Circle of friends is fluid, not solid

U. SOUTHAMPTON (UK) — We like to form cliques with others of common interests—but those relationships aren’t necessarily as tightly knit as we may like to believe.

“We often form friendships with people who are similar with us in some way,” says Seth Bullock of the University of Southampton. “This could mean having a similar profession, interest, hobby, religion or political affiliation.

“Cliques form around common shared interests, such as being fans of the same football club or the latest pop sensation on the X Factor, or perhaps more controversially, having similar opinions on politics.”

To understand how groups in society are formed, Bullock and colleagues built a computer model of a social network.

The study is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“This work is interesting because it’s one of the first to study social networks where connections between people change,” says John Bryden of University of London.

“As online social networks have become popular, so scientists have increasingly studied human interaction using networks.”

This study “could have broad implications. Networks with changing connections are quite common in the natural world, from molecules to brain cells, and many of these networks also form groups.”

In the model, individuals freely formed and broke friendship links with others.

“We changed the model so that individuals tended to form links with similar others and we saw the cliques start to form”, says Sebastian Funk, of the Institute of Zoology.

The study also went a step further by looking at what happens when peoples’ interests change—for example someone might find a new interest or friends might influence one another.

“It was fascinating to see how the cliques could form without any one person organizing everything. We saw individuals moving from one clique to another. Over time some cliques disappeared while new ones were established,” says Bullock.

“It was interesting to see that new cliques tended to either fail very quickly or grow and persist for a much longer time, with very few in between, adds Funk.

More news from the University of Southampton: http://www.soton.ac.uk/