Malcolm Gladwell changed the way we think when he introduced “The Tipping Point.” In the book, he talks about how social epidemics spread. But he didn’t offer up a precise number, or a way of knowing when the tide will turn.That’s what scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York recently set out to do.
By developing computer models of social networks, the scientists found that it takes a 10 per cent minority opinion to propel an idea. This chart shows how the minority opinion (shown in red) evolves into the majority (which was formerly green).
“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 per cent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” says Boleslaw Szymanski, a professor at Rensselaer and director of its Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research centre (SCNARC). “Once that number grows above 10 per cent, the idea spreads like flame.”
With one of the computer models, the scientists simulated an actual social network — which included some people who had many connections (whom Gladwell would label as “connectors” in his book), and others with fewer ties. Another created a network in which all people had roughly the same number of connections. Then, the scientists added people who had very strong beliefs, who eventually changed the opinions of others.
“In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” says Sameet Sreenivasan, a research associate at SCNARC. “People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further.”
The findings were first reported last week in the Physical Review E journal.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.