1972-downs.pdf: “Up and down with ecology—the 'issue-attention cycle'”, (1972-01-01; ):
American public attention rarely remains sharply focused upon any one domestic issue for very long—even if it involves a continuing problem of crucial importance to society. Instead, a systematic “issue-attention cycle” seems strongly to influence public attitudes and behavior concerning most key domestic problems. Each of these problems suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time, and then—though still largely unresolved—gradually fades from the center of public attention. A study of the way this cycle operates provides insights into how long public attention is likely to remain sufficiently focused upon any given issue to generate enough political pressure to cause effective change.
The shaping of American attitudes toward improving the quality of our environment provides both an example and a potential test of this “issue-attention cycle.” In the past few years, there has been a remarkably widespread upsurge of interest in the quality of our environment. This change in public attitudes has been much faster than any changes in the environment itself. What has caused this shift in public attention? Why did this issue suddenly assume so high a priority among our domestic concerns? And how long will the American public sustain high-intensity interest in ecological matters? I believe that answers to these questions analyzing the “issue-attention cycle.”
The dynamics of the “issue-attention cycle”
Public perception of most “crises” in American domestic life does not reflect changes in real conditions as much as it reflects the operation of a systematic cycle of heightening public interest and then increasing boredom with major issues. This “issue-attention cycle” is rooted both in the nature of certain domestic problems and in the way major communications media interact with the public. The cycle itself has five stages, which may vary in duration depending upon the particular issue involved, but which almost always occur in the following sequence:
- The pre-problem stage…
- Alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm…
- Realizing the cost of substantial progress…
- Gradual decline of intense public interest…
- The post-problem stage…
2015-gupta.pdf: “Anthony Downs, “Up and Down with Ecology: The ‘Issue-Attention’ Cycle””, (2015; ):
This chapter comments on Anthony Downs’s 1972 seminal paper “Up and Down with Ecology: The ‘Issue-Attention’ Cycle”, which tackles the concept of “public” or “issue” attention. Focusing on domestic policy, particularly environmental policy in the United States, Downs describes a process called “issue-attention cycle”, by which the public gains and loses interest in a particular issue over time. This chapter summarizes studies that directly put Downs’s propositions to the test, laying emphasis on research that probes the existence of and interrelationships among the public attention cycle, media attention cycle, and government attention cycle. It then reviews the main arguments put forward by Downs before concluding with a discussion of promising avenues for future research as well as important theoretical and methodological questions that need further elucidation.
2010-han.pdf: “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence”, (2010-07-01; ):
This research introduces “brand prominence”, a construct reflecting the conspicuousness of a brand’s mark or logo on a product.
The authors propose a taxonomy that assigns consumers to one of four groups according to their wealth and need for status, and they demonstrate how each group’s preference for conspicuously or inconspicuously branded luxury goods corresponds predictably with their desire to associate or dissociate with members of their own and other groups. Wealthy consumers low in need for status want to associate with their own kind and pay a premium for quiet goods only they can recognize. Wealthy consumers high in need for status use loud luxury goods to signal to the less affluent that they are not one of them. Those who are high in need for status but cannot afford true luxury use loud counterfeits to emulate those they recognize to be wealthy.
Field experiments along with analysis of market data (including counterfeits) support the proposed model of status signaling using brand prominence.
[Keywords: luxury, status, conspicuous consumption, brand prominence, branding, reference groups, associative/dissociative motives, counterfeit goods]
“The Logic of Fashion Cycles”, (2012-01-27):
Many cultural traits exhibit volatile dynamics, commonly dubbed fashions or fads. Here we show that realistic fashion-like dynamics emerge spontaneously if individuals can copy others’ preferences for cultural traits as well as traits themselves. We demonstrate this dynamics in simple mathematical models of the diffusion, and subsequent abandonment, of a single cultural trait which individuals may or may not prefer. We then simulate the coevolution between many cultural traits and the associated preferences, reproducing power-law frequency distributions of cultural traits (most traits are adopted by few individuals for a short time, and very few by many for a long time), as well as correlations between the rate of increase and the rate of decrease of traits (traits that increase rapidly in popularity are also abandoned quickly and vice versa). We also establish that alternative theories, that fashions result from individuals signaling their social status, or from individuals randomly copying each other, do not satisfactorily reproduce these empirical observations.
