Agent-based examine into social diffusion — ScienceDaily


During the last yr, handshakes have been changed by fist or elbow bumps as a greeting. It exhibits that age-old social conventions cannot solely change, however achieve this out of the blue. However how does this occur? Robotic engineers and advertising scientists from the College of Groningen joined forces to review this phenomenon, combining on-line experiments and statistical evaluation right into a mathematical mannequin that exhibits how a dedicated minority can affect the bulk to overturn long-standing practices. The outcomes, which have been printed in Nature Communications on 29 September, might assist to stimulate sustainable behaviour.

How does advanced human behaviour take form? That is studied in some ways, principally counting on a number of knowledge from observations and experiments. Ming Cao, Professor of Networks and Robotics on the School of Science and Engineering on the College of Groningen, has studied advanced group behaviour in robots through the use of agent-based simulations, amongst different strategies. These brokers observe a restricted variety of easy guidelines, usually impressed by nature, which may result in practical advanced behaviour. ‘Swarming birds or faculties of fish are a very good instance’, Cao explains, ‘their actions may be reproduced by brokers that observe a number of easy guidelines on protecting a sure distance and heading in the identical path as their neighbours.’


In parallel, the Advertising and marketing analysis group on the School of Economics and Enterprise, led by Dr Jan Willem Bolderdijk, Dr Hans Risselada, and Prof. Bob Fennis, has carried out numerous analysis tasks into human behaviour, however not so many utilizing these sorts of agent-based fashions. After a dialogue with Cao and his colleagues, each teams noticed potentialities for such fashions. Consequently, advertising PhD pupil Zan Mlakar and the 2 post-doc researchers in Cao’s group, Mengbin Ye and Lorenzo Zino, labored collectively creating a web-based experiment to collect knowledge on the social diffusion of recent behavioural tendencies.

They developed a web-based recreation by which 12 individuals act as board members of an organization that plans to launch certainly one of two potential merchandise. The individuals need to vote on which product to launch. The catch is that the choice needs to be taken unanimously. The individuals can’t talk about their selection, they vote in 24 consecutive rounds, and so they solely see the distribution of votes on the finish of every spherical. If unanimity is reached, the individuals obtain a reward.


Unknown to the individuals, between two to 4 individuals within the teams studied have been pc bots, programmed to stay to their selection. ‘If the bulk voted for product A within the first spherical, the bots have been set to vote for B to attempt to overturn the bulk’, explains Ye, who now works as Senior Analysis Fellow at Curtin College in Australia. In the meantime, the votes of the human individuals over all of the rounds studied have been registered. The overwhelming majority of over 20 of those on-line recreation rounds resulted in a unanimous vote, with people ultimately siding with the bots to vote for product B. The outcomes of all of the video games have been then analysed to search for patterns within the voting selections of the human individuals.

Ye: ‘In fairly few instances, we noticed a delay earlier than the votes began altering, however once they did, the group would attain unanimity in only a few voting rounds.’ The general voting behaviour was in a position to be reproduced in an agent-based mannequin with three easy guidelines: do as the bulk does, persist with your earlier choice, and observe the pattern. ‘These guidelines are acknowledged within the literature as group coordination, inertia, and trend-seeking’, explains Ye. ‘They’ve been individually studied in human behaviour, however by no means mixed in a single mannequin; this mix was essential in capturing social change.’

The outcomes of the experiments and the simulations present that new conventions can out of the blue come up when the affect of a dedicated minority reaches a threshold. A small group of ‘activists’ can due to this fact change social conventions. Cao: ‘Nevertheless, this solely occurs if the minority can be in a position to affect others of their community. And this depends upon the quantity of risk-taking current among the many different voters.’ The staff at the moment are taken with exploring what may improve or inhibit this risk-taking behaviour. ‘We now have a stable framework and a mannequin, which can be utilized to look at environmental components that may make individuals have higher inertia, or be extra inclined to tendencies’, says Ye.

The three fundamental guidelines might assist in steering the behaviour of huge teams. ‘After all, we won’t management individuals’, stresses Cao. ‘However we are able to present pointers, for instance on how one can nudge individuals to vary their behaviour.’ This could possibly be helpful within the power transition, or in getting individuals to cut back their meat consumption. ‘Governments already spend cash to persuade individuals to undertake extra sustainable behaviour. Our analysis may help them to spend it in a simpler approach.’

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