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The Contingencies of Silent Majorities: Revisiting the Spiral of Silence With Agent-Based Modeling

Fri, May 25, 9:30 to 10:45, Hilton Prague, Floor: LL, Vienna


The spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1974) is a dazzling example for a social theory spanning micro and macro levels. It starts from micro assumptions such as individuals’ fear of isolation and willingness to self-censor and postulates a macro spiral process of reinforcing publicly uttered voices and silencing others. We present a simple but powerful model of the spiral of silence featuring two types of interacting agents – individuals and mass media. With this model, we are able to (a) reconstruct the macro phenomenon of the spiral of silence with only a few micro rules and (b) explore the theoretical contingencies for the emergence of silent majorities by systematically varying density and reach of interactions as well as initial distributions of opinions and fear of isolation. Our study is an example for the explanatory power of thought experiments with simple models specifying only a few straightforward assumptions, and still generating complex macro patterns.