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Negative social ties can be constructive

Our social experience is influenced not only by our positive but also by our negative connections. NOMIS researcher Nicholas Christakis and Amir Ghasemian (Yale University) investigated how negative relationships impact the structure and function of our social networks. They showed that negative interactions have constructive roles in enhancing communication and unity within social networks. This new understanding can help in better managing social dynamics and promoting more cohesive communities. Their findings were published in PNAS.

Negative or antagonistic relationships are common in human social networks, but, traditionally, studies on social networks focus mainly on positive relationships, like friendships. Using rare data from 176 isolated villages in Honduras, Christakis and Ghasemian investigated how social network structure and function might be affected by negative ties amid the positive ties of friendship and kinship.

The authors showed that having negative ties is associated with people being more peripheral within their subgroups, but closer to other groups within a population, which can help link different parts of the community, making the overall network more integrated. Surprisingly, the presence of negative relationships helps in spreading information across the community just as effectively as positive relationships do. Negative relationships also help in reducing polarization (extreme divisions) within communities. By connecting different groups, they prevent ideas and opinions from becoming too isolated or extreme.

Read the PNAS publication: The structure and function of antagonistic ties in village social networks


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Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Internal Medicine & Biomedical Engineering
Yale University
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