Whenever a major story breaks in the social media – from Brexit to the news that palm oil might cause cancer – it sparks animated debates. But can these discussions actually change people’s mind? And how do opinions create and evolve through society? The study of opinions using theoretical and numerical models has been one of the main goals of sociophysics until now, but these and several other key questions still remain unanswered.
Here at the Laboratory of Agent-Based Social Simulation we study opinion dynamics to understand why human interactions give rise to the formation of different kinds of opinions, and how they can be influenced by the social world.
Our aim is to provide a cognitively grounded computational model of opinions, in which they are described as mental representations and defined in terms of distinctive mental features. We try to outline how opinions change dynamically through different processes, describing the interplay between their mental and social dynamics.
To this aim, we use agent-based social simulations to account for the unpredictable nature of opinions: humans do not always make rational choices and it is not rare that imitate friends or acquaintances without any specific strategic consideration but only because we respond to the pressure of our peers.
That’s why the social context – and other related social artifacts such as reputation and social norms– play a crucial role in determining our actions, and in shaping our opinions.
(Image: Auguste Rodin, The thinker, XIX-XX cent. Source: Wikiart)