IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Statistical physics models of belief dynamics: Theory and empirical tests


  • Galesic, Mirta
  • Stein, D.L.


We build simple computational models of belief dynamics within the framework of discrete-spin statistical physics models, and explore how suitable they are for understanding and predicting real-world belief change on both the individual and group levels. We find that accurate modeling of real-world patterns requires attending to social interaction rules that people use, network structures in which they are embedded, distributions of initial beliefs and intrinsic preferences, and the relative importance of social information and intrinsic preferences. We demonstrate that these model parameters can be constrained by empirical measurement, and the resulting models can be used to investigate the mechanisms underlying belief dynamics in actual societies. We use data from two longitudinal studies of belief change, one on 80 individuals living in an MIT dorm during the 2008 presidential election season, and another on 94 participants recruited from Mechanical Turk during the 2016 presidential election primary season. We find that simple statistical physics-based models contain predictive value for real-world belief dynamics and enable empirical tests of different assumptions about the underlying network structure and the social interaction rules.

Suggested Citation

  • Galesic, Mirta & Stein, D.L., 2019. "Statistical physics models of belief dynamics: Theory and empirical tests," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 519(C), pages 275-294.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:phsmap:v:519:y:2019:i:c:p:275-294
    DOI: 10.1016/j.physa.2018.12.011

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only. Journal offers the option of making the article available online on Science direct for a fee of $3,000

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. M. C. González & A. O. Sousa & H. J. Herrmann, 2004. "Opinion Formation On A Deterministic Pseudo-Fractal Network," International Journal of Modern Physics C (IJMPC), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 15(01), pages 45-57.
    2. Joshua M. Epstein, 2014. "Agent_Zero:Toward Neurocognitive Foundations for Generative Social Science," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10169.
    3. Costa Filho, R.N. & Almeida, M.P. & Moreira, J.E. & Andrade, J.S., 2003. "Brazilian elections: voting for a scaling democracy," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 322(C), pages 698-700.
    4. Ivan Mulianta & Hokky Situngkir & Yohanes Surya, 2004. "Power Law Signature in Indonesian Population," Labor and Demography 0409001, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Weisbuch, Gérard & Deffuant, Guillaume & Amblard, Frédéric, 2005. "Persuasion dynamics," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 353(C), pages 555-575.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:phsmap:v:519:y:2019:i:c:p:275-294. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Haili He). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.