[Update: August 20, 2012: DeLann Williams, a former researcher and instructor on the processes related to social influence, adds gloss to the study referenced in this blog posting. Importantly, she points out that the study is based on computer models, and that there is no real-world study to prove that the models actually permeate social influence. She spoke with Dr. Franklin J. Boster, a persuasion/social influence specialist at Michigan State University. Boster also does research using math models of communication processes including decision-making and social influence. He said, " I just finished a review of this topic among others in a Handbook of Persuasion article; <there are> no data indicating that people behave in this manner under controlled conditions." He said that those researchers were merely doing simulations but nothing of this type has been observed in actual settings where conditions were set up to reproduce the effect. Thus, it's completely hypothetical. Thanks to DeLann for the inforrmation. -- MC]
Sometimes I worry when I think about the things so many people choose to believe. After all, I'm so sure of myself, so convinced of my own intelligence, that anyone with different ideas must be wrong, right?
I quickly realize that those are just my prejudices invading the logical part of my brain, and that I need to calm the hell down. People believe lots of things that I don't and, given the odds (the number of people out there who aren't me), it's pretty safe to assume that there are many more beliefs I don't agree with than those I do. I need to be okay with that.
But when I think about how people believe it's not quite so easy to quell the rise in blood pressure.
An article I ran across today in Science Blog gets the blame for my latest freak out. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) have found that "when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society." Think of it as a tipping point for the social mind.
The implications for our political process are vast and I believe we have already seen some of the results. Politics in America is a a large-scale marketing effort, and the team that markets the simplest ideas the fastest gets that ten percent mind share. Maybe that's why a phrase like "death panels" survives despite the facts, or why assistance programs are always thought of as "entitlements."
Knowledge and awareness are key but how do we recognize when we're the targets of political marketing, when those with agendas are trying to hijack our logic and replace it with emotion? Perhaps most importantly, are there ways that we can reverse the ten-percent beliefs that today polarize us the most?
Please let me (and others) know what you think. Can politics ever again be more than the marketing absorbed by the minority?