“Violence and the Sacred: College as an incubator of Girardian terror”, (2017-06-25; ):
…competition is fiercer the more that competitors resemble each other. When we’re not so different from people around us, it’s irresistible to become obsessed about beating others.
It’s hard to construct a more perfect incubator for mimetic contagion than the American college campus. Most 18-year-olds are not super differentiated from each other. By construction, whatever distinctions any does have are usually earned through brutal, zero-sum competitions. These tournament-type distinctions include: SAT scores at or near perfection; being a top player on a sports team; gaining master status from chess matches; playing first instrument in state orchestra; earning high rankings in Math Olympiad; and so on, culminating in gaining admission to a particular college. Once people enter college, they get socialized into group environments that usually continue to operate in zero-sum competitive dynamics. These include orchestras and sport teams; fraternities and sororities; and many types of clubs. The biggest source of mimetic pressures are the classes. Everyone starts out by taking the same intro classes; those seeking distinction throw themselves into the hardest classes, or seek tutelage from star professors, and try to earn the highest grades.
There’s very little external intermediation, instead all competitive dynamics are internally mediated…Once internal rivalries are sorted out, people coalesce into groups united against something foreign. These tendencies help explain why events on campus so often make the news—it seems like every other week we see some campus activity being labeled a “witch hunt”, “riot”, or something else that involves violence, implied or explicit. I don’t care to link to these events, they’re so easy to find. It’s interesting to see that academics are increasingly becoming the target of student activities. The Girardian terror devours its children first, who have tolerated or fanned mimetic contagion for so long.
…I’ll end with a quote from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning: “Mimetic desire enables us to escape from the animal realm. It is responsible for the best and the worst in us, for what lowers us below the animal level as well as what elevates us above it. Our unending discords are the ransom of our freedom.”
“Accelerating dynamics of collective attention”, (2019-04-15):
With news pushed to smart phones in real time and social media reactions spreading across the globe in seconds, the public discussion can appear accelerated and temporally fragmented. In longitudinal datasets across various domains, covering multiple decades, we find increasing gradients and shortened periods in the trajectories of how cultural items receive collective attention. Is this the inevitable conclusion of the way information is disseminated and consumed? Our findings support this hypothesis. Using a simple mathematical model of topics competing for finite collective attention, we are able to explain the empirical data remarkably well. Our modeling suggests that the accelerating ups and downs of popular content are driven by increasing production and consumption of content, resulting in a more rapid exhaustion of limited attention resources. In the interplay with competition for novelty, this causes growing turnover rates and individual topics receiving shorter intervals of collective attention.
2019-risi.pdf: “Predicting History”, (2019-06-03; ):
Can events be accurately described as historic at the time they are happening? Claims of this sort are in effect predictions about the evaluations of future historians; that is, that they will regard the events in question as important. Here we provide empirical evidence in support of earlier philosophical arguments1 that such claims are likely to be spurious and that, conversely, many events that will one day be viewed as historic attract little attention at the time. We introduce a conceptual and methodological framework for applying machine learning prediction models to large corpora of digitized historical archives. We find that although such models can correctly identify some historically important documents, they tend to over-predict historical importance while also failing to identify many documents that will later be deemed important, where both types of error increase monotonically with the number of documents under consideration. On balance, we conclude that historical importance is extremely difficult to predict, consistent with other recent work on intrinsic limits to predictability in complex social systems2,3. However, the results also indicate the feasibility of developing ‘artificial archivists’ to identify potentially historic documents in very large digital corpora.
