Despite the liberty we may feel in our every day lives, the way we think and behave is heavily influenced by the people around us. According to Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, And Do by social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, “how we feel, whether we fall ill, how much money we make, and whether we vote on Election Day all depend on what others around us—even those who are only distantly connected to us—are doing, thinking, and feeling.” In their book, Christakis and Fowler give countless examples of how the people in our social networks guide our lives. Specifically, they, along with an entire field dedicated to these phenomena, analyze the ways in which feelings and actions spread across a network. This spread, sometimes called contagion, can occur with things like innovation, eating disorders, happiness, substance abuse, and altruism.
So, why should someone involved in The Locus Initiative care about social contagion? Well, the locus mission is simple:
The Locus Initiative is a mission-driven, community building platform that helps college seniors and young professionals across every industry engage with charitable causes. Our goal is to create a network for the future generation of givers with perks such as mentorship from industry leaders and private access to professional and social events.
The entire purpose of the initiative is to create a network through which charitable giving and philanthropic activity can spread. Thus, to achieve this goal we must understand how contagion of altruism works in a network and why Locus is such a valuable tool for our generation of givers.
A vast amount of research exists on the ways in which the social contagion of altruism, specifically the act of giving, occurs among networks. For example, an ingenious study conducted by economist Katie Carman found that employees at an American bank who worked next to generous colleagues were more generous themselves. Additionally, if people moved from an area of low generosity to an area of to high generosity, every $1.00 increase in the average giving of nearby coworkers resulted in a $0.53 increase in donations of that relocated employee.
In addition to this type of person-to-person spread of altruism, altruistic behavior can also spread to larger spheres in a pay-it-forward fashion. Christakis and Fowler studied this contagion by having students play cooperative games in which they were given money and allowed to share it with a group. Students were informed of their peers’ level of generosity and then put in a group with new people for the next round. Christakis and Fowler found that altruism not only spread, but that it was magnified as the number of rounds increased. When one person gave an extra $1.00 in the first round, it led those in her group to each give $0.20 more in the second round which then led to $0.05 more per person in the third. Thus, when one person gives more, it leads to a ripple effect of increased charity.
Generosity can be increased even further when an individual knows the person to which they are giving. A study of the giving patterns of young girls found that the degree of separation between the giver and receiver greatly impacts the level of generosity, with the closest friends receiving the greatest benefit. Further studies show that motivation to give increases even more when people expect to come in contact with the receiver again because giving sustains a social network that people value. Thus, making more connections increases your centrality in a social network and increases the acts of altruism from which you can benefit.
It’s clear that social networks play a significant role in the spread of giving behavior. The Locus Initiative allows us to enforce that spread by helping us surround ourselves with generous individuals, which in turn elevates our likelihood to participate in altruistic, charitable causes. By simply congregating together, we increase our centrality in a network of givers to increase the impact we can have on the world.
So, some may say I’m writing these articles to build my resume. But, I say I’m just playing my part in making giving contagious! You’re welcome, world.