A. Chacoma, D. H. Zanette, PLoS ONE 10, e0140406 (2015)
Predicting different forms of collective behavior in human populations, as the outcome of individual attitudes and their mutual influence, is a question of major interest in social sciences. In particular, processes of opinion formation have been theoretically modeled on the basis of a formal similarity with the dynamics of certain physical systems, giving rise to an extensive collection of mathematical models amenable to numerical simulation or even to exact solution. Empirical ground for these models is however largely missing, which confine them to the level of mere metaphors of the real phenomena they aim at explaining. In this paper we present results of an experiment which quantifies the change in the opinions given by a subject on a set of specific matters under the influence of others. The setup is a variant of a recently proposed experiment, where the subject’s confidence on his or her opinion was evaluated as well. In our realization, which records the quantitative answers of 85 subjects to 20 questions before and after an influence event, the focus is put on characterizing the change in answers and confidence induced by such influence. Similarities and differences with the previous version of the experiment are highlighted. We find that confidence changes are to a large extent independent of any other recorded quantity, while opinion changes are strongly modulated by the original confidence. On the other hand, opinion changes are not influenced by the initial difference with the reference opinion. The typical time scales on which opinion varies are moreover substantially longer than those of confidence change. Experimental results are then used to estimate parameters for a dynamical agent-based model of opinion formation in a large population. In the context of the model, we study the convergence to full consensus and the effect of opinion leaders on the collective distribution of opinions.