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Social Networks Science

Happiness May Be Catching 176

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 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:45AM (#29437643) Journal
    Your mom drilled it into your head, when she asked if you'd jump off a bridge if all of your friends are.

    Well, would you? [].

    The only thing you know from your reasoning is an anecdotal story that people don't follow the crowd. One that appears to be demonstrably false.
  • by Niubi ( 1578987 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:14AM (#29437749)
    Essentially man is a social animal and has an inbuilt desire to fit in with the society that surrounds him/her. I'm not quite sure why an expensive and pointless scientific paper needed to be written about what is essentially a psychological and societal issue. Take DubLi, for example - it's growing because those who have used it are reporting positively to friends, collegues etc positively. It's not exactly rocket science, just my 2 cents worth.
  • Re:Good article. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sobrique ( 543255 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:34AM (#29437831) Homepage
    Thing is, it's not actually all that hard to do. It just requires a bit of overcoming of the initial 'I don't want to interact' antipathy. If you're anything like me, you've been introverted for a lot of your life, because ... well, people just suck. It's true, the do. Everyone is in some degree an arsehole. That doesn't mean you can't like them, nor does it mean you can't appreciate the positive parts of them. There's relatively few who are outright poison in terms of relationships.
    To become a social hub, all you really need is to be able to take an interest in everyone else. Start off by faking it, but once you've done that a bit, you've already got the level of background knowledge that you don't need to any more - it's basically the same as 'geeking' only this time the subject of your study is people and social dynamics. Accept the idiosyncracies of people without passing judgement, much like you would with a hardware platform. Take the time to figure out what they're good and bad at, and keep up to date with their revision history. From there, all it takes is a bit of spreading of invites when you choose to do something - e.g. if you feel like going to the cinema, circulate the notion - include time, venue and film, and invite people to turn up if they're interested. People will, and suddenly you're a social hub, and that's something that'll take fairly minimal effort to maintain.
  • by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:55AM (#29437941)

    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?

    Your point is brought up in the article: One is âoehomophily,â the tendency of people to gravitate toward others who are like them. People who are gaining weight might well prefer to hang out with others who are also gaining weight, just as people who are happy might seek out others who are happy.Christakis and Fowler argue that they have stripped out the confounding effect of homophily from their statistics, although some other researchers have disagreed.

    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."

    Why is it obvious? At one time it was "obvious" that smokers were the cool socialites that everyone wanted to emulate.

  • by lapsed ( 1610061 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @09:16AM (#29438901)
    His criticism is valid. Despite researchers' methodological rigour, social network analysis can identify causation that just doesn't exist. One study [], using the same design that had previously identified obesity as being contagious or caused by an individual's social network, found that height, headaches and acne were similarly contagious. Height could be a good predictor of friends' height but your height won't be changed by your friends' heights. Granted, I haven't read the article and I'm not qualified to know whether the authors used the appropriate controls in the right ways, but it bears mentioning that even an ostensibly solid design can produce misleading results when trying to establish causation.
  • by Denial93 ( 773403 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @10:48AM (#29440205)
    There certainly are some social groups where way more casual sex is going on than in others. Geekdom isn't one of them, in fact geeks are one of the most monogamous groups of people I know. Some of the music scenes tend to make much less of a fuss about casual sex, as do the hard political left, the art scene and the ecologically-bent.

    These are just stereotypes of course, I don't know whether there is hard data on this. Would be interesting, though. I am continually amazed at how much sex average-looking people are getting out of being part of certain scenes.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas