How Revolutions Take Hold

How do you topple a tyrant or popularize a foreign cuisine? A study on network theory finds that the tipping point needed for a committed minority to win over the majority is just 10 percent.

 

What's the Latest Development?


Researchers have identified three conditions that are necessary for minority opinion to take hold in a large group of individuals, such as what happened during the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute analyzed various models of networks where a minority strived to overtake the majority's opinion and found three common conditions: "a majority that is flexible with their views, a minority that is intractable, and a critical threshold wherein about a tenth of the population advocate the minority opinion."

What's the Big Idea?

While the results of the study are not applicable to all situations, broad guidelines on social change can be extrapolated. Albert-László Barabási, the author of the network-theory tome Linked, says: "Minorities can prevail only if they strive to become less of a minority by turning a small fraction of the population into steadfast supporters of their cause." For minority groups looking to extend their influence into the larger population, it is more important to attract new individuals than to convince the entire world about your ideas.

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