Have you ever wondered if social networking promotes cooperative behavior? The nature of human social networking—our ability to connect deeply and instantaneously with friends, family, and other individuals—would seem to suggest that social networking can foster cooperation with others. Until recently, there was no scientific proof that social networking itself leads to altruistic cooperation. If one person helps another, could a third party be influenced simply by participating in the same network?
In an attempt to answer this question, Fowler and Christakis (2009) researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego designed an experiment (n=240) to test whether people really do “pay it forward,” or pass along altruistic behavior through indirect, “networked” interaction (Experiment Details).
The results of the experiment suggest—objectively—that cooperative, altruistic behavior can spread as far as three degrees within a social network (from person to person to person). In other words, by helping others, we can create a “cascade” of altruistic behavior!
Because each “degree” in a social network represents exponential growth, helping your friend could trigger a wave of altruistic behavior in hundreds or even thousands of people!
Does this research make you think differently about the impact of your altruistic actions?
Check out AltruHelp.com to trigger your own volunteer network.