The friendship paradox and systematic biases in perceptions and social norms

Except I call it the Twitter paradox, and it is about how neurotics really get on each others’ nerves:

The “friendship paradox” (first noted by Feld in 1991) refers to the fact that, on average, people have strictly fewer friends than their friends have. I show that this oversampling of more popular people can lead people to perceive more engagement than exists in the overall population. This feeds back to amplify engagement in behaviors that involve complementarities. Also, people with the greatest proclivity for a behavior choose to interact the most, leading to further feedback and amplification. These results are consistent with studies finding overestimation of peer consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs and with resulting high levels of drug and alcohol consumption.

That is from Matthew O. Jackson in the new JPE.

Comments

The people I go out drinking with the most tend to go out drinking a lot, therefore most people go out drinking more than me.

I never really got the value/joy/fun in going out drinking. I don't particularly like the taste of alcoholic drinks so it is easy for me to choose not to drink. But I just don't understand the motive TO drink? Do you enjoy being drunk and not capable of doing physical and mental tasks? What is it exactly???

Alcohol, though it is actually a poison that our livers can break down in small amounts, lowers inhibitions and thus increases social interactions. People can form social bonds through drinking.

It would be better to skip the drinking and jump ahead to social engagement, but I think that is hard for some people because they fear rejection. We have to risk rejection.

Many people can handle alcohol, but overall it's effects are devastating.

Drinking solves a major coordination problem -- how can you lower your inhibitions without being sure others will as well? It's a social disaster if you're acting uninhibited while everyone else still has inhibitions. There's a real risk of defection.

Drinking, by actually lowering inhibitions, plus affecting memory, awareness, calculation, etc. serves as a hard-to-fake signal that this is a low-inhibition space. Now, there are other ways to do it -- alcohol is *very* net costly to our species -- but alcohol (or other drugs, I'm pretty high on low doses of psylocibin in this space) is by far the simplest and easiest to coordinate.

Well I still hung out with friends at bars and clubs but I drank a soda. Didn't smoke or do drugs either. So I did indeed se a lot of that "lowered inhibitions". One of the pitfalls of being a none drinker is you cannot tolerate even modest amounts of liqueur. I had a single champagne flute of champagne once and it hit me immediately like I had drunk the whole bottle. But it is exactly that feeling that I disliked and why I rarely drank when I was 21 and never since I turned 28.

Alcohol is a poison.

While oxygen is benign? The LD50 of water (estimated to be) about 90-100g/kg. Unfortunately, the is a large segment of the population unable (or unwilling) to grasp the fact that it IS the dose that makes the poison. Alcohol is a natural constituent of the human gut. It is also an antiseptic. It is also a poison. It has medical uses. Gosh, isn't this useful information?

Drinking is underrated. Or, perhaps, non-drinkers highly overrate the dangers/health threats from drinking. I've run into quite a few teetotalers like Anon who seem to think that having a beer turns you into a raging alcoholic.

"I don't particularly like the taste of alcoholic drinks so it is easy for me to choose not to drink."
There are hundreds of types of alcoholic drinks, most of which don't especially taste of alcohol. Occasionally I'll run into somebody who doesn't like the taste of some broad class of food, say fish. Like what you like, I guess, but this sort of taste aversion to an entire class of consumables strikes me as child-like.

"Do you enjoy being drunk and not capable of doing physical and mental tasks?"
It is possible to drink and not reach a state of total incapacitation, you know. In any case, a drink or two relaxes you physically, and makes it easier to converse with others. Especially for shy people or those with social anxieties, much social conversation with strangers wouldn't take place at all without alcohol.
An occasional slight overconsumption of alcohol around others doing the same can be quite pleasant. Gregarious conversation and flirtation, boozy remembrances of old times, a feeling of hearty goodfellowship with the people around you. The dropping of inhibitions associated with mildly drunk sex can be rewarding. There is a tendency at this point to misjudge, however, and end up going past the line where it's pleasant, especially for those without a lot of drinking experience.

Like what you like, I guess, but this sort of taste aversion to an entire class of consumables strikes me as child-like.

