`Hits' emerge through self-organized coordination in collective response of free agents

Anindya S. Chakrabarti, Sitabhra Sinha

Individuals in free societies frequently exhibit striking coordination when making independent decisions en masse. Examples include the regular appearance of hit products or memes with substantially higher popularity compared to their otherwise equivalent competitors, or extreme polarization in public opinion. Such segregation of events manifests as bimodality in the distribution of collective choices. Here we quantify how apparently independent choices made by individuals result in a significantly polarized but stable distribution of success in the context of the box-office performance of movies and show that it is an emergent feature of a system of non-interacting agents who respond to sequentially arriving signals. The aggregate response exhibits extreme variability amplifying much smaller differences in individual cost of adoption. Due to self-organization of the competitive landscape, most events elicit only a muted response but a few stimulate widespread adoption, emerging as "hits".

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