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You are the company you keep.

In class, the ideas of connectivity and structural balance have been applied to virtually everything – from models of collaboration between researchers to even the intimate relationships of high school students during an eighteen month time frame. However, even after being exposed to such a large spread of “real life” examples, the manner in which the above article related networking to life proved shocking.

The linked article, written by Mir M. Ali and Debra S. Dwyer, explores how social networks play a role in alcohol consumption amongst adolescents. The article delves into greater detail and psychological theory than what has been taught in lecture, but at the simplest level, the study exemplifies the structural balance theory of positive and negative relationships (edges) between individuals (nodes).  An endogenous effect is said to occur when “an individual behavior responds to the behaviors of others in their reference group”.  In other words, the study predicts and supports that an individual probably drinks alcohol if a majority of his/her friends do and conversely, probably does not drink alcohol if the majority of his friends do not. From this understanding, it seems reasonable to gather that if an individual knows two drinkers, but is a nondrinker himself, he and the two drinkers probably are not friends. Likewise, a drinker would find oneself friendless in a group of nondrinkers. Therefore, the only way to maintain positive, friendly relations with all of the others in the group is to assume their drinking or nondrinking habits.

The four possible stable triangular networks located below, in which N is representative of a nondrinker, D is representative of a drinker and the edges are + between like nodes to signify mutual friends and – between oppositely labeled nodes to signify mutual enemies, show how the hypothesis and findings of the article match up to the theory of structural balance.


It is clear after viewing the stable triangular networks that the subject matter of authors Ali and Dwyer are quite applicable to Networks 2040. The course textbook, Networks, Crowds and Markets, states that a structural balance is maintained if each labeled triangle has one or three positive edges. The four triangular networks meet this criteria. As predicted by the study and the structural balance theory, the top left network shows the alienation of the drinker from the two nondrinkers, the top right shows the mutual friendship of all three nondrinkers, the bottom left shows the alienation of the nondrinker from the two drinkers, and the bottom right shows the mutual friendship of all three drinkers.

Now the article only explores the effect of social networks on alcohol consumption, but it seems as though this model of what is essentially peer pressuring could be relevant to other behaviors in adolescents. It would be an interesting divergence from the original study to see if the model holds up when observing drug usage, theft, or even positive behaviors such as study habits and work ethic among groups of adolescents. Chances appear quite good that it will. Judging friends as “good or bad influences” seems like a common pastime of overprotective mothers nearly everywhere, but it seems that despite how strong your urge to argue with her is, mother may indeed know what’s best.


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