Saturday, June 09, 2018

Tipping point for large-scale social change

sciencedaily  |  According to a new paper published in Science, there is a quantifiable answer: Roughly 25% of people need to take a stand before large-scale social change occurs. This idea of a social tipping point applies to standards in the workplace and any type of movement or initiative.
Online, people develop norms about everything from what type of content is acceptable to post on social media, to how civil or uncivil to be in their language. We have recently seen how public attitudes can and do shift on issues like gay marriage, gun laws, or race and gender equality, as well as what beliefs are or aren't publicly acceptable to voice.

During the past 50 years, many studies of organizations and community change have attempted to identify the critical size needed for a tipping point, purely based on observation. These studies have speculated that tipping points can range anywhere between 10 and 40%.

The problem for scientists has been that real-world social dynamics are complicated, and it isn't possible to replay history in precisely the same way to accurately measure how outcomes would have been different if an activist group had been larger or smaller.

"What we were able to do in this study was to develop a theoretical model that would predict the size of the critical mass needed to shift group norms, and then test it experimentally," says lead author Damon Centola, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Drawing on more than a decade of experimental work, Centola has developed an online method to test how large-scale social dynamics can be changed.

In this study, "Experimental Evidence for Tipping Points in Social Convention," co-authored by Joshua Becker, Ph.D., Devon Brackbill, Ph.D., and Andrea Baronchelli, Ph.D., 10 groups of 20 participants each were given a financial incentive to agree on a linguistic norm. Once a norm had been established, a group of confederates -- a coalition of activists that varied in size -- then pushed for a change to the norm.

When a minority group pushing change was below 25% of the total group, its efforts failed. But when the committed minority reached 25%, there was an abrupt change in the group dynamic, and very quickly the majority of the population adopted the new norm. In one trial, a single person accounted for the difference between success and failure.