Choose your social networking friends with care

Are you a couch potato or are you out running every morning or at keep-fit classes most weeks? The chances are, if you are a couch potato, most of your close friends are also slobbing out in the evenings too. And if you are a fitness fanatic, your buddies are also likely to exercise a lot. Your physical activity is usually roughly the same as that of your closest friends. Similarly, your salary or your business income is likely to be roughly the same as your closest mates too. There is plenty of research which shows that if you change social groups you tend to their average in any measure.

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So if you want to lose weight, change your friends to people who enjoy losing weight. If you want to make more money, get to know more millionaires. Every social group, it seems, tends to produce “norms”. If you want to effect a change in your life, it can usually best be done by changing your social group. And that’s why change is tough – you don’t want to lose your friends or give up being with them, so you stick with them and that means you don’t change.

Children are much the same – they join a social group and then “become” that group. They like the same things, do the same things and their behaviour averages out. If you want to change your child’s behaviour you need to alter their social group. Look in any school playground and the active children will all be together, while the bookish ones are also together. Like attracts like.

So, when it comes to dealing with common childhood issues, often the resolution is in splitting groups up, leading to all kinds of trouble. Take, for instance, the “epidemic” of childhood obesity. Fat children have other fat children as mates. Even if you can get the obese child to try to lose weight, they give up because their friends aren’t doing it. In other words, the social group tends towards its norm. If you want fat children to lose weight, they need to be in a social group with thin children, perhaps those underweight. The social group will then get a new “norm” with the obese child losing weight as a result.

You can see this kind of theory in a recent study highlighted in the medical journal Pediatrics which looked at levels of physical activity in after-school groups of young children. What the researchers found was that children tended to do more physical activity if their four closest friends also did a lot of physical activity. In other words, the group “normed”.

So, if you want to increase your income, hang out with people online who earn more than you. If you want better search engine ranking, connect with people who are better at it than you. And if you want to lose weight, stick with thin people…! The social norming effect will mean that you will adjust your behaviour to reach the common ground of the group. Sometimes you don’t get the results you want with your online business simply because you have the wrong friends…!

Choose your social networking friends with care 1

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