New Scientist reports on research showing that social behaviour can follow the laws of a surprising phenomenon – magnetism.
Physicists Quentin Michard and Jean-Philippe Bouchaud were interested in modelling imitation in society – to explain the drop in European birth rates, the explosion in mobile phone ownership and the way clapping at a concert suddenly stops.
The researchers noted similarities in the way magnetic fields influence the spin of electrons in an atom. One atom can influence the next, and with enough effect, the direction of spin in all the atoms can suddenly align.
Modelling each atom as a person allowed the creation of a mathematical model that can accurately predict how, like atoms, human behaviour can suddenly align.
This is not the first time physicists have used mathematical models to predict large-scale human behaviour. Physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi used models of dynamic synchronisation to also model audience appreciation – particularly the phenomenon where thunderous applause turns into <a href="synchronised clapping.
Steven Strogatz’s book Sync explores these models in more details, and shows that similar patterns underly many diverse aspects of the world – from human behaviour to the wobble of the London’s Millennium Bridge.
Link to New Scientist item on magnetism and social behaviour.