The power of popularity

Popularity is a much sought after thing. While being popular may bring a sort of happiness, new research shows that it may come at a personal price but may benefit the greater good.

To explore this researchers from Harvard utilised what is known as the “friendship paradox”. What the friendship paradox tells us is that if I ask you to nominate a friend, there is a high statistical probability that you will name someone who is more popular than you are. This is because when asked to name a friend people are likely to name someone who connects them to others.

The researchers used this phenomenon to establish what effect being popular had on chances of catching the flu during the swine flu outbreak of 2009.

Being based in Harvard, the researchers chose a random sample of the Harvard population of students. They used the friendship paradox to establish who were the popular people in their group and then followed the progress of the swine flu through the student population.

The results showed that popular people caught the flu a full two weeks before their friends, presumably because they had greater exposure to it through more people. Even more impressive though, was that popular people caught the flu 46 days earlier than the general population of students.

This might not be the greatest news for the queens and kings of pop, but it is good news for authorities wanting to manage the next flu outbreak. Imagine if you could somehow track the health status of these popular people (and there are plans to do this) and have a month to a month and a half warning of a new potentially dangerous outbreak. That might just be enough time to intervene and stop the bug taking hold.

Not only do those popular people brighten your parties, they are weather vanes for the flu. They just keep on giving don’t they!

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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