Social Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Does this mathematical result help to explain why groups polarize?

Asked by LostInParadise (27953points) December 15th, 2016

For any group of sufficient size, there is a tendency to polarize into two opposing camps. There is a simply stated mathematical result that might help to explain why.

Suppose we model a group of people as follows.
1. Every pair of people is mutually friendly or are mutual enemies.

2. If two people have a mutual friend then they will be friends with each other. – The friend of my friend is my friend.

3. If two people have a mutual enemy they will be friends. – The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

If these conditions hold then either everyone will be friends with one another or, more interestingly, there will be two groups such that within each group everyone is mutually friendly and everyone in one group is an enemy of everyone in the other. That is, a single enmity will splinter the group.

Granted that the model is simplistic, but it seems to roughly model normal human tendencies.

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2 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

It seems far too simplistic for the range of human relationships, attitudes and sensibilities that exists among thoughtful and reflective people. Then again, those people are getting more and more rare, I suppose.

Some of my best friends are political polar opposites. We have great discussions – keeping in mind that we disagree on many things, and sort of agreeing that we don’t have to move into areas of discussion that will polarize us – on current events and policy announcements from the State House or the White House.

I’ve got other friends who are both political and sports opposites. They not only approve of New York City politics in general, but they also like New York sports teams. Those people are mostly irredeemable, and yet… still friends.

I don’t doubt that for some people – and I’ll bet that we all know some examples – their thoughts and attitudes are so shallow or so one-topic that they can’t see beyond their shallow thoughts or that one topic of disagreement.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I like it! You are simplistically describing the evolution of tribes and clans! Nice.
And the members of each group tend to mate within the group. This might even describe formation of religious sects and cultural practices. We know historically ~95% of all people are the religion of their parents. Very few hopped across the divide unless they were captured spoils of war. Sure there would be some exceptions but over the long run they would form such groups.
Birds of a feather flock together.

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