Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Updated: Thursday, September 18, 2014
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scholars believe work performance is influenced by our workspaces and
that design can enhance or inhibit human interaction. Researchers are
now confirming that's true, and even further, they're finding that
certain kinds of design encourage specific kinds of results. They also
suggest that productivity may be more a function of groups than of
individuals, and teamwork too can be fostered by design.
According to a new report published in Harvard Business Review,
face-to-face encounters and chance encounters with others are vital for
improvement of workers in a knowledge economy. Authors Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay
conducted experiments in which employees in hospitals and
pharmaceutical, finance and software companies voluntarily wore
isometric badges that captured social interactions, conversation,
movement, posture and physical location. They write that face-to-face
interactions are "by far the most important activity in an office," and
that unplanned encounters among people inside and outside an
organization improve performance.
Lindsay, who is working on a book he calls Engineering Serendipity, told Fast Company's Lydia Dishman
that employees wearing the devices were monitored for six to eight
weeks and data was randomized to protect individual identities. Content
of conversations was not recorded. Earlier research found that physical
distance negatively affected communication even among digitally
connected people. Interestingly, the Fast Company story says, studies by
Waber found that engineers who shared physical space were 20 percent
more likely to communicate digitally. When working on projects, they
emailed four times as often and finished 32 percent faster than
engineers working on the project in different places.
Waber, Magnolfi and Lindsay cite a 2012 HBR article by Alex "Sandy" Pentland
who did similar research tracing movements and interactions of
employees wearing badges. Pentland identified three key elements of
successful business communication: exploration (interacting with people
from diverse groups) engagement (interacting with people in your own
group) and energy (interacting with more people overall.)
an colleagues in their HBR story cite examples of spaces designed for
specifically desired results. For example, engagement tends to produce
more productivity. So if a business wants more productivity, walled off
work stations and spaces for small-group collaboration, could be a
successful design and the group's break area could be a crucial space
for chance collisions among group members.
The Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor designed
open, public spaces with "hot seating"-no assigned desks-and spaces
that could be easily reconfigured for different uses. Its executives
wanted change and innovation, so they designed the kinds of open spaces
that foster exploration and unplanned encounters. A design that fostered
engagement might have been detrimental for a goal of innovation.
company executives wanted to increase sales, but weren't sure what
behaviors would help. Deployed with badges, they found sales increased
when salespersons interacted with people on other teams-that is, when
they increased exploration. To encourage inter departmental mingling,
the company got rid of several small coffee stations that served half a
dozen people. They created bigger coffee stations, that served 120 people each, and replaced small cafeterias with a large one. Sales rose 20 percent.
authors caution that what works for one company might not work for
another and some results will be unintended. A furniture company, for
example, needed both exploration among some sales people and more
engagement among specific groups who needed improved
communication. Fewer desks and unassigned seats increased overall
interactions, but energy levels and communications declined. The authors
say changes didn't really create movement, they just reshuffled
stationery workers who didn't leave their unassigned seats once they sat
authors also suggest focus on individual productivity in performance
reviews tends to divert attention from the interactions that help group
performance. For instance, they write, if an employee improves group
performance by sharing some successful strategy, the group gain can more
than compensate for productivity the individual may have lost by taking
time to share.
Posted By Tom Bigda-Peyton,
Friday, September 05, 2014
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A recent PlexusCall featured the recent controversy between Dr.
Jill LePore and Clay Christensen on the topic of disruptive innovation. Three panelists shared their experience
with, and perspective on, Christensen's theory: Peter Jones, David Hurst,
and Dr. John Kenagy.
Dr. Kenagy said that successful organizations are designed to
keep doing what they are good at doing.
This prevents them from seeing, or fostering, innovations that may be
disruptive (game-changing). In
healthcare this is important because existing organizations, especially those
that are well-known and established, may miss or suppress a "game
changing" innovation that could provide a breakthrough on Kenagy's
area of focus, generating "more care at lower cost."* In order to support disruptive
innovations in healthcare, we need to create "safe places" in
which to experiment toward better and even disruptive solutions to healthcare's
problems. Kenagy went on to
elaborate on his methods for creating this kind of "learning line," or "safe to fail" lab in healthcare organizations.
However, healthcare also seems to be a special case of
disruptive innovation. As Kenagy
and other speakers noted, the notion of "disruptive" innovation
suggests the advent of a new product or service that disrupts the status
quo. But what is the "product" of
healthcare? Kenagy posits that we
have one product in healthcare: the health of the patient in front of us. This is a complex challenge, one that
suggests a different set of variables than those confronted by Apple or Google.
David Hurst and Peter Jones noted additional dimensions of the
healthcare challenge which differentiate it from other industries. Jones suggested that the popularity of
the "disruptive" idea may lead us down the wrong path,
especially when it comes to healthcare.
