New Project on Opinion Dynamics

“Towards realistic computational models of social influence dynamics” (ToRealSim) is a four-country (DE, NL, FR, UK) joint project under the Open Research Area initiative. We lead the UK part of this and will work with the University of Leicester, starting April 2019 for 3 years.

Abstract of whole project (ToRealSim)

Recently, many societies shifted towards more polarization and volatility in opinions, for example in attitudes about immigration or climate policy, but underlying reasons are poorly understood. A key obstacle is that opinion dynamics in society involve a complex micro-macro interaction between fundamental interpersonal processes of social influence, meso-level conditions like network structures, and macro-level outcomes, like polarization in opinion distributions. Agent-based simulation models (ABM) offer powerful tools to bridge theoretically micro-level processes and macro-level dynamics. However, ABM of social influence hitherto fails to inform empirical research and policy. Two major roadblocks are 1) a lack of theoretical integration of the large variety of models and 2) a lack of empirical tests of model assumptions and predictions. ToRealSim is a unique effort by a consortium of leading experts in ABM and empirical research to overcome both roadblocks. Combining expertise on prominent modelling approaches, we develop a framework to systematically compare models and their predictions. Drawing on this, a mixed-method approach will link models to empirical evidence, utilizing our expertise on qualitative research, experiments, social network analysis and survey research. We test models empirically, both in terms of micro-level assumptions and macro-level predictions, proposing a new generation of social influence models that synthesizes insights from ToRealSim.

Project participants include: IRSTEA (FR), Université Clermont Auvergne (FR), Jacobs University Bremen (DE), University of Groningen (NL), the MMU (UK) and University of Leicester (UK).