Friday Feedback Favourites

Each Friday, I share a collection of stories, research, or other news and notes related to the role of feedback in complex systems that catch my attention during the previous week. Most of these I share on twitter when I first read about them; if you have a twitter account, feel free to follow me. If you’re not on twitter, I hope that you enjoy this selection of my favourites; links are provided so you can explore each one fully.

This week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, put on by Accretive Advisor. His research focusses on social networks and how we are influenced by those around us. The connections we form with friends, family, coworkers, and others we see daily can be viewed as a means of feedback. An example from the talk that illustrates this is the spread of emotions; we tend to copy what we see in others, and this spread is rapid.

A few other points that struck me most from the talk included:

  • social networks magnify what they are seeded with, good or bad
  • facebook connections do not have the same influence as face to face friends; online networks are good for disseminating information, but lack the strength of influence
  • both the structure of the network (the nature of the relationships between indviduals) as well as the individuals themselves matter

Since the talk, I’ve been thinking about how we can seed desirable things in the network. Is there a way to leverage the feedback inherent in these connections to elicit change for the greater good?

For more on his work, I’ve embedded one of his TED talks and provided links to several of his papers below.

Hill, A., Rand, D., Nowak, M., & Christakis, N. (2010). Emotions as infectious diseases in a large social network: the SISa model Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277 (1701), 3827-3835 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1217

Fowler JH, & Christakis NA (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 337 PMID: 19056788

Christakis NA, & Fowler JH (2007). The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. The New England journal of medicine, 357 (4), 370-9 PMID: 17652652

Image from Dr. Christakis’s animation on network contagion.

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