Do we want medical device startups competing for funding on the idea
that they have a disruptive innovation, when a better solution may be that a
consolation of companies all have parts of an overall solution that would be
better than any of them can produce on their own? The current funding model may suboptimize in terms of
overall problem-solving and advancing the health and well-being of individuals
and the wider society. For these
and other reasons, Kenagy asserted that "adaptive" innovation
may be a more appropriate term than "disruptive" innovation
How does a complexity view help us develop an optimal US
healthcare system? Let’s
assume that healthcare is a complex adaptive system. How do we represent our theory of the system itself? What are the metaphors of change that
can help us navigate the journey of disruptive innovation in healthcare? The panelists agreed that organic metaphors,
such as the butterfly effect or the self-organizing capacity of flocks of
birds, work better than mechanistic metaphors or system dynamics diagrams. If we want to mimic nature, the
panelists agreed, we need to promote conditions for trial-and-error
experimentation, such that the actors in the system can use a trial-and-error
pathway toward innovations that may become "disruptive."
Are there current efforts in healthcare to mimic nature’s
process of self-organization and evolution? What can we say about the conditions which foster this kind
of process in human organizations?
Viewing the situation through a complexity lens may help.
When we think about nature as a metaphor for self-organizing and
evolution, we need to think about the conditions in human organizations that
promote self-organization. We
would like to highlight three:
agreement among stakeholders; and
language and common framework for complex problem-solving.
Following the Stacey Matrix (below), "optimal uncertainty” refers
to a middle zone between chaos and simple problem solving. There is uncertainty but not so much as
to paralyze the organization; there is familiarity but not so much as to make the problem seem
routine. Optimal agreement is a
similar concept, in which we find a diversity of views but also enough commonality
to bind, or hold, the group together.
Finally, we believe the capacity for self-organization is fostered by a
common language and framework for complex problem-solving, such as the ability
to differentiate between simple, complicated, and complex problems and the
capacity to match appropriate methods to each.
How does all of this apply to healthcare? We will take up this question in our
Tom Bidga-Peyton is a Senior Consultant with Plexus Institute. Tom's work focuses on widening and accelerating the pace of improvement in individual, organizational, and large-system change initiatives.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, September 04, 2014
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Richard Stratton, executive, author and former drug smuggler, enjoyed
counting piles of hundred dollar bills. He says it was a "pleasant,
relaxing experience." Harvard Economist Kenneth Rogoff thinks hundred
dollar bills are nothing but trouble.
Both expressed their individual expertise in an NPR
interview with Melissa Block and Chris Arnold. Stratton, a novelist,
friend of the writer Normal Mailer, and later TV executive and magazine editor,
once served eight years in prison for drug smuggling. He told NPR the drug
business involved generating and smuggling huge sums of money as well as
narcotics. Rogoff thinks $100 bills are
all too often used to finance illegal activities, and that's a good reason to
get rid of them. Rogoff notes these big bills allow a person to carry $1
million in a briefcase. And why would anyone not engaged in nefarious
enterprises want to do that?
Rogoff goes even further. Writing
in the Financial Times, he proposes getting rid of paper money entirely and
replacing it with electronic money. Among other things, he argues, as electronic
payments, even for small amounts, become increasingly prevalent, the need for
paper currency declines. There would be complications, of course, and
international cooperation among governments would be needed. But Rogoff
suggests getting rid of large denomination bills would be a good start.
Rogoff and others have said 75 percent to
percent of all U.S.
currency world-wide is in $100 bills. And many experts think easy flow of
huge amounts of anonymous cash facilitates
tax evasion as well as illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons and human
Times notes that when someone with Rogoff's heavyweight credentials
questions the future of physical money in a conservative, influential
publication like the Financial Times, "The world should sit up and
from physical to virtual money would be momentous. Would underground and
unofficial currencies flourish? Would crooks find ways to exploit the
transition? Stratton, who no longer holds $100 bills, told
NPR he thinks criminals would adapt.
Judson, an economist at the Fed, told
NPR she's not convinced there's a need to get rid of the Benjamin Franklin
bill because there's really no way to know how much cash in circulation is
being used for good or evil. Some historically huge $100 bill transactions have
been conducted by government. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S.
$12 billion in shrink wrapped hundred dollar bills to Iraq to pay Iraqi
ministries and U.S. contractors. Planes delivered literally tons of cash from
New York to Bagdad for disbursement by the U.S. led Coalition Provisional
Authority. Congressional investigators later found control of the cash was
lacking, and accounts
on how much remains unaccounted for.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Leana Wen, MD, an emergency physician who has worked in inner city hospitals in St. Louis, Boston and Washington, D.C., writes in her blog about the painful experience of administering short term fixes to patients whose long term afflictions lie beyond her realm.
She describes a 19-year-old who has come to the emergency room three
times with cuts and broken bones and gunshot wounds. An 8-year-old
without an inhaler living among relatives in an overcrowded house with
lots of smokers comes to the emergency room struggling to breathe. A
38-year-old single mother diagnosed with cervical cancer four years ago
never got to see a doctor as she struggled with three part time jobs,
the care of four children and inadequate insurance. By the time Dr. Wen
saw her in the emergency room, her cancer had spread to her lungs and
"We in the ER provide a necessary service, but it's far from being sufficient," she writes in her blog The Doctor is Listening.
