The flu virus is brutal this year. One contagious person spreading it to another person who spreads it to another person. Yuck and gross!
Know what else is contagious?
James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University designed an experiment where everyone would benefit the most by being selfish.
The people were organized into groups of four. Each person was given 20 “money units” and told to privately decide how many units they’d keep for themselves and how many they’d contribute to the common fund. The units that ended up in the common fund would be multiplied by two-fifths, then divided equally among the group members. If every individual kept all their units, each person would still have only 20 units. But if everyone contributed all of their units, each person would get 32 units. The rational decision here is to maximize your own benefit by keeping most of your units for yourself but benefiting from the generosity of the group.
When all the decisions were made, the entire group was told how much each individual person contributed and the community fund tallied up and disbursed. The participants then moved on to play this same game with an entirely different group of people.
So, it looks like this…. Abe, Betty, Carl, and Donna are in a group. Each of them decides how many units to keep and how many to contribute. At the end of the game, those decisions are announced, and it is revealed that Abe was very generous. He did not play the game rationally. Instead of keeping all the units for himself, he gave most of his units to the group fund. Abe goes on to play this game with 3 new people. Betty goes on to play this game with 3 new people (as do Carl and Donna).
Betty is in a new group with Sally, Tom, and Jerry. Again, each of them decides how many units to keep and how many to contribute. At the end of the game, those decisions are announced.
Researchers discovered that Betty was influenced by Abe’s generous behavior, and she contributed more units than she did in the prior game. The game ends, and each person goes on to play the game with a new group of people.
Now, here’s where it gets cool. Betty’s team members Sally, Tom, and Jerry go on to contribute more of their credits in their new groups! Abe’s generous act has influenced people he’s never interacted with. His generosity inspired his team members to be more generous in future interactions with others– which inspired those people to be more generous in their interactions with others.
The researchers conclude, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
Well, that’s a hell of a lot better than passing around the flu bug. Give, because giving is contagious. Your behavior inspires others. Make it worth catching.