Tasha Bock, James H. Fowler, Nicholas A. Christakis
Connected: The Six Rules of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
By Jed Diamond, Ph.D.
Contact: Jed@MenAlive.com Web: www.MenAlive.com
Your colleague's husband's sister can make you fat, even if you don't know her. A happy neighbor has more impact on your happiness than a happy spouse. These startling revelations of how much we truly influence one another are revealed in the studies of Drs. Christakis and Fowler, which have repeatedly made front-page news nationwide.
Yes, Happiness is contagious. Your future spouse is likely to be your friends friend. Your friends friends friends can make you fator thin.
We think we are individuals who control our own fates, but as Christakis and Fowler demonstrate, we are merely cells in the nervous system of a much greater beast. If someone you barely know reads Connected, says Daniel Gilbert, author of the bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness, it could change your life forever. How? Read it yourself and find out."
Can Your Friends Make You Fat?
Obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus, according to researchers Christakis and Fowler. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight too. Their study was first published in the New England Journal of Medicine and involved a detailed analysis of a large social network of 12,067 people who had been closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003.
The investigators knew who was friends with whom, as well as who was a spouse or sibling or neighbor, and they knew how much each person weighed at various times over three decades. That let them watch what happened over the years as people became obese. Did their friends also become obese? Did family members? Or neighbors?
The answer, the researchers report, was that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased one's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent. There was no effect when a neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less of an influence than friends. It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away - the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between mutual close friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese too.
The same effect seemed to occur for weight loss, the investigators say, but since most people were gaining, not losing, over the 32 years, the result was an obesity epidemic.
Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and a principal investigator in the new study, says one explanation is that friends affect each others' perception of fatness. When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad.
"You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you," Christakis said. The investigators say their findings can help explain why Americans became fatter in recent years: Persons who became obese were likely to drag some friends with them.
Their analysis was unique, Christakis said, because it moved beyond a simple analysis of one person and his or her social contacts, and instead examined an entire social network at once, looking at how a friend's friends' friends, or a spouse's siblings' friends, could have an influence on a person's weight. The effects, Christakis said, "highlight the importance of a spreading process, a kind of social contagion, that spreads through the network."
Rules of Life in the Network
According to Christakis and Fowler, there are a number of rules that affect all of us in our various networks.
Rule 1: We Shape Our Network
As humans we make and remake our social networks constantly. Think about your Facebook network. New people are added, old people are dropped. People were not quite sure we want that much contact are hidden.
Even with all our on-line friends our real network of those we are close with is quite small. Studies show that most Americans have just four close social contacts, with most having between two and six. Sadly, 12 percent of Americans listed no one with whom they could discuss important matters or spend free time. At the other extreme, 5 percent of Americans had eight such people.
Rule 2: Our Network Shapes Us
The old adage to choose your friends wisely is true. A person who has no friends has a very different life than one who has many. It has been known for some time that first-born children score a few points higher in intelligence than second-born children, who in turn score a bit higher than third-born children.
New research shows that the cause is not biologically locked in, but is influenced by the effect of the social network. If you are a second-born child whose older sibling died while you were a child, your IQ increases and resembles the IQ of a first-born child.
Rule 3: Our Friends Affect Us
Humans are social animals. We influence and are influenced by those we are close with. People typically have many direct ties to a wide variety of people, including parents and children, brothers and sisters, spouses and ex-spouses, bosses and coworkers, neighbors and friends.
Each of these ties creates avenues of influence. Students with studious roommates become more studious. Diners sitting next to heavy eaters eat more food. Homeowners with neighbors who garden wind up with manicured lawns. And this simple tendency for one person to influence another has tremendous consequences when we look beyond our immediate circle of friends.
Rule 4: Our Friends Friends Friends Affect Us
In seems common sense to learn that our friends influence us, but can our friends friends really have an impact on our lives? Well, it turns out that they can. The spread of influence seems to follow the Three Degrees Rule.
Everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends friends (two degrees), and even our friends friends friends (three degrees).
The Three Degrees Rule applies to a broad range of attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, and it applies to the spread of phenomena as diverse as political views, weight gain, and happiness.
Rule 5: The Network Has a Life of Its Own
Social networks can have properties and functions that are neither controlled nor even perceived by the people within them. Few of us would guess that our weight gain was influenced by the eating habits of our friends friends. We can only understand what is going on by looking at the network, not individuals within it.
Have you ever seen, or been part of, the wave at a sporting event? A group of spectators leap to their feet, throw their arms up, then quickly sit back down again. Why do they do it? Ask an individual how he decides when and how long to stand and youll get a shrug of the shoulders. But scientists can actually study the effect and have noticed that these waves usually rolled in a clockwise direction and consistently moved at a speed of twenty seats per second.
In this regard, we say that social networks have emergent properties. Emergent properties are new attributes of a whole that arise from the interaction and interconnection of the parts. It helps us understand why we can believe one thing as an individual and completely reverse ourselves when we are part of a social network.
Rule 6: There are Six Degrees of Separation and Three Degrees of Influence
Weve all heard of the idea of six degrees of separation, but most dont know its origin. Stanley Milgram, a social scientist working in the 1960s gave 100 people who lived in Nebraska a letter addressed to a businessman in Boston, more than a thousand miles away. They were asked to send the letter to somebody they knew personally.
The goal was to get it to someone they thought would be more likely than they to have a personal relationship with the Boston businessman. The number of hops from person to person that the letter took to reach the target was tracked. On average, six hops was required to get the letter delivered.
But just because we can connect with just about anyone in six hops, doesnt mean that we hold sway over all of these people any social distance from us. The Three Degrees Rule seems to impact how much influence we have. We may only influence a few people out from us, but that influence can spread.
While this inherent limit may seem, well, limited (who doesnt want to rule the world?), says Christakis and Fowler, we should remember how small the world is. If we are connected to everyone else by six degrees and we can influence them up to three degrees, than one way to think about ourselves is that each of us can reach about halfway to everyone else on the planet.
More Information: www.ConnectedTheBook.com
Jed Diamond, Ph.D.
Contact: Jed@MenAlive.com Web: www.MenAlive.com