Minority report

In the Feburary 2003 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is a little suntin-suntin’ which might be worth looking over:

“The Minority Slowness Effect: Subtle Inhibitions in the Expression of Views Not Shared by Others”
Five studies revealed that people who hold the minority opinion express that opinion less quickly than people who hold the majority opinion. The difference in speed in the expression of the minority and majority opinions grew as the difference in the size of the minority and majority grew. Also, those with the minority view were particularly slow when they assumed the majority to be large, whereas the opposite was true for those with the majority view. The minority slowness effect was not found to be linked to attitude strength, nor was it influenced by anticipated public disclosure of the attitude.”

Slowness in systems is something I’ve been trying to think about for a while, and recent reflection on not-so-smartmobs has reminded me of this. Thing is, nearly everything webby I’ve ever worked on has tried to be as quick, fast, easy and responsive as possible.

The ethnography we had done showed that the processes we are trying to support with our system can typically be ongoing for 2-5 years I.R.L.; and stuff like Robert Axelrod’s “The evolution of cooperation” points to the role of slowness and turn-based systems in reaching concensus-based change [like waiting 4 years before being able to vote for a government… heheh]

Trying to think of networked online systems that are ‘slow’, and so far all I can think of are distributed computing things like Seti@home, or Phil’s Pepysdiary.com. The latter is not so much ‘slow’, but long, if you see what I mean.

Any thoughts?

» Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb :”The Minority Slowness Effect: Subtle Inhibitions in the Expression of Views Not Shared by Others”: John N. Bassili [thanks Fiona for this…]

0 thoughts on “Minority report”

  1. I wonder if this is how lock-in gets started in human networks.

    Let’s say the original state of a political opinion system is 50% support for Candidate Red, 50% for Candidate Green.

    If, by happenstance, the first three people asked to respond to a polling question on a web site express their support for Green – perfectly likely, given the odds – and all a newly arriving visitor sees is a 3-0 advantage for Green, would that constitute a disincentive to express a countervailing opinion? Would each successive person feel just that little bit of hesitation about answering “Red” that makes a “Green” response more likely?

    At what point does the tipping point occur, when the whole community sees itself in this mirror darkly, and decides that since “everyone” else voted Green, it’s the right thing to do?

  2. What you describe is not the same as what Matt’s describing, although it’s related.

    I’m dredging my memory for names from Psychology A level, but there’s a very basic, very early experiment just like you describe, where 4 ‘volunteers’ are stood in a line and asked to answer simple questions. All but one of the volunteers is a stooge, and they all give the correct answers to most of the question, except for one, when the 3 stooges give the wrong answer.

    The non-stooge now has the option to risk saying what they know to be the simple, right answer or to agree with the others and say the wrong, but consensual, answer. overwhelmingly people went with the consensual answer and presume themselves to be wrong, even if the question is quite simple maths!

    This is straight peer-pressure, the desire to conform your opinons with others to, frankly, have your world-view reinforced by and external party, and it’s the engine of the majority of social interactions.

    What the research matt quotes above is desrcibing is like a secondary fact of this – the slowness of giving an opinion that one knows to be unpopular.

    Here I think the slowness is because the speaker is anticipating a negative response, and therefore a negative reinforcement of their worldview, and is cautious about offering a view that they expect to lead to an argument.

    It’s like a secondary effect peer pressure – the peer pressure isn’t big enough to change your mind (probably because the peer pressure is aggregated across a much larger population, and you feel more sure that there are differing views out there) but it is big enough to make you nervous about expressing it, and about the affect of expressing it.

    You see this in meetings and lecture theatres all the time. Confident, mainstream individuals will be quick to offer an opinion or a solution that is perceived to be ‘right’, or that agrees with current thinking.

    But usually, later on, more timid and sometimes creative individuals will question this and come up with the paradigm-busters.

    Of course, occasionally the paridgm-busters burst right in and kick off the meeting with a mind-bomb. it helps if they’re Welsh . . .

    ; )

  3. The idea of networked delayed systems reminds me of the hours I spent playing the AI online game (though everything reminds me of that at the moment, I’m in that kind of mood). It was only after it finished that the creators revealed what we had hitherto only suspected: that they had been creating increasingly fiendish puzzles in order to give themselves the time to get ahead in the plot while the community worked them out. More than that, they were tailoring elements of the future plot (the outline of which was carefully structured) to take into account the comments and discoveries of the users while they were waiting for the pauses between puzzles to end. Speaking of which, there’s also Planetarium (see http://www.beholder.co.uk) which forces a delay been playing time, but that’s more of a false imposition than a pause for any good reason.

  4. I’m sorry, chris, I guess I wasn’t being clear…I do mean to offer that it’s precisely that delay in giving “unpopular” answers that allows first movers to consolidate a position. Like a iterative lateness cascading through the train of folks waiting to answer, until finally there’s no incentive to answer their way at all…

  5. Would any sort of peer reviewed work be slow, or is the initial process to create it the same speak fast and first, biggest majority wins. I suppose I’m thinking of tools like wiki, as they aim more for a reference work model than a discussion forum. It is less time dependent and people can review past postings and make their point in a considered manner.

    Another area to look at is jury trials, where majority decisions are made. The group opinion can be swayed be one person who is forthright. Analysis of how these environments must be published too.

  6. The wiki environment, with it’s not entirely friendly, easy, and usable editing capabilities, has been characterised by some as being “slow”.

    That and the decidedly non-timestamped non-linear non-threaded content model seems to relegate “speed of response” to a lower priority.

    I’ve never seen a “First Post!” comment on a wiki page, and it would be pointless anyhow.

  7. chris lunch’s comments talk of slowness and not speaking due to the fear of the majority. This is known in the communication academic literature as the Spiral of Silence, after Noelle Neumann’s (c.1984) book on the topic…

    oh, BTW hi Matt.. not seen you for a while at Nico’s design council dos, cos I’ve been in America studying…

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