Understanding Opinion Formation: A Horizontal Map of Current Epistemological Landscape


  • Emil Zvarík Comenius University in Bratislava


Opinions are an essential part of any intelligent human being. A society of individuals having opinions is a crucial premise for democracy. Querying scientific databases with search terms like “opinion formation” yields results from a large variety of sciences – psychology, political science, sociology, computer science, marketing science, economy, and others. Because of this breadth, there are no meaningful review articles. This (early- stage) thesis thus aims to fill this gap and provide a bird’s-eye view, a broad map of the current epistemology of the topic of “How humans form opinions”.


To account for the breadth of the topic, science mapping tools will be used to first map the topic and second identify key articles. Science mapping look at statistical characteristics of a larger body of scientific literature, relations between articles, most common keywords etc. [1] Identified key articles and review articles from subdomains studying opinion formation (e.g. computer modelling of opinion dynamics [2]) will be analysed.

To map the general population’s knowledge a survey will be conducted with laypeople, targeting what they define as opinions and what are their intuitions about opinion formation. The findings will be compared with scientific knowledge.

Expected results

Science mapping tools will help us show what sciences study opinion formation, what are the relations between them and what are the key topics within these sciences in terms of opinion formation (e.g. attitudes for psychology, opinion dynamics for computer science, public opinion for political science).

Analysis of key and review articles will serve to describe what are opinions, what are the types of opinions, what are the factors influencing opinion formation (we are expecting surprises like that the language itself can be such a factor [3]) and what are the connected concepts. If possible, a model of opinion formation will be created. We expect that there will be a great difference between folk and scientific knowledge – people consider themselves rational and are not aware of the spectrum of existing biases.

We believe that this “broad perspective” approach is vital for any scientific topic and will show what are current research gaps. Comparison with folk knowledge can show that the main gap lies in communicating the scientific findings to folk people.


[1] C. Chaomei, “Science Mapping: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” Journal of Data and Information Science, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 1–40, 2017.

[2] R. Hegselmann and U. Krause, “Opinion Dynamics And Bounded Confidence Models, Analysis, And Simulation,” Journal of Artifical Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS), vol. 5, no. 3, 2002.

[3] S. Danziger and R. Ward, “Language changes implicit associations between ethnic groups and evaluation in bilinguals,” Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, vol. 21, no. 6, pp. 799–800, 2010.