June 24th, 2021
Recently, many societies seem to shift towards more polarization and volatility in opinions, for example in attitudes about immigration, climate policy, or the best policy response to Covid-19. A key obstacle for a scientific understanding of this development is that opinion dynamics in society involve a complex micro-macro interaction between processes of social influence occurring at the micro-level, meso-level conditions like network structures, and macro-level outcomes, like consensus, opinion-clustering or polarization. I will discuss how agent-based simulation models (ABM) can be used to further our understanding how micro-level processes relate to macro-level dynamics in opinion formation. Computational agent-based models will be presented that highlight alternative and competing theoretical perspectives, some suggesting that network segregation between different groups fosters polarizations, other pointing to the opposite possibility. I will also discuss how empirical research using experiments and social network data can help to test model implications.
Andreas Flache is professor of Sociology at the University of Groningen. He holds a master’s degree in computer science and a PhD in social sciences. His main research focuses on applying agent-based computational modeling to the study of self-organization phenomena in social processes, in particular opinion dynamics, polarization, or segregation between diverse groups. Andreas combines theoretical modelling with empirical research using experiments, social network data and other methods. Further, he currently chairs the Department of Sociology and is a board member of the research school ICS.