^ Yes.

Gregarious conversation and flirtation, boozy remembrances of old times, a feeling of hearty goodfellowship with the people around you. The dropping of inhibitions associated with mildly drunk sex can be rewarding.

A lot of people underrate the benefits of raucous carnal experiences. Not just sex, but the physical act of being present with your friends and loved ones, throwing your arm around someone, saying silly things, and so on.

The rejoinder is inevitably, "But I can do all those things without alcohol." Sure, you can. Count up how many times you do them in a given year and compare that number to your friends who spend more time at the pub. For all I know, Anon will end up with an equal number, and bless him if he does. But if he doesn't...

Yes, you do all this arm-throwing stuff, but it's fake. If you can't show affection when you're sober, how genuine can your affection be?

Old time comedy is full of high-society drunks who befriend low-lifes in the evening, and regret it in the light of morning.

It's only after you stop drinking that you can identify your actual feelings and act on them, or not, in a genuine manner.

What is overestimated, is the shy individual's capacity to overcome his shyness without alcohol. Once you understand that other people are not an existential threat, and that shyness is simply narcissism, you can choose to continue to be shy or not - without alcohol having to factor into it.

"Old time comedy is full of high-society drunks" "It's only after you stop drinking that you can identify your actual feelings "

Again, this insistent view that there is only a binary: sobriety and drunkenness. As opposed to the vast majority of actual drinking experience, in which a normal, well-adjusted person enjoys a drink or two to relax and facilitate social interactions.

Thelonious: I can't speak about heavy drinking, as I have little experience of it myself or among my friends and family. I would say that it's the so-called normal drinking that blunts the senses, poisons the system, and places us all in false relationship with our emotions.

The definition of normal and well adjusted might be "not needing a drink to successfully conduct a social transaction".

Yes, you do all this arm-throwing stuff, but it's fake. If you can't show affection when you're sober, how genuine can your affection be?

It's all fake? All of it? People bond over a couple of pints, and you're certain this is fake and everyone regrets it in the morning, like some old-time comedy sketch?

Simply stated: Nope.

It's only after you stop drinking that you can identify your actual feelings and act on them, or not, in a genuine manner.

Thelonius already covered this, but you've created a senseless dichotomy in which someone is either fully sober and fully expressive and emotive on the one hand, or completely overcome by drunkenness on the other. This reflects no one's real world scenario.

But don't take my word for it. Go take a friend or a significant other out to dinner. Order one glass of wine. Drink it over the course of your meal, and watch closely to what extent you become less capable of expressing your fondness for each other. My prediction: No real change.

shyness is simply narcissism

^ Said no psychologist, ever. This is a severely wrong belief about both shyness and narcissism, and diminishes your credibility on drinking.

"It is possible to drink and not reach a state of total incapacitation, you know."

Yep. I definitely know my limit. Trouble is, I always pass out before I reach it.

Maybe it's too obvious to say, but beyond facilitating social interactions drinking has inherent utility. I.e. it produces a novel and rewarding subjective state where things are more interesting and enjoyable. Don't know if you are fortunate or not for not experiencing it that way.

Personally I largely side with Anon here. In high school and the first couple of years of college I drank, mainly because other people were doing it. But all that happened was I felt dizzy, there were no positive effects, no "relaxing" or "reduction of inhibition".

And the taste was bad. To me the disguised alcoholic drinks that another commenter mentioned taste just as good, usually better, without alcohol at all.

So around my second year in college I stopped drinking alcohol.

Not totally, if someone's serving wine I'll have some and the decent ones taste okay to me (but I'd usually rather have a lemonade or just plain water instead).

I do use wine in cooking, it adds some great flavor. But I find it revealing that cooking books and TV shows tell the reader to make sure they cook most of the alcohol out of the dish. Why? Because the alcohol makes the dish taste bad.

I know a student who was raised in Hong Kong and Singapore but went to the US for college and has been here ever since. She once asked me why do Americans find it necessary to drink beer while watching a basketball, baseball, or football game? What does beer have to do with sports? I didn't, and don't, have an answer for her.

