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The point when hipster trends become mainstream revealed by scientists

Want to make something cool again? Here’s how to do it

Sarah Young
Friday 08 June 2018 10:02 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

From avocados to cold brew coffee, bushy beards and cacti, it can be difficult to pinpoint the moment that these fairly random trends started to infiltrate the mainstream.

We have become so accustomed to seeing drinks trollies, mason jars, fairy lights and pineapple-shaped everything permeate our lives, but it wasn’t always this way.

So, where on earth did they come from?

A new study suggests that these social trends are no coincidence, and that there is in fact a tipping point where hipster crazes shift from the proprietorship of a committed minority to majority status.

Wondering just how many people you need to get on your side to make MSN or trucker caps cool again? Science has the answer.

For the study, published in the journal Science, scientists devised an experiment to put the emergence of new trends to the test.

Nearly 200 participants were recruited to take part in an online naming game. In the game, the players were shown a picture of a face, for which they had to come up with a name.

To win, they had to write down the same name for the face as an anonymous partner. They were then shown the suggested names after the round ended.

After 10 to 20 rounds – each of which was with a new partner – people appeared to start using previously suggested names and pick the same ones. Once that happened, the norm quickly caught on with the rest of the group and within 25 rounds in one game, for example, everyone had chosen the name “Simone” for their face.

To really put their theory to the test, the scientists then added a new group of people who all wanted to name their face “Mary.”

In one test, the number of people who wanted to use the name Mary constituted 17 per cent of the total participants, while in another test, they made up to 31 per cent.

After experimenting with different percentages who held this minority viewpoint, the researchers finally discovered their tipping point: when at least 25 per cent of people wanted to use the name Mary, it was very likely to rapidly become a majority viewpoint.

The study suggests that people’s preferences and actions are influenced by social dynamic and that you need at least a quarter of a population to elevate something from hipster trend to mainstream.

The researchers were quick to point out that this doesn’t apply to all conventions though.

For example, political views, religious beliefs and opinions on issues like abortion are typically fixed, so figuring out how those might tip would require further research.

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