Better health through social networking

Friday, September 3, 2010 - 03:35 in Mathematics & Economics

Scientists have long thought that social networks featuring many distant connections, or “long ties” — where individuals know a lot of people, but not well — produce large-scale changes most quickly. But in a new study, Damon Centola, an assistant professor of system dynamics and economic sociology at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has reached a different conclusion: People are more likely to acquire new health practices while living in networks with dense clusters of connections — that is, when in close contact with people they already know well. Researchers often regard these dense clusters of connections to be redundant when it comes to spreading information; networks featuring such clusters are considered less efficient than networks with a greater proportion of long ties. But getting people to change ingrained habits, Centola found, requires the extra reinforcement that comes from those redundancies. In other words, people need to hear a...

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