The rationale that other commenters have made about alcohol promoting relaxation and reducing inhibition don't apply to sports. It's already an environment where people can throw their arms around each other after a touchdown, yell and scream without inhibition, and even have calm rational discussions with the stranger who's sitting next to them. No need for relaxation or inhibition reduction there; yet so many Americans nonetheless find it necessary to drink at sporting events.

Boy, did you blow it on the sports question. Why do we exchange flowers at high school dances? What do the flowers have to do with anything? We're not tying the rakhi, it's senior prom!

Seems weird to think about, but sometimes traditions just emerge out of nowhere. Like throwing pennies into a water fountain or serving a cake with little figurines on top at a wedding. There is no why. Some people started doing it, and other people decided they liked it, too, and then it became a trend. That's all.

I'm sure your Asian friend comes from a culture that has all kinds of stuff like this.

So in other words there is in fact no reason to drink alcohol, except because it's what we do.

I'd have to think this is a common feature of many networks. E.g. your airport connects to airports in other cities, and those airports probably "have more friends" (connect to more airports) than your local airport does.

For social networks, indeed for social animals, I wonder if this is a feature (and not a bug as implied by the references to alcohol consumption and neuroticism). Having airline hubs increases the efficiency of the airline network. Overconsumption of alcohol as a group is probably not a social positive, but other group traits and activities that increase evolutionary fitness might be encouraged by this network and follow-the-crowd behavior. E.g. the group may be more likely to band together and stand up to the encroachments of a rival band, or a wandering leopard. Or it might aid in the transmission of new technology such as a better way to light a fire or weave a textile.

'and with resulting high levels of drug and alcohol consumption'

One wonders if there is a word like gamification in terms of much social media/interaction that could apply to behavior that is repeated for its own sake, such as occurs with drug and alcohol consumption? And if that is a word that dare not speak its name here, while hinting ever so subtly around it.

There may indeed be such a word, but I think that Tyler is trying to put the highlight specifically on social reinforcement of behavior, and not other mechanisms

Certainly possible in terms of social reinforcement of behavior, such as highlighting a book with the gloriously self-recommending title of 'Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Concentration Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.'

Though if enough people touted the idea on twitter, would a book titled 'Psychedelics Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Concentration Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Reality' have a chance in picking up where Leary left off?

With the proper contemporary music, to update this earlier take - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EXCIWlm1fs

"Micro-dosing" LSD is so two years ago (but it was discussed at length at MR).

"One wonders if there is a word....in terms of social media/interaction that could apply to behavior that is repeated for its own sake"
mebbe that word is "kardashian"

I don't follow the thinking behind this comment at all. The Kardashian/Jenner family aren't known for pursuit of instrinsic rewards and states like "flow". Rather, there has been a lot of attention directed to the extrinsic benefits derived from their activity on social media and mass media.

Are you suggesting it is about the money?

And fame / celebrity too!

possibly but they are replicating at a high rate by parasitizing otro personas uteri !

You know what we need here? Another "tweetstorm" from Noah or Will reiterating the point, possibly with a vague reference to Strauss or Nussbaum.

it's no surprise that Noah has taken so well to twitter. glibly dismissing straw men is his specialty. reading a few of his debates outside this space you see why he stays on it.

More examples of the friendship (or inspection) paradox here: http://allendowney.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-inspection-paradox-is-everywhere.html

Excellent link. Thanks M.

It is a minor point, but these connected graphs would look (slightly) different if median replace mean (average). This seems to me to be sloppy (typical BS -behavorial social - science crap). We are talking about EXPECTED stuff, and there's zero excuse (imho) to be using metrics which are less accurate measures of expectation value. Only in the BS sciences.

I think this is similar to how when one's kids are in school one will surprised by how many of their classmates are from large families.

I've been reading Niall Ferguson's The Square and the Tower, and he makes a similar point about any person in a network's having fewer friends than their friends have (he calls the phenomenon "betweenness"). It's very possible he's been influenced by Feld in this regard.

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