Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fashions change, but change is always the fashion, new research suggests

29.03.2007
Fashions come and go at a surprisingly steady rate, new research suggests, driven by a small minority of innovators amidst a majority of people copying each other.

A Durham University researcher, working with colleagues at US universities, looked at the popularity of baby names, music and dog breeds and found that their popularity lists change at a steady rate, regardless of population size.

The new research, published in the academic journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, shows how random copying, with occasional innovation, leads our collective tastes to change consistently and at a predictable rate. Because the copying is random, however, it cannot be predicted exactly which new fashions will replace the old ones.

“It’s like American Idol,” said Dr Alex Bentley, a Lecturer in the Anthropology Department at Durham University. “We can predict the steady production of new winners from programme to programme, but the randomness means we can’t forecast the particular winners themselves.”

The research adds further weight to previous work by researchers, which challenged beliefs that our fashion choices are independent, rational decisions, showing that we are generally copycats when it comes to popular culture. New ideas can become highly popular by random copying alone, and be replaced over time as the next generation of innovations are copied.

The researchers say innovation is what actually drives fashion change – the more innovators per capita, the faster the turnover. “Innovators are the cool ones who ‘pump’ new fashions into our world,” Dr Bentley explains. “Most are ignored, but some get copied.” Viral marketing professionals grasp this, says Dr Bentley, as they identify a tiny minority of true innovators among a vast majority of copiers.

The trick is, say the researchers, is to find the innovator with the next big hit. Celebrities, for example, get copied much more than random copying would predict. Dr Bentley said: “David Beckham in the early 2000’s was an innovator with his haircuts but it’s change itself that is actually in demand, more or less regardless of content. Madonna knows this –staying on top for two decades by changing her image constantly.”

The researchers say the steady turnover discovered under the random copying model could be used to predict turnover rates on bestseller lists, as well as distinguish copying from other forms of collective behaviour.

Dr Bentley, Principal Investigator at the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity, collaborated with colleagues at California State University, Western Carolina University and Indiana University in the US. They looked at the Billboard Top 200 chart and found that it turned over at a constant average rate for 30 years, from the 1950s to the 1980s. The number of albums entering and exiting the chart varied from day to day and month to month, but overall the average turnover was 5.6% per month for the full 30-year period. They discovered a similar consistency in turnover for the top baby names and dog breeds.

This real-world data was matched by computer simulations of a random copying model, in which with hundreds or thousands of individuals copy each other from one instant to the next, with a small proportion of innovators (2% or less). During the simulation, they kept track of the Top 40, Top 100 most popular ‘fashions’ and monitored their turnover. The model predicted continuous and regular turnover, consistent with the real-world data from the charts of baby names, music and dog breeds.

How quickly a list will change depends on the size of the list – a Top 100 changes proportionally faster than a Top 40 – but, surprisingly, the size of the population does not have an impact, the research found. Although a larger population means more new ideas, it also means more competition to reach the top, and the two balance each other out: the turnover on bestseller lists remains steady as population size changes.

Random copying, however, does not lead to a ‘rational’ collective decision, which is fine for fashions, but undesirable for public policy, say the researchers. In most situations, such as voting or investing, it is best for society if people make their own rational informed choices. “When political agendas are constantly changing, it’s a sign that politicians are copying each other rather than thinking for themselves,” Dr Bentley said.

Claire Whitelaw | alfa
Further information:
http://www.durham.ac.uk

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>