Statistical Physics of Opinion and Social Conflict

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles

    Abstract

    The rise and development of opinion groups, just as their clash in social conflict, are notoriously difficult to study due to a complex interplay between structure and dynamics. The intricate feedback between psychological and sociological processes, tied with an ample variability of individual traits, makes these systems challenging both intellectually and methodologically. Yet regular patterns do emerge from the collective behavior of dissimilar people, seen in population and crime rates, in protest movements and the adoption of innovations. Statistical physics comes then as an apt and successful framework for their study, characterizing society as the common product of single wills, interactions among people and external effects. The work in this Thesis provides mathematical descriptions for the evolution of opinions in society, based on simple mechanisms of individual conduct and group influence. Such models abstract the inherent complexity of human behavior by reducing people to opinion variables spread over a network of social interactions, with variables and interactions changing in time at the pace of a handful of equations. Their macroscopic properties are interpreted as the emergence of social groups and of conflict between them due to opinion disagreement, and compared with small controlled experiments or with large online records of social activity. The extensive analysis of these models, both numerical and analytical, leads to a couple of generic observations on the link between opinion and social conflict. First, the emergence of consensual groups in society may be regulated by well-separated time scales of opinion dynamics and network evolution, and by a distribution of personality traits in the population. Our social environment can then be fragmented as more people turn against the collective mood, ultimately forming minorities as a response to external influence. Second, the exchange of views in collaborative tasks may lead not only to the rise and resolution of opinion issues, but to an intermediate state where conflicts appear periodically. In this way strife and cooperation, so much a part of human nature, can be emulated by surprisingly simple interactions among individuals.
    Translated title of the contributionStatistical Physics of Opinion and Social Conflict
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Kaski, Kimmo, Supervising Professor
    • Kaski, Kimmo, Thesis Advisor
    Publisher
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-5107-9
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5108-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

    Keywords

    • social dynamics
    • statistical physics
    • adaptive networks
    • mathematical modeling

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