Harvard, UCSD researchers identify genetic influence in social networks

Can’t help being the life of the party? Maybe you were just born that way.

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have found that our place in a social network is influenced in part by our genes, according to new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is the first study to examine the inherited characteristics of social networks and to establish a genetic role in the formation and configuration of these networks.

The research was conducted by Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, who is professor of sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, Christopher Dawes and James Fowler, both of UCSD.

“We were able to show that our particular location in vast social networks has a genetic basis,” Christakis said. “In fact, the beautiful and complicated pattern of human connection depends on our genes to a significant measure.”

The researchers found that popularity, or the number of times an individual was named as a friend, and the likelihood that those friends know one another were both strongly heritable. Additionally, location within the network, or the tendency to be at the center or on the edges of the group, was also genetically linked. However, the researchers were surprised to learn that the number of people named as a friend by an individual did not appear to be inherited.

The study included national data (from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health) for the social networks of 1,110 adolescent twins, both fraternal and identical. The researchers compared the social networks of the identical twins to those of the fraternal twins and found greater similarity between the identical twins’ social network structure than the fraternal twins’ networks.

There may be an evolutionary explanation for this genetic influence and the tendency for some people to be at the center while others are at the edges of the group, according to the researchers. If a deadly germ is spreading through a community, individuals at the edges are least likely to be exposed. However, to gain access to important information about a food source, being in the center of the group has a distinct benefit.

“One of the things that the study tells us is that social networks are likely to be a fundamental part of our genetic heritage,” Fowler said, associate professor of political science at UC San Diego. “It may be that natural selection is acting on not just things like whether or not we can resist the common cold, but also who it is that we are going to come into contact with.”

The findings also illuminate a previously unknown limitation of existing social network models, which had assumed that all members behave as interchangeable cogs. To address these intrinsic differences in human beings that contribute to the formation of social networks, the researchers have created a new mathematical model, called the “attract and introduce” model, which is also explained in this paper and supports the genetic variation of members.

This model creates networks that very closely simulate actual human social networks, and using this model, they found that when someone was placed in any virtual network, they gravitated towards the same place within the network.

Because both health behaviors and germs spread through social networks, understanding how contagions flow through social networks has the potential to improve strategies for addressing public health concerns such as obesity or the flu.

Fowler and Christakis have also published on other aspects of social networks, such as the spread of obesity, smoking cessation and happiness.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Science Foundation.

Related posts:

  1. UCSD: Study reveals new clues about Kawasaki disease
  2. UCSD biologists discover motor protein that rewinds DNA
  3. Research Report: Salk Institute receives grant for aging research
  4. Research Report: Team links protein to cartilage degeneration
  5. UCSD hosting Election Night party

Short URL: http://www.delmartimes.net/?p=4127

Posted by on Jan 27, 2009. Filed under Archives. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply

Archives

Facebook

Bottom Buttons 1

Bottom Buttons 2

Bottom Buttons 3

Bottom Buttons 4

Bottom Buttons 5

Bottom Buttons 6

LA JOLLA NEWS

RSS LA JOLLA NEWS

  • Which Luxury Watches Hold Their Value Best?
    By Carl Blackburn Last month, I spoke about Rolex appraisals and the various factors that go into determining the value of pre-owned luxury watches (condition, year, rarity, complexity, materials, etc). But now the question begs, “How much can you expect that value to depreciate over 5 or 10 years?” and “Which watches hold their value […]
  • La Jolla Community Calendar Aug. 28-Sept. 4
    Families are invited to come to the Rec Center for some fun activities 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30. Afterward enjoy a free screening of “The Little Rascals Save the Day” at 8:15 p.m. La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. Donations accepted. (858) 552-1658. http://bit.ly/ljreccenter […]
  • PHOTOS: Foreigner concert helps ‘Rock the Cure’ for pediatric diabetes research in La Jolla
    Steve and Lisa Altman hosted the legendary rock band, Foreigner, at the annual “Rock the Cure” benefit for Pediatric Diabetes Research Center at UC San Diego on Aug. 10, 2014. The Altmans’ La Jolla home served as the concert venue, and the event also included “a taste of San Diego” with numerous restaurants offering samples of their cuisine. Lisa Altman, Sta […]

RANCHO SANTA FE NEWS

RANCHO SANTA FE NEWS

RSS RANCHO SANTA FE NEWS

  • Rancho Santa Fe Invasive Plants and Better Alternatives
    By Steve Jacobs, Nature Designs In California we are lucky to live in a mild climate that allows us to grow amazing landscapes. Because of this mild climate, plants from other parts of the world often thrive; and some grow so well they become known as invasive. These plants ‘jump fences’ and ‘throw seeds.’ Their […]
  • Rancho Santa Fe School District’s robotics program receives new funding
    The Rancho Santa Fe School District is making its school’s robotics program more robust this year, allocating $42,500 in stipends to staff coaches just like the district does for its athletics program. “I think the program has taken a big step,” said Superintendent Lindy Delaney. “I think we’re on our way toward developing a great program there.” John Galipa […]
  • Back to School for R. Roger Rowe students
    Students at R. Roger Rowe School bid a fond farewell to summer and headed back to school Aug. 25. Photos by Jon Clark. […]