Social change—from evolving attitudes toward gender and marijuana to the rise of Donald Trump to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements—is a constant. It is also mysterious, or so it can seem. For example, “How exactly did we get here?” might be asked by anyone who lived through decades of fierce prohibition and now buys pot at one of the more than 2,000 licensed dispensaries across the U.S.
A new study about the power of committed minorities to shift conventional thinking offers some surprising possible answers. Published this week in Science, the paper describes an online experiment in which researchers sought to determine what percentage of total population a minority needs to reach the critical mass necessary to reverse a majority viewpoint. The tipping point, they found, is just 25 percent. At and slightly above that level, contrarians were able to “convert” anywhere from 72 to 100 percent of the population of their respective groups. Prior to the efforts of the minority, the population had been in 100 percent agreement about their original position.
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