When ten percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, that belief will always be adopted by the majority, according to a recent study.
Scientists at the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center claim to have identified the precise "tipping point" between a minority belief and the majority opinion, using computational and analytical methods.
Once that ten percent tipping point is reached, "the idea spreads like flame," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski.
But "when the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, 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," Sysmanski said.
The researchers developed three different social networking models to measure the point at which opinions might change. Initially, the networks were comprised of traditional view holders, moderate in their attachment to those views.
In one network, every person was connected to every other person. A second network included opinion leaders who were connected to a proportionately large number of people. The third model had a roughly equal number of connections distributed throughout.
Once the networks were established, 'true believers' were introduced into each - people whose beliefs were so strong they would not be swayed by another opinion.
As these committed individuals began to interact with the traditional view holders, the scientists observed first a gradual and then an abrupt shift in the majority belief.
"As agents of change starts to convince more and more people... People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further," says co-author Sameet Sreenivasan, SCNARC Research Associate, in the release.
Researchers observed that the traditional view holders were likely to adopt a belief if they had two consecutive conversations with true believers.
"In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus," said SCNARC Research Associate Sameet Sreenivasan.
Sysmanski pointed to the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt as examples of the study's model at work.
"In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks," he said.
In early 2011, peaceful demonstrators forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office after three decades of dictatorship. The demonstrators were inspired by the Tunisian Revolution, which started with a single street vendor who set himself on fire to protest his treatment by municipal officials. His act set off a wave of protests that ended with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali abandoning his office and fleeing the country after 23 years of rule.
The researchers hope to further apply their computational models to historical examples, and are pursuing partnerships with researchers in the social sciences and other fields.
They also plan to test their findings on highly polarized populations with two opposing views evenly distributed.
The study's findings were first published as an article titled "Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities," which appeared in the July 22,2011 online edition of the journal Physical Review E.