Posted March 1, 2011 by Amy Liss 

My Friends' Friends' Friends? Seriously?

I am no stranger to the idea of influence. I influence you. Check. You influence me. Check. My friends’ friends’ friends influences me. Ch—whaaat? That blew my mind, and definitely left me hoping that my friends and their friends are hanging around with some happy and healthy people!

Keynote speaker Dr. James Fowler discussed the far reaching impacts of our social networks. He made the important distinction that our social network does not consist of our 200 “closest” Facebook friends. Our social network is build from the people that we maintain personal relationships with on a regular basis, and affected by a mixture of influence, homophily, and context. Social media may create awareness, but it is our social network that creates influence.

I believe this is good news for our profession. In between a fluttering of tweets, numerous Foursquare check-ins and, of course, Facebook, personal contact still influences behavior.

How are you going to use the power of your social network back on campus?
Amy Liss

Amy Liss is the Associate Director, Student Activities and Leadership at University of Massachusetts–Lowell.


This keynote brought to my mind some of the concepts advanced by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point where he postulates on what he calls the rule of 150. He quotes an evolutionary biologist Evolutionary biologist S.L. Washburn: “Most of human evolution took place before the advent of agriculture when men lived in small groups, on a face-to-face basis. As a result human biology has evolved as an adaptive mechanism to conditions that have largely ceased to exist. Man evolved to feel strongly about few people, short distances, and relatively brief intervals of time; and these are still the dimensions of life that are important to him.” Gladwell uses this to promote the Rule of 150, which has to do with our social capacity. Humans, as primates, have the biggest brains of all mammals and our neocortex is also huge by mammal standards. And one train of thought is that the larger the neocortex, the larger the average size of the groups we can live with. The British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar has done work that estimates what that group size can be based on the size of the neocortex region relative to the size of the brain for primates . If you calculate this ratio for Homo sapiens, the group size is 147.8 or about 150. This then represents the maximum number of individuals we can have a genuinely social relationship with, the kind where we know who they are and how they relate to us.
Comment posted 03/08/2011 1:40 PM
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