Washington: A new study has found that dynamic, complex social networks encourage their members to be friendlier and more cooperative.
The possible payoff comes in an expanded social sphere, while selfish behaviour can lead to an individual being shunned from the group and left – literally – on their own, the report said.
The research is among the first such studies to examine social interaction as a fluid, ever-changing process.
This new approach is the closest scientists have yet come to describing the way the planet’s 6 billion inhabitants interact on a daily basis, said David Rand, a post-doctoral fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and a Lecturer in Human Evolutionary Biology, the lead author of the study.
“What we are showing is the importance of the dynamic, flexible nature of real-world social networks,” Rand said.
“Social networks are always shifting, and they’re not shifting in random ways. Although people sometimes do nasty things to each other, for the most part we are fantastically cooperative.
“We do an amazing job of having thousands or even millions of people living in very close quarters in cities all over the world. In a functioning society, things like trade, friendship, even democracy itself requires high levels of cooperation, and when everyone does it, you get good collective outcomes,” he exolained.
In the study, Rand and his colleagues found that participants were more willing to make new connections or maintain existing connections with those who acted generously, and break connections with those who behaved selfishly.
“Because people have control over who they are interacting with, people are more likely to form connections with people who are cooperative, and much more likely to break those links with people who are not,” Rand said.
“Basically, what it boils down to is that you’d better be a nice guy, or else you``re going to get cut off,” he said.
Those who were initially non-cooperative, Rand said, were found to be twice as likely to become cooperative after being shunned, suggesting that being cut off from the group acts as a sort of internal discipline, ensuring that cooperation remains high within a social network.
“As a result, when you have a network that’s dynamic, you see stable, high levels of cooperation, whereas in networks where people have no choice about who to interact with, you see a steady breakdown of cooperation,” Rand stated.
The finding appeared this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).