From Flache & Macy (2011)

The conventional wisdom says that polarization can be effectively countered by increasing contact between people with different views. Here’s a very interesting paper that challenges this. The authors simulated ‘cavemen graphs’, i.e. graphs with a number of tight but disconnected clusters, and show that adding new ties leads to reduced polarization when it is assumed that the valence of interaction is positive, i.e. actors can only be more or less attracted to those who are similar. However, when valence can be negative, meaning that actors are averse to those with differing views, adding random ties increases polarization.

The authors state:

This implication of ‘‘small-world’’ theory depends on the micro-level behavioral assumption that interaction is exclusively positive in valence. This result should caution modelers of cultural dynamics against overestimating the integrative effects of greater cultural contact.

I’m not familiar with the practice or philosophy of simulation models and am quite unsure how seriously I should take it (the model naturally is highly simplified). But I am willing to, tentatively, consider the view that trying to reduce polarization by inconsiderately increasing connections may be a bad idea. Anyways, I found this paper really fascinating.

Flache, A., & Macy, M. W. (2011). Small Worlds and Cultural Polarization. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 35(1), 146–176.

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