Opinion Communication on Contested Topics: How Empirics and Arguments can Improve Social Simulation

Stefanelli, Annalisa; Seidl, Roman
October 2017
Journal of Artificial Societies & Social Simulation;Oct2017, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p1
Academic Journal
The effect of social interactions on how opinions are developed and changed overtime is crucial to public processes that involve citizens and their points of view. In this opinion dynamics exercise, we address the topic of nuclear waste repositories in Switzerland and suggest a more realistic investigation of public opinion using agent-based modeling in combination with empirical data and sociopsychological theory. Empirical data obtained from an online questionnaire (N =841) is used for the initialization of the model, whose agents directly represent the participants. We use social judgment theory (SJT) to describe how opinions can be adapted during social interactions, including through mechanisms of contrast and assimilation. Furthermore, we focus on the definition of "opinion" itself, claiming that working with disaggregated opinions (i.e., arguments) can play a determining role if one aims to capture real-world mechanisms of opinion dynamics. Simulation results show different patterns for the three different argument categories used for this specific topic (i.e., risk, benefit, and process), suggesting a mutual influence between an individual's initial knowledge and evaluations and an individual's social dynamics and opinion changes. The importance of content-related and empirical information, as well as the theory and mechanisms used in the social simulation, are discussed.


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