Preference Falsification, Social Influence and Triggering Events of Abrupt Social Changes

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:55
Location: Hörsaal 15 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Francisco LEON, Universitat de Girona, Spain
Jordi TENA-SANCHEZ, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
Kuran’s models of preference falsification helped us to better understand why some abrupt social changes take us by surprise but are perfectly explainable in hindsight. To him, sudden changes in public opinion are sometimes the result of certain social influence processes that put an end to a lasting period of concealment of private preferences. In this paper, we present an Agent-Based Simulation that allows us to overcome some of the main limitations of Kuran’s models. (1) Unlike classical mathematical models based on homogeneous and utility maximizing agents, we model heterogeneous actors guided by simple and cognitive feasible decision rules (heuristics) conditioned by time, space and social interactions.  (2) Our model captures the central role of status hierarchies in preference falsification: the concealment of beliefs is highly dependent on face-to-face interactions between high and low status agents. (3) We also model the impact of preference falsification on beliefs adaptation. While the concealment of private preferences could be seen as a result of social forces operating upon the individual, our model shows that micro-level social influence processes taking place in small groups explain the spread of preference falsification, but they also have the potential for its reversal. Analyzing the simulation outputs we identify some triggering events that can lead to a massive disclosure of private preferences and thus to an abrupt change in public opinion. Specifically, we focus our analysis in the role of exogenous factors affecting (1) agents’ beliefs about others’ opinions, (2) people’s political thresholds for preference falsification, and (3) changes in the distribution of private preferences. The knowledge of these triggering events could help us to improve our ability to steer social influence dynamics in such a way that the undesirable and distorting gap between public and private political preferences could be overtaken, thus leading to relevant social changes.