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It only takes 25 per cent of a group to successfully create social change

A new research study finds only 25 per cent of a group is needed to affect real social change

It only takes 25 per cent of people to affect social change on important topics like sexual harassment and human rights, a new research has found

The paper drew on the experimental study ‘Experimental Evidence for Tipping Points in Social Convention’, that found only a quarter of a group was needed to change perceptions on behaviour – including on large scale social issues.

Lead author and associate professor, Damon Centola, said that communities get to a tipping point but usually never know. The research provides a glimpse into the insight campaigners and protesters need to know just how close they are to changing community perceptions.

“If they’re just below a tipping point, their efforts will fail,” Centola said. “But, remarkably, just by adding one more person, and getting about the 25 per cent tipping point, their efforts can have rapid success in changing the entire population’s opinion.”

Centola said environments can be engineered to push people into a pro-social direction. This can be pushed and tested in organisational contexts where a person’s personal rewards are tied directly to their ability to coordinate on behaviours.

The model is based on a decade of experimental work and developed an online method to test how large-scale social dynamics can be changed, either within community or organisations.

“Our findings present a stark contrast to centuries of thinking about social change in classical economics, in which economists typically think a majority of activists is needed to change a populations norms,” Centola said.

“The classical model, called equilibrium stability analysis, would dictate that more than 51 per cent or more is needed to initiate real social change,” Centola observed. He added: “We found, both theoretically and experimentally, that a much smaller fraction of the population can effectively do this.”

The research created a series of small online communities of 20 people who were paid to agree on social norms. Once each group was in complete agreement, researchers paid a select few people more to push for a change.

The group varied in size over trials and found that once 25 per cent of people pushed for a new label, it was adopted. The social pressure to change was so great that even though the remaining 75 per cent were paid triple they gave into “network dynamics”.

“What we were able to do in this study was to develop a theoretical model that would predict the size of the critical mass need to shift group norms, and then test it experimentally,” Centola said.

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