Stubborn extremism as a potential pathway to group polarization

AbstractGroup polarization is the widely-observed phenomenon in which the opinions held by members of a small group become more extreme after the group discusses a topic. For example, conservative individuals become even more conservative, while liberal individuals become even more liberal. Social psychologists have offered competing explanations for this phenomenon. These typically require questionable assumptions about human psychology. Here, we posit a more parsimonious explanation: the stubbornness of extreme opinions. Using agent-based modeling, we demonstrate that such "stubborn extremism" gives rise to group polarization, as well as other trends observed across the literature on polarization. Our study revealed a further methodological problem for the study of group polarization: reporting opinions as categories (e.g. on a Likert scale) inflates the observed increase in opinion extremity. We conclude with a call for deeper integration of opinion dynamics modeling with the cognitive science of communication and influence.

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