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Monday, April 2, 2007

Irrational Fashion Changes Explained

New research reveals that trends in popular culture (music, fashion, baby names) come and go at surprisingly regular and predictable rate, which is fueled by very few innovators amidst millions of people copying each other.

To come up with a template of the trend-setting machine, the scientists developed computer simulations based on a system of random copying in which hundreds or thousands of individuals copy each other with 2 percent or fewer being innovators. The model predicted regular and consistent turnover rates that matched the real-world data.

Bentley found that how quickly something comes into fashion and then fades out depends on the size of the list, with a top-100 list changing much faster than a top-40 list. However, the population number had no effect on turnover rate. The scientists suggest a larger population does mean more new ideas but it also means more competition for a top spot and they balance each other out.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the study also found that the more trendsetting innovators there are in a society, the faster one trend will replace another within a particular sector. “Innovators are the cool ones who ‘pump’ new fashions into our world,” Bentley said.


Wonder Woman © DC Comics

The results suggests that the practice, common among captains of the fashion industry, of trying to handpick the next consumer “gems” amongst millions of proposals is a hopeless undertaking.
Regular rates of popular culture change reflect random copying. 2007. R.A. Bentley, et al. Evolution and Human Behavior, published online 17 January 2007.

So many fashions...spinning...dizzy...