The Physics of Friendship: by Lisa Zyga
Credit: Marta Gonzalez
Applying a mathematical model to the social dynamics of people presents difficulties not involved with more physical – and perhaps more rational – applications. The many factors that influence an individual’s fate to meet an acquaintance and decide to become a friend are impossible to capture, but physicists have used techniques from physical systems to model social networks with near precision.
By modeling people’s interactions based on how particles bounce off each other in an enclosed area, physicists Marta Gonzalez, Pedro Lind and Hans Herrmann found that the characteristics of social networks emerge “in a very natural way.” In a study recently published in Physical Review Letters, the scientists compared their model to empirical data taken from a survey of more than 90,000 U.S. students regarding friendships, and found similarities indicating that this model may serve as a novel approach for understanding social networks.
“The idea behind our model, though simple, is different from the usual paradigmatic approaches,” Gonzalez told PhysOrg.com. “We consider a system of mobile agents (students), which at the beginning have no acquaintances; by moving in a continuous space they collide with each other, forming their friendships.”
After a collision, a particle moves in a different direction with an updated velocity, just as how an individual’s chance of meeting a new person depends on their most recent acquaintances.
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