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Micro Influence and Macro Dynamics of Opinion Formation

49 Pages Posted: 27 May 2017 Last revised: 28 Aug 2017

Bernhard Clemm von Hohenberg

European University Institute

Michael Maes

ETH Zurich

Bary S. R. Pradelski

ETH Zurich

Date Written: August 28, 2017

Abstract

Recent political events such as Brexit and the U.S. elections intensified the debate about effects of online social influence on micro-level opinion formation and resulting opinion polarization on the macro level. To empirically test competing social-influence theories as well as their macro predictions, we introduce a general model that describes opinion shifts in terms of the moments of the observable opinion distribution. We show that its parameters capture prominent social-influence theories. Conducting an online lab-in-the-field experiment, we estimate the model parameters and observe strong social influence with individual opinions shifting linearly towards the mean of others' opinions. With this finding, we predict the macro-level opinion dynamics resulting from social influence and test our predictions with a second lab-in-the-field experiment. Contrary to many recent theories, we find support for our prediction that social influence reduces opinion polarization. We corroborate these findings with large-scale field data from a natural experiment.

Keywords: social influence, opinion polarization, Internet, field experiment

JEL Classification: D70, D80

Suggested Citation

Clemm von Hohenberg, Bernhard and Maes, Michael and Pradelski, Bary S. R., Micro Influence and Macro Dynamics of Opinion Formation (August 28, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2974413

Bernhard Clemm von Hohenberg

European University Institute ( email )

Villa Schifanoia
133 via Bocaccio
Firenze (Florence), Tuscany 50014
Italy

Michael Maes

ETH Zurich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
ZUE F7
Zürich, 8092
Switzerland

Bary S. R. Pradelski (Contact Author)

ETH Zurich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
ZUE F7
Zürich, 8092
Switzerland

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