[Science may have implications for the strategies of media
critics, activists, etc. We've been closely following the "semantic
framing" work of cognitive scientists in this regard. Here's
a new scientific study indicating another potentially useful area
of research - BD]
Social Change Relies More On The Easily
Influenced Than The Highly Influential
ScienceDaily (Nov. 13, 2007) An important new study
appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research
finds that it is rarely the case that highly influential individuals
are responsible for bringing about shifts in public opinion.
Instead, using a number of computer simulations of public opinion
change, Duncan J. Watts (Columbia University) and Peter Sheridan
Dodds (University of Vermont), find that it is the presence of
large numbers of "easily influenced" people who bring
about major shifts by influencing other easy-to-influence people.
"Our study demonstrates not so much that the conventional
wisdom is wrong . . . but that it is insufficiently specified
to be meaningful," the researchers write. "Under most
conditions that we consider, we find that large cascades of influence
are driven not by influentials, but by a critical mass of easily
Instead of a model in which opinion flows only from the media
to influentials, and then only from influentials to the larger
populace, Watts and Dodds created an influence network with opinion
flows in many directions at once, adjusted for the probability
that a given individual will adopt a change when the information
comes from a certain source.
They then introduced an event into the simulation, evaluating
what factors resulted in an overall shift in opinion in their
model system. They also introduced "hyper influentials"
and monitored their effects, tried grouping individuals together
into sub-networks, and adjusted the degree at which attitudes
"Anytime some notable social change is recognized, whether
it be a grassroots cultural fad, a successful marketing campaign,
or a dramatic drop in crime rates, it is tempting to trace the
phenomenon to the individuals who "started it," and
conclude that their actions or behavior "caused" the
events that subsequently took place," the authors write.
However, they explain: "...under most of these conditions
influentials are less important than is generally supposed, either
as initiators of large cascades, or as early adopters."
Duncan J. Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodds, "Influentials,
Networks, and Public Opinion Formation." Journal of Consumer
Research: December 2007.
Adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago Press
University of Chicago Press Journals (2007, November 13).
Social Change Relies More On The Easily Influenced Than The Highly
Influential. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071112133759.htm