Home Smiling in Your Social Network Photos? You Probably Have More Friends

Smiling in Your Social Network Photos? You Probably Have More Friends

Researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Folwer recently published a paper in the British Medical Journal where they examined how a person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends in their offline social networks. To follow up that study, they examined those same happiness clusters in online networks like MySpace and Facebook. Their conclusion? Happier people tend to have more friends and are more central to the network when compared with their more sullen friends.

Happiness Clusters In The Offline World

In the original research study that examined offline interactions, the researchers found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. In other words, your happiness is related to that of your friends, your friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends. They also discovered that happy people tend to be located in the center of their social networks and are found in large clusters of other happy people. For each additional happy friend, a person’s probability of being happy increases by about 9%.

Armed with these results, the researchers decided to see if the offline research could translate to the online world as well. Of course, determining happiness in the online world is more difficult – a smiling profile picture does not necessarily equate to you being a happy person.

The Facebook Study

The study began with the researchers examining a group of 1700 college students interconnected on the social networking site Facebook. They took note of the students’ profiles and who their friends were. They also noted whether the profile photos contained a smiling face. Next, the researchers looked at the other photos found in the students’ Facebook albums, this time paying careful attention to who “tagged” who in the photos. This was important because the people who take the trouble to be in the same place, take a photograph together, upload the photograph, and label (“tag”) it, almost always have a closer relationship with each other than they do with the rest of the “friends” found on people’s profile pages. These “photo friends” tend to represent a person’s real-life friends. In fact, the average student in the study had over 110 friends on Facebook, but they had an average of only six of these “photo friends” (close friends).

To determine happiness, the researchers noted who was smiling in these tagged photos. Although they admitted that smiling is, of course, very different than happiness, it was as close as they could come in the virtual world. Apparently, that may have been close enough.

Happiness Is Contagious

The data from results of the online study ended up correlating to their offline study – the results were essentially the same, they were just translated to the digital world. What the researchers found was that smiling students were surrounded by others who were also smiling in small “happiness clusters.” Those who were not smiling seem to be located more peripherally in the network. After performing statistical analysis, they determined that those who smile also tend to have more friends – on average one extra friend, which is good considering that people only tend to have six close friends. Those who smiled were also more likely to be at the center of the network when compared to those who don’t.

You can see the results of the study mapped out in the image below. The figure shows just a part of the Facebook network, containing 353 students. The smiling people who are surrounded by other smiling people are in yellow, those frowning or giving any other “serious” look are in blue, and those in green indicate a mix of smiling and non-smiling friends.

In the end, the main conclusion of the study was that, whether online or offline, “when you smile, the world smiles with you.”

Image credits: smile, suchitra prints; network, edge.org; smiling girl, porcelaingirl

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