Learning opinions by observing actions: Simulation of opinion dynamics using an action-opinion inference model

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Abstract

Opinion dynamics models are based on the implicit assumption that people can observe the opinions of others directly, and update their own opinions based on the observation. This assumption significantly reduces the complexity of the process of learning opinions, but seems to be rather unrealistic. Instead, we argue that the opinion itself is unobservable, and that people attempt to infer the opinions of others by observing and interpreting their actions. Building on the notion of Bayesian learning, we introduce an action-opinion inference model (AOI model); this model describes and predicts opinion dynamics where actions are governed by underlying opinions, and each agent changes her opinion according to her inference of others’ opinions from their actions. We study different action-opinion relations in the framework of the AOI model, and show how opinion dynamics are determined by the relations between opinions and actions. We also show that the well-known voter model can be formulated as being a special case of the AOI model when adopting a bijective action-opinion relation. Furthermore, we show that a so-called inclusive opinion, which is congruent with more than one action (in contrast with an exclusive opinion which is only congruent with one action), plays a special role in the dynamic process of opinion spreading. Specifically, the system containing an inclusive opinion always ends up with a full consensus of an exclusive opinion that is incompatible with the inclusive opinion, or with a mixed state of other opinions, including the inclusive opinion itself. A mathematical solution is given for some simple action-opinion relations to help better understand and interpret the simulation results. Finally, the AOI model is compared with the constrained voter model and the language competition model; several avenues for further research are discussed at the end of the paper.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalJASSS
Volume22
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

Keywords

  • Behavioral change
  • Norm formation
  • Opinion dynamics
  • Voter model

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