Feeds

Prof: Extremists tend to dominate debates

We must silence these evil lunatics immediately!

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Psychologists in America have revealed a shock insight from a recently-announced study: people with extreme or "deviant" views are much more willing to share their opinions than those with moderate ideas. This is thought to lead groups or communities actually composed mainly of moderates to acquire an extreme character.

The study in question was carried out by trick-cyclists Kimberly Rios Morrison of Ohio State and Dale T Miller of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The example of "extremism" or "deviance" identified by the two profs in their experiments was a belief that students should be allowed to drink alcohol in the common areas of their dormitory accommodation. This is forbidden at Stanford, and those who strongly disagree with the rule were also those most likely to say so.

According to the psychologists, this was because they believed that the rest of the student body was on their side.

“Students who were stridently pro-alcohol tended to think that their opinion was much more popular than it actually was,” says Morrison.

“There’s this stereotype that college students are very pro-alcohol, and even most college students believe it. Most students think of themselves as less pro-alcohol than average.”

By doing a certain amount of cunning lying, however, the trick-cyclists convinced the pro-booze loudmouths that in fact nobody agreed with them. This, apparently, shut them up.

“It is only when they have this sense that they are in the majority that extremely pro-alcohol students are more willing to express their views on the issue,” according to Morrison.

However it seemed that the extreme anti-grog lobby never really became willing to speak up, even when they had been falsely told that everyone was on their side.

"Their view that they are in the minority may be so deeply entrenched that it is difficult to change ... They don’t have the experience expressing their opinions on the subject like the pro-alcohol extremists do," theorises Morrison.

The prof then goes on to extrapolate this thinking into other areas of debate, suggesting that the syndrome of extremists falsely believing that everyone in a group backs them leads to a sort of positive-feedback loop. Extreme opinions are aired, people hear them more, people falsely assume that the entire group holds those beliefs and so it becomes gradually more extreme in appearance - if not in the actuality of its members' beliefs.

“You have a cycle that feeds on itself: the more you hear these extremists expressing their opinions, the more you are going to believe that those extreme beliefs are normal for your community," explains Morrison.

The prof believes that her group-positive-feedback theory could explain the (apparently) heavily polarised nature of US politics in recent times, or other debates in which each side appears increasingly extreme/evil to the other - whereas in fact most on both sides actually hold more moderate opinions. Examples could include environmental matters, the perennial arguments regarding what kind of women are most attractive etc.

There may not be a "monolithic" silent majority in these arguments, according to the theory, but "the minority may be more vocal".

We say: we're sure we speak for all decent people everywhere in stating categorically that studies of this type are hogwash and those who write them thieving parasitical crooks leeching from the public purse.

Well, maybe not in all cases. But we do struggle with the idea college students aren't pro-alcohol.

The announcement from Ohio State here, and the profs' paper Expressing deviant opinions: Believing you are in the majority helps is here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
The Heartbleed Bug: how to protect your business with Symantec
What happens when the next Heartbleed (or worse) comes along, and what can you do to weather another chapter in an all-too-familiar string of debilitating attacks?