12 May 2009

Social Attractors

Posted by jofr

Are there any social attractors in complex systems? Attractors in the state or phase space of society? Perhaps some kind of pattern, structure or organizational form which we find in a social system again and again? A swarm can be described literally as an attractor: it attracts the members to a certain location. A regular meeting can be described as a kind of spatial attractor, too.

An attractor is a set towards which a dynamical system evolves over time. What is a “social attractor” ? Perhaps a macroscopic pattern of organization or special micro-macro link which arises inevitably through repeated interactions on microscopic scale. The pattern of a “social attractor” may be considered as the character of a social group (or the personality of the person who represents the group). Depending on the preferences, likes and dislikes, people are drawn to certain groups. A Wikipedia article about religiosity and intelligence says for example: “people with a low intelligence are more easily drawn toward religions, which give answers that are certain, while people with a high intelligence are more skeptical”. (There is also a passage in the bible which reads ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’). Religions can be characterized as a kind of social attractor in many ways, they are also a basic form of social organization for societies and groups.

A group itself can be an attractor for discussions in the group. A typical attractor for discussions and conversations in social groups are common features of the members: if a few members of a group come together and start to discuss topics, they will sooner or later start discussing certain common features and properties of the group, even if they have met originally for a completely different reason, for example a birthday, a marriage, or a death of a member:

  • Neighbors will discuss the neighborhood
  • Employees will discuss the company
  • Relatives will discuss the family

I observed this many times: no matter why the group members came together in the first place, in the end they discussed always something which they all had in common: for example the neighborhood, the company or the family. Is this just common sense or is there a deeper reason?

(The discussion photo is from Flickr User Dom Dada)

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2 Responses to “Social Attractors”

  1. […] systems act as a social attractor which is able to hold a group together: the ritual assemblies attract the members regularly to a […]

  2. […] As Raima Larter noticed, a group of followers or a swarm can be considered as an attractor, a basic social attractor: “It is created by the behavior of that system and, yet, paradoxically, governs the […]


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