Monday, September 14, 2009

"We are the glue holding ourselves together." article

I wouldn't say that the article itself is particularly well-written, but certainly the insights revealed by the study of the Framingham papers are quite interesting.

By studying Framingham as an interconnected network rather than a mass of individuals, Christakis and Fowler made a remarkable discovery: Obesity spread like a virus. Weight gain had a stunning infection rate. If one person became obese, the likelihood that his friend would follow suit increased by 171 percent. (This means that the network is far more predictive of obesity than the presence of genes associated with the condition.)

It has long been recognized, for instance, that the human capacity for close friendship is remarkably consistent. People from cultures throughout the world report between four and seven bosom buddies. "The properties of our social networks are byproducts of evolution," Christakis says. "The assumption has been that our mind can handle only so many other people."

After analyzing thousands of photos, the scientists found that, on average, each student had 6.6 close friends in their online network. In other words, nothing has really changed; even the most fervent Facebook users still maintain only a limited circle of intimates.

Because networks transmit the stuff of life—from happiness to HIV—evolution has generated a diversity of personality traits, which take advantage of different positions within the group. There are wallflowers and Wilt Chamberlains, shy geeks and "super-connectors." According to Christakis and Fowler, there is no single solution to the problem of other people. Individual variation is a crucial element of every stable community, from the Aborigines of Australia to the avatars of Second Life.

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