Is it Lindsay Lohan or your friends who make you a binge drinker?

June 23rd, 2008

What determines our behavior or beliefs? Are we influenced by people who are the well-known and popular leaders — political, social, religious — in our society or by the few hundred people that are in our immediate social network — family, friends and co-workers. It’s reasonable to assume that it varies by domain or topic, with your music preferences falling in the first category and your spiritual orientation in the second.

Paul Ormerod and Greg Wiltshire have a preprint of a paper ‘Binge’ drinking in the UK: a social network phenomenon (pdf) that reports on a study that the binge drinking phenomenon seems to spread through “small world” social networks rather than by imitating influentials in a “scale free” network

“We analyse the recent rapid growth of ‘binge’ drinking in the UK. This means the consumption of large amounts of alcohol, especially by young people, leading to serious anti-social and criminal behaviour in urban centres. We show how a simple agent-based model, based on binary choice with externalities, combined with a small amount of survey data can explain the phenomenon. We show that the increase in binge drinking is a fashion-related phenomenon, with imitative behaviour spreading across social networks. The results show that a small world network, rather than a random or scale free, offers the best description of the key aspects of the data.”

It’s fascinating that with the right data, simulation models can help to answer such questions.