New Gadgets, Old Behavior
Smart phones may be new, but we use them to communicate in ways that reflect evolutionary patterns, according to research by Janos Kertesz, who recently joined the Center for Network Science as a professor and researcher.
“We use high-tech gadgets, thinking they’re so far from our instincts, but they’re not,” says Kertesz. “Our evolutionary heritage still influences our behavior.”
Kertesz’s research showed that women focus intensely on relationships with men, but only until their daughters reach childbearing age, at which time they start focusing on their daughters and grandchildren. Published in April 2012 in Scientific Reports, a publication of the journal Nature, Kertesz and colleagues from Aalto University in Finland used 2 billion telephone calls and 500,000 text messages from an unnamed European mobile phone operator to map patterns of behavior. Based on the volume of calls and messages to certain people of a certain gender and age, the researchers could identify the closest relationships, or “best friends” of each caller and map out how the relationships shifted by age. The names of the callers were withheld by the operator to maintain privacy.
Using such data is an exciting new way to conduct research, part of the growing field of network science. Kertesz and his colleagues, including Albert Laszlo Barabasi, also of the Center for Network Science, were among the first to use mobile phone records for research of this nature. The sheer volume of the data makes it possible to draw significant conclusions, although traditional methods, such as surveys, remain valuable, he says.
“It opens a new era in social sciences, that we leave a digital footprint of everything we do,” Kertesz says. “Communications, shopping, surfing the Internet. This data-driven aspect of social science research does not replace traditional methods, it complements them.”
The interdisciplinary team producing the research published in Scientific Reports included Prof. Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, with whom team members interpreted the mobile phone data as evidence of the so-called grandmother hypothesis, that women beyond childbearing age invest their time in their daughters’ welfare, attempting to influence their reproductive success. Men’s preferences in relationships stayed much more constant over time.
Besides his work investigating relationships, Kertesz has conducted research on Wikipedia as an example of a collaborative environment. Along with coauthors, he is looking at how editors cooperate and where conflict emerges. Wikipedia is another vast source of data, Kertesz says, where everything is documented and therefore researchable.
Kertesz, will be teaching a new interdisciplinary course this fall: Fundamental Ideas of Network Science. In it he will help students understand how the information revolution has enabled people to study huge networks including the Internet, large social networks, email and mobile communication networks, and ecological and biological networks.
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