The invited talks at ICWSM were especially good this year. I want to highlight a few points from Duncan Watt’s talk and Jon Kleinberg’s talks.
- Social influence makes the selection for success less predictable. In other words, judged against independent measures of quality, if an audience is influenced by knowledge of community behaviour, it will select or promote with less correlation to quality than you would think. You may think ‘so much for the wisdom of the crowds’ but, of course, WOC is all about aggregating over independent judgments, not socially influenced ones – see Experimental Studies of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market.
- We know less about our friends than we think we do. In the Friend Sense experiment, it was demonstrated that we project our opinions onto friends about whom we make assumptions regarding political beliefs. Watt’s concerns about the misrepresentation of polarization might be contrasted with the experiments reported in Nick Carr’s book The Big Switch in which a) small preferences lead to deep segregation and b) homophilly leads to extremism.
- Diffusion of information may ‘long circuit’ the small worlds of social networks. In Kleinberg’s presentation regarding the study of the largest internet chain mail (a petition) he described the role of the threshold model of diffusion in which we require multiple receipts of a stimulus (e.g. a chain mail letter) to pass it on, we are more sensitive to our immediate community – our strong links – than to small-world building weak links. This seems to have some relationship with Watt’s work on Challenging the Influentials Hypothesis and both his criticism of the disease analogy and his focus on the importance of the network structure, not some magical power of the ‘influential’.
American culture venerates choice, but choice may not be the key to happiness and health, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
The authors reviewed a body of research surrounding the cultural ideas surrounding choice. They found that among non-Western cultures and among working-class Westerners, freedom and choice are less important or mean something different than they do for the university-educated people who have participated in psychological research on choice.
People can become paralyzed by unlimited choice, and find less satisfaction with their decisions. Choice can also foster a lack of empathy, the authors found, because it can focus people on their own preferences and on themselves at the expense of the preferences of others and of society as a whole.
“We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being,” the authors write. “Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness.”
(In lieu of no psych class this morning, I raided my feedly.)
When stereotypes are dangerous is when we automatically draw conclusions about individuals that aren’t accurate and may even be insulting to them. So the question is: when a particular stereotype is activated — say we see an old person, a French person or a psychologist — can we avoid thinking, respectively, ‘slow’, ‘rude’ and ‘nosy’?