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Social Networks Science

Happiness May Be Catching 176

Posted by kdawson
from the little-help-from-my-friends dept.
chrb writes "The NY Times Magazine has an interesting article about research, based on the long-running Framingham Heart Study, modeling real world social networks. It seems that tendencies to be happy, not to smoke, and not to become obese are passed between nodes in a directed graph in a way that suggests such concepts are 'contagious.' Well-connected nodes in the graph (i.e., people with more friends) are more likely to be happier than less-connected nodes, even when the edges represent more distant friendships. Individuals quitting smoking, or becoming obese, influence not only their immediately connected friends but also friends of friends, with the effect sometimes skipping the intermediary node. The contagion effect is most noticeable when a tendency is passed from one person to another of the same sex — friends of the opposite sex, including spouses, are not as influential."
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Happiness May Be Catching

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  • by Vintermann (400722) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:12AM (#29437737) Homepage

    We well-informed teetotallers have known this for years about alcohol. Attitudes aren't made in a vacuum. If the drug/alcohol use of your kids, or even the use in society, bothers you, the first thing you should do is cut back (or better yet, cut out) yourself.

    It was the French demographer Sully Ledermann who first suggested that alcohol consumption appears to follow a log-normal distribution - he didn't provide much evidence for it, but it turned out later he was completely right. In principle, a single variable is enough to describe the variation in total alcohol consumption across cultures: The average amount consumed. As the number of moderate drinkers increase, the number of heavy drinkers increases with about the square.

    I'll quote (and translate) a piece of an article from the journal of the Norwegian physician's association:

    "The stable traits and connections that have been found in this are are not natural laws, they could all in principle have been different. The suprising thing, however, is that the connections are as stable as they are.

    These connections and regularities were at the outset pure statistical descriptions of reality, without any understanding of the social mechanisms that generated them. Through the 1980s there came some studies where one tried to explain how these regularities appear and are kept stable (9, 11, 13). The original hypotheses were one that drinking habits are explained by a series of factors that appear to combine multiplicatively, and another that alcohol users are strongly influenced by the drinking habits in their social networks.

    Both hypotheses have good empirical support. The first one can, by the so-called central limit theorem in statistical theory, explain that the distribution becomes approximately log-normal. The second hypothesis can, from theories of interaction and spread in social networks, explain why there is such a strong connection between average consumption and the prevalence of high consumers."

    Emphasis mine. Original article with references here: http://www.tidsskriftet.no/?seks_id=649944 [tidsskriftet.no]

  • Good article. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AbRASiON (589899) * on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:17AM (#29437761) Journal

    I've always noted the point mentioned towards the end, discussing how a 'social hub' kind of person can leave their element (place of living, workplace) go somewhere and within a few short weeks become a social hub again, these people fascinate me (and probably most of us) often interesting, social, active and often fun.
    I'm by far not one of them sadly - infact I'm the loner in the article likely to die fat and speaking to no one however doesn't change that I mostly agree with what the article says, despite being difficult to proove it of course.

  • Not just fat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chrb (1083577) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:36AM (#29437837)

    They also studied drinking: When it came to drinking, Christakis and Fowler found a different kind of gender effect. Framingham women were considerably more influential than Framingham men. A woman who began drinking heavily increased the heavy-drinking risk of those around her, whereas heavy-drinking men had less effect on other people. Why? In the age of frat-party binge drinking, you might imagine that hard-partying men are the most risky people to be around. But Fowler says he suspects women are more influential precisely because they tend to drink less. When a woman starts drinking heavily, he says, it sends a strong signal to those around her that it's O.K. to start boozing too.

  • by cerberusss (660701) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:41AM (#29437863) Homepage Journal

    Peer pressure isn't a new phenomenon. Groups mutually conform, as part of their group identity.

    I don't think it's just about peer pressure and groups.

    I've read the book by Neil Strauss [wikipedia.org] in which he becomes a "pick-up artist". One of his techniques for impressing girls is to have you and a friend go into a bar and act like you're having fun. Laughing and joking is contageous to the girls, but they are not in your group, and neither is peer pressure involved there.

  • by PeterBrett (780946) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:45AM (#29437887) Homepage

    tendencies to be happy, not to smoke, and not to become obese are passed between nodes in a directed graph

    Wouldn't it be more likely that these people that are happy, athletic, and don't smoke tend to make friends with other people like them, as opposed to this suggestion of viral happiness? I mean it seems pretty obvious that people who don't smoke are going to have a higher percentage of friends that don't smoke than those who do smoke. It's called a "lifestyle."

    If you'd RTFA (and no, I'm not new here) you'd know that this effect is called homophily, and that one of the criticisms of the study is that the researchers efforts to account for it were insufficient.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @08:53AM (#29438661) Journal

    Hi Seumas,

    This is NOT a waste of money. This study began in 1948 to discover causes of cardiovascular disease. The data was very broad and included health habits, diet, and sociological information. This "study" simply poured through the already existing data to find other interesting bit of information.

    So, while some money might have been spent, this was more of an anlysis of existing information. In some ways, it is a money savings as no new study needed to be conducted to glean this information.

    If you are interested, Google the study. There is a lot information out there, and the study added a lot to our body of knowledge.

  • I've never studied social networking, but there's a chance that the viral model is still useful mathematically even though it's causal relationship is flawed. For example in semiconductor physics it is often useful to model electron holes as positive charge carriers even though only electrons are actually moving. Basically the idea I'm trying to put forward is that if a model has limits (and every physical model does) it can still be useful if these limits are well understood.

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