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The Friendship Paradox: Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than YOU

Friendship Paradox: the friendship paradox is the phenomenon observed by the sociologist Scott L. Feld in 1991 in which most people have, on average, fewer friends than their friends.

Let’s be honest for a moment: what do you feel after checking your social networks? Joy, inspiration, love or good, sadness and anxiety? If it is the latter, you should know that you are not alone and most surprising: this may be the effect it produces on all users. For a long time, we have been talking about the beneficial or negative impact of social networks on people. Serious studies in this regard suggest that they trigger anxiety and unhappiness; Of course, in that respect, they continue, after all, they have become a very important factor in the daily life of many.

The Friendship Paradox

Anyway, it will not be strange for almost anyone to have ever thought that our friends have a better time, have more resources and, if that was not enough, they have many more friends than us.

Although it may seem only a toxic thought without evidence, the statistics suggest that no, that our friends actually have more friends than us, are richer and have more fun. All this for a phenomenon known as the friendship paradox.

The evidence of our misfortune and desolation -well, this is an exaggeration-, that is, the friendship paradox was discovered by the sociologist Scott Feld in 1991 when he was conducting a study on the properties of social networks.

Recall that the study of networks is used in many fields and hence have given off several explanations of strange and interesting phenomena, such as Dunbar’s famous number and the Small World Experiment. In this case, the paradox appears in a great variety of situations and can be expressed in a mathematical way, that is, in a few words: yes, your friends – and mine – have more friends than you.

Friendship Paradox
Friendship Paradox

Network researchers explain this paradoxical effect as a result of the very topology of networks, that is, how they are connected and structured. This is why the phenomenon has been found both in social networks of real life and in virtual ones. In MIT Technology Review it is explained as follows:

  • The paradox arises because the number of friends that people have is distributed according to a law of power rather than a normal linear relationship. That is to say, that most people have few friends, while a smaller number of people have many friends.
  • It is this small second group that produces the paradox. For starters, those who have many friends are more likely to be among your friends. And when this is the case, they make it significantly increase the average number of friends of your friends. That’s why, on average, your friends have more friends than you.

Apparently, Nobody Escapes

In more recent studies on the paradox of friendship it has been found that it is very likely that other characteristics such as the wealth and happiness of our friends have the same distribution as that of their friends, that is, although these factors are more complex than measure and quantify, it has been discovered that they share the same topology of the network and therefore, it can be said that your friends – in addition to having more friends than you on average – not satisfied with that, are happier and richer.

This phenomenon is called the “generalized friendship paradox” (GFP, General Friendship Paradox ), and refers to the fact that several personal factors are connected in the same way as the nodes of the network and, therefore, will present the same paradoxical nature.

For example: in one of the studies, academic networks of scientists and their coauthors of articles were analyzed; In short, it was concluded that the coauthors of a scientist will always have more co-authors, publications and will be more cited than him. Yes, again the “devastating” effect of GFP.

And what is the use of all this besides showing us -and following in exaggeration- our sad reality? The discovery of the paradox of friendship and the study of how it works has several applications, one of which is to understand the nature of the networks for marketing purposes, but also to predict and slow down the epidemiological outbreaks that are so worrying to scientists. at present.

So, the next time you review your social networks remember this paradox; but also that the effects of these platforms are not general welfare and that the aspirational happiness that is so promoted in the networks is nothing more than a consumer product.

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