The math behind the election, plus how to convince your friends to do anything

If it’s two things that people groan about the most, it’s politics and math homework.

In fact, the two types of professionals we frequently groan about are math tutors and politicians. It’s easy to complain that politicians are too distanced from reality, and that we’ll never use high school calculus in real life.

But when the two worlds collide, they can explain one another in a way that makes us understand how humans interact in different social groups: how we choose a restaurant, whether to recycle our to-go boxes, and even how we vote.

Recently, an international group of researchers put their heads together to create a mathematical model that that they hope will help explain the relationship between social influences, environmental factors, and opinions. The complex algebra attempts to gauge to what extent somebody is absolutely certain of a belief.

Essentially, if people paid more attention to the structural features of small-group interpersonal influence systems, then they could more succinctly convince them why a policy is necessary.

So basically the study tells us that if we understand the complex dynamic of a group of people, we can say one thing that convinces them of completely unrelated things.

For example: Convince people that government is bad, and they will think the president’s policies on anything are, well, attacking their way of life.

Example 2: Say you love McDonald’s (those hot french fries though!). Your group of four friends want to go to Burger King, which is the equivalent of eating garbage to you. Clearly you are outnumbered in this decision, but then you realize that the friend who’s driving happens to be the only one with access to a car. As such, everyone in the group values the driver’s opinion the most since everyone just wants greasy fast food.

If you can persuade the driver why Mickey D’s is superior (less driving time, you’ll buy their meal) then you have convinced the group by default.

Example 3: Your friends sometimes forget to add you to the group text and you get left out of fun weekend activities. But when there’s a homework assignment due, suddenly you get all the texts.

THEN you get the Yup app, and have a mobile math tutor whenever you need it. You start blowing through the math homework much faster than everyone else. Suddenly people realize that they should include you in every single plan because you are a living, walking mathematics textbook.

With persuasion comes power, friends. It’s all in the math.


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