The hipster effect: When anti-conformists all look the same

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In such different domains as statistical physics, neurosciences, spin glasses, social science, economics and finance, large ensemble of interacting individuals evolving following (mainstream) or against (hipsters) the majority are ubiquitous. Moreover, in a variety of applications, interactions between agents occur after specific delays that depends on the time needed to transport, transmit or take into account information. This paper focuses on the role of opposition to majority and delays in the emerging dynamics in a population composed of mainstream and anti-conformist individuals. To this purpose, we introduce a class of simple statistical system of interacting agents taking into account (i) the presence of mainstream and anti-conformist individuals and (ii) delays, possibly heterogeneous, in the transmission of information. In this simple model, each agent can be in one of two states, and can change state in continuous time with a rate depending on the state of others in the past. We express the thermodynamic limit of these systems as the number of agents diverge, and investigate the solutions of the limit equation, with a particular focus on synchronized oscillations induced by delayed interactions. We show that when hipsters are too slow in detecting the trends, they will consistently make the same choice, and realizing this too late, they will switch, all together to another state where they remain alike. Another modality synchronizing hipsters are asymmetric interactions, particularly when the cross-interaction between hipsters and mainstreams aree prominent, i.e. when hipsters radically oppose to mainstream and mainstreams wish to follow the majority, even when led by hipsters. We demonstrate this phenomenon analytically using bifurcation theory and reduction to normal form. We find that, in the case of asymmetric interactions, the level of randomness in the decisions themselves also leads to synchronization of the hipsters. Beyond the choice of the best suit to wear this winter, this study may have important implications in understanding synchronization of nerve cells, investment strategies in finance, or emergent dynamics in social science, domains in which delays of communication and the geometry of information accessibility are prominent.




Touboul, J. D. (2019). The hipster effect: When anti-conformists all look the same. Discrete and Continuous Dynamical Systems - Series B, 24(8), 4379–4415.

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