UL study reveals ‘copycat’ Facebook action among users

'Study opens up new possibilities': Professor James Gleeson of UL. Picture: Sean Curtin

'Study opens up new possibilities': Professor James Gleeson of UL. Picture: Sean Curtin

  • by Alan Owens

FACEBOOK studies have created headlines recently, but new UL research has shown ‘copycat’ behaviour exists among users of the social network.

A study involving researchers from UL, Oxford and Harvard has suggested that users tend to be swayed by the recent activity of their friends on Facebook.

The team developed a mathematical model that illustrates online copycat behaviour on the social network, in particular the trade-off between copying friends’ actions, rather relying on so called ‘bestseller app’ lists.

The research, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that the copycat tendency in human behaviour is strong and that we can be influenced by the activities of others over a relatively short period of time.

“This study reveals how we can explore different scenarios using mathematical models to disentangle what drives people to behave the way they do using large data sets from the real online world,” said Professor James Gleeson, from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in UL.

“This opens up lots of new possibilities for studying human behaviour,” he added.

The mathematical model examined data from an empirical study published in 2010, which had tracked 100 million installations of apps adopted by Facebook users during two months.

Researchers ran thousands of simulations to compare results with the findings of the earlier study.

It found that an instinct to copy the behaviour of others was by far the more dominant instinct than that of bestseller app lists promoted on Facebook.

The researchers were quick to point out that the data used contained no information about individuals, and only information about individual applications and thus had no implications in terms of the privacy of individual Facebook users.

A recent study carried out by Facebook itself suggested that users’ emotions could be manipulated depending on what the network allowed people to see.




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