Stephen Baker

The Boost
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How friends' friends can affect moods

January 3, 2009Tribes

One of my Twitter buddies sent me the link to this New Scientist story on how things like happiness work their way through social networks. It's not just your friend's happiness that influences you, but also your friends' friends. So if you're unhappy, or thinking about taking up smoking, or even concerned that your child might be diagnosed with autism, look around and see what your friends' friends are up to.

Researchers are going to benefit from lots of new data about our social connections in the next decade or so. Facebook and MySpace are gold mines, of course. But there are also companies such as Sense Networks that are starting to track our physical movements, and to sort us into new behavioral tribes.

Not really a social network or a web. It's just a leaf I found last summer. But you get the idea...

Soon, researchers like those mentioned in the article will be able to study the contagion patterns of obesity, happiness, suicide, political philosophy. And of course the government will be especially keen to understand the migration across social networks of terrorist sympathies.

When I was researching The Numerati, I talked to scientists at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who are attempting to model the diffusion of certain ideas in places like Iraq. (Or, more specifically, in Iraq.) Let's say the United States does something good in a town, like building a medical clinic. How does positive news spread to other towns? When I was there, the studies were based on simulations using agent-based modeling. In the future, they'll be able to replace many of these simulations with reality: our behavior.

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