2019-candia.pdf: “The universal decay of collective memory and attention”, (2019-12-10; ):
Collective memory and attention are sustained by two channels: oral communication (communicative memory) and the physical recording of information (cultural memory). Here, we use data on the citation of academic articles and patents, and on the online attention received by songs, movies and biographies, to describe the temporal decay of the attention received by cultural products. We show that, once we isolate the temporal dimension of the decay, the attention received by cultural products decays following a universal biexponential function. We explain this universality by proposing a mathematical model based on communicative and cultural memory, which fits the data better than previously proposed log-normal and exponential models. Our results reveal that biographies remain in our communicative memory the longest (20–30 years) and music the shortest (about 5.6 years). These findings show that the average attention received by cultural products decays following a universal biexponential function.
Human symbol systems such as art and fashion styles emerge from complex social processes that govern the continuous re-organization of modern societies. They provide a signalling scheme that allows members of an elite to distinguish themselves from the rest of society.
Efforts to understand the dynamics of art and fashion cycles have been placed on ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ theories. According to ‘top-down’ theories, elite members signal their superior status by introducing new symbols (eg. fashion styles), which are adopted by low-status groups. In response to this adoption, elite members would need to introduce new symbols to signal their status. According to many ‘bottom-up’ theories, style cycles evolve from lower classes and follow an essentially random pattern. We propose an alternative explanation based on counter-dominance signalling (CDS). In CDS, elite members want others to imitate their symbols; changes only occur when outsider groups successfully challenge the elite by introducing signals that contrast those endorsed by the elite.
We investigate these mechanisms using a dynamic network approach on data containing almost 8 million music albums released between 1956 and 2015. The network systematically quantifies artistic similarities of competing musical styles and their changes over time. We formulate empirical tests for whether new symbols are introduced by current elite members (top-down), randomness (bottom-up) or by peripheral groups through counter-dominance signals. We find clear evidence that CDS drives changes in musical styles.
This provides a quantitative, completely data-driven answer to a century-old debate about the nature of the underlying social dynamics of fashion cycles.
[Keywords: cultural evolution, network analysis, evolutionary dynamics, fashion cycle theory]
“The hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same”, (2014-10-29):
In such different domains as neurosciences, spin glasses, social science, economics and finance, large ensemble of interacting individuals following (mainstream) or opposing (hipsters) to the majority are ubiquitous. In these systems, interactions generally occur after specific delays associated to transport, transmission or integration of information. We investigate here the impact of anti-conformism combined to delays in the emergent dynamics of large populations of mainstreams and hipsters. To this purpose, we introduce a class of simple statistical systems of interacting agents composed of (i) mainstreams and anti-conformists in the presence of (ii) delays, possibly heterogeneous, in the transmission of information. In this simple model, each agent can be in one of two states, and can change state in continuous time with a rate depending on the state of others in the past. We express the thermodynamic limit of these systems as the number of agents diverge, and investigate the solutions of the limit equation, with a particular focus on synchronized oscillations induced by delayed interactions. We show that when hipsters are too slow in detecting the trends, they will consistently make the same choice, and realizing this too late, they will switch, all together to another state where they remain alike. Similar synchronizations arise when the impact of mainstreams on hipsters choices (and reciprocally) dominate the impact of other hipsters choices, and we show that these may emerge only when the randomness in the hipsters decisions is sufficiently large. Beyond the choice of the best suit to wear this winter, this study may have important implications in understanding synchronization of nerve cells, investment strategies in finance, or emergent dynamics in social science, domains in which delays of communication and the geometry of information accessibility are prominent.
1994-loury.pdf: “Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of “Political Correctness” and Related Phenomena”, (1994-10-01; ):
Uncertainty about what motivates “senders” of public messages leads “receivers” to “read between the lines” to discern the sender’s deepest commitments. Anticipating this, senders “write between the lines,” editing their expressions so as to further their own ends. I examine how this interactive process of inference and deceit affects the quality and extent of public deliberations on sensitive issues. A principle conclusion is that genuine moral discourse on difficult social issues can become impossible when the risks of upsetting some portion of one’s audience are too great. Reliance on euphemism and platitude should be expected in this strategic climate. Groups may embark on a tragic course of action, believed by many at the outset to be ill-conceived, but that has become impossible to criticize.