The Spread of Beliefs in Partially Modularized Communities

Goldstone, R. L., Dubova, M., Aiyappa, R., & Edinger, A. (2023). The spread of beliefs in partially modularized communities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 0(0).

Many life-influencing social networks are characterized by considerable informational isolation. People within a community are far more likely to share beliefs than people who are part of different communities. The spread of useful information across communities is impeded by echo chambers (far greater connectivity within than between communities) and filter bubbles (more influence of beliefs by connected neighbors within than between communities). We apply the tools of network analysis to organize our understanding of the spread of beliefs across modularized communities and to predict the effect of individual and group parameters on the dynamics and distribution of beliefs. In our Spread of Beliefs in Modularized Communities (SBMC) framework, a stochastic block model generates social networks with variable degrees of modularity, beliefs have different observable utilities, individuals change their beliefs on the basis of summed or average evidence (or intermediate decision rules), and parameterized stochasticity introduces randomness into decisions. SBMC simulations show surprising patterns; for example, increasing out-group connectivity does not always improve group performance, adding randomness to decisions can promote performance, and decision rules that sum rather than average evidence can improve group performance, as measured by the average utility of beliefs that the agents adopt. Overall, the results suggest that intermediate degrees of belief exploration are beneficial for the spread of useful beliefs in a community, and so parameters that pull in opposite directions on an explore–exploit continuum are usefully paired.

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