modeling, the onset of nonlinearity can be associated to an abrupt bootstrap-percolation transition with cascades of extreme views through society. Therefore, it represents an early-warning signal to forecast the transition from moderate to extreme views. Moreover, by means of a phase diagram we can classify societies according to the percolative regime they belong to, in terms of critical fractions of extremists and people's ties.

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