RWTH Contributes to Study on Perception Biases in Social Networks

16/09/2019

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The research has been published in the prestigious scientific journal 'Nature Human Behaviour.'

 

Despite almost unlimited access to information, people repeatedly misjudge their social and societal environment. Personal networks are responsible for this. They distort our view of the actual distribution of social views and behaviors, especially when it comes to social issues such as the right to asylum, the environment, or health.

A research group led by Professor Markus Strohmaier, Chair for Computational Social Sciences and Humanities at RWTH Aachen University, and researchers from GESIS - Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences in Cologne, where Strohmeier is Scientific Coordinator for Digital Behavioral Data, have recently published a study on this topic in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Human Behaviour.

With the help of a social network model that focuses on the characteristics of majority and minority groups, it was possible to demonstrate that the perceptions of individuals are shaped by their environment, such as their interactions with similar or dissimilar networks. The greatest biases in perception occur when majority or minority groups are disproportionately large and when members only connect to one group or have little contact with other groups. This leads to an overestimation of their own group and to an underestimation of that of others. For example, smokers whose social environment consists mainly of smokers rate the proportion of smokers in the population higher than it actually is.

In order to reduce one’s social perception biases, the research team recommends making efforts to establish contact with people from many different groups. Only varied interactions and exchange with diverse groups makes it possible for individuals to make realistic assessments.