"We need to recognize that health does not exist in a vacuum, that it
is intimately tied to issues such as literacy, employment,
transportation, crime and poverty. An MRI here, a prescription there,
these are Band-Aids not lasting solutions. Our communities need
innovative approaches to issues like homelessness, drug addiction,
obesity and lack of mental health services." The route to good health,
Dr. Wen says, is in the community. Dr. Wen is coauthor of the book When Doctors Don't Listen.
When he was still writing the Wonkblog for the Washington Post, Ezra Klein
described an experiment in Oregon to rebuild the state's Medicaid
program around community health rather than individual fee for service
treatments. Klein tells a story Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber loves to
tell. Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician himself, calls it an
illustration of what's wrong with our healthcare system. A 90-year-old
woman with well-managed congestive heart failure lives in an apartment
without air conditioning. When her apartment gets too hot, the strain on
her cardiovascular system causes heart failure. Medicare will pay for
an ambulance and $50,000 to stabilize her, but not $200 for a window air
The 90-year-old may be hypothetical, but the story illuminates a
common paradox, and Oregon's experimental approach starts with creation
of 16 Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) that are responsible for assessing the health of their communities. Kitzhaber has given the CCOs flexibility on how they can spend Medicaid money. They can buy that air conditioner. An NPR story
describes a Medicaid purchase of a minivan for community health workers
who can be available around the clock to pregnant women trying to stop
substance abuse, and to help mothers get to doctors' appointments,
school and jobs. What makes CCOs different from accountable care
organizations, or managed care, is the community component. Once they
assess needs, they have to come up with ways to address them. So money
can be spent on care coordination and community health workers with the
aim of preventing some expensive emergency care. Gov. Kitzhaber told
Klein, "We're investing in health. It's just a paradigm shift."
With thanks to Annette Garner, who teaches in the nursing program at the Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, August 21, 2014
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makers concerned with income inequality need to focus more attention on
improving the early environment of disadvantaged babies and toddlers,
recent economic analysis suggests. Being born into poverty doesn't have
to mean a lifetime of deprivation, researchers say, and the earlier the
helpful intervention, the higher society's return on the investment.
quality early childhood programs have been shown in numerous studies to
have substantial benefits in reducing crime, raising earnings, and
improving educational outcomes, Frances Campbell, Gabriella Conti, James Heckman and colleagues wrote recently in Science magazine, and now research shows that life's earliest experiences strongly effect adult health.
and Conti are among the top economists who have done extensive studies
on human development. They have found that wealthy children and those
from deprived environments have disparities in cognitive performance
even before they start kindergarten, and the gap doesn't close with
time. Research by Heckman and Flavio Cunha
at the University of Pennsylvania shows that the divergence between
rich and poor kids in math ability is about the same at age 12 as it was
at age six.
Eduardo Porter writes in The New York Times
that the achievement gap between rich and poor American students is one
of the widest among the 65 countries that take part in the Program for International Student Assessment run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Porter suggests the acrimonious debate over how to improve American
education misses the most important time-the years from infancy though
pre-school. Heckman, Conti and others report that interventions from
infancy through age five pay extremely high returns.
Good early programs improve cognitive skills and foster softer skills
such as sociability, motivation, perseverance and self-regulation.
Heckman and colleagues say those are the traits that enable kids to use
their cognitive skills for future learning and adult success.
Two well documented programs are illustrative. The Perry Preschool Project
offered intensive social and cognitive skills building for
disadvantaged three and four year olds from 1962 to 1967 in Ypslanti,
Michigan. A study found Perry graduates at age 40 were more likely than
those in a control group to have finished high school, to hold jobs, and
have higher earnings.
The Abecedarian Project in North Carolina
started in 1972 with 111 infants who were followed from birth through
their mid 30s. The children were randomly assigned with half in an
intervention group and half in a control group. Children in the
treatment group received regular pediatric care, good nutrition, and
stimulation in language, cognition, and emotional self-regulation from
infancy through age five. Parents also were trained. In the second
phase, through age eight, the focus was on math and reading. The group that received the special early care did better
educationally, and by age 30, members of this group were four times
more likely than those in the control group to have graduated from
college, be employed and have health insurance.
health findings were a surprise. Men in the treatment group had less
hypertension and none had metabolic syndrome, the cluster of conditions
that raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. One in four
of the control group had metabolic syndrome. Women in the treatment
group were less likely to be obese, less likely to drink before age 17,
and they had healthier habits.
about the small size of these samples? Heckman says the dramatic
disparities between these treatment and control groups actually
strengthen results because such differences are unusual in small sample
In a New York Times article, Heckman wrote
that "the economic rate of return from Perry is in the range of 6
percent to 10 percent per year per dollar invested, based on greater
productivity, and savings in expenditures on remediation, criminal
justice and social dependency. This compares favorably to the estimated
6.9 percent annual rate of return of the U.S. stock market from the end
of World War II to the 2008 meltdown." The Abecedarian Project lasted
five years and cost $67,000 in 2002 dollars, he said, and produced
substantial adult health benefits and cost savings. In Heckman's view:
"Early childhood interventions are an unexplored and promising new
avenue of health policy."
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2014
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in an industry often comes from the gradually accumulated effects of
many interacting forces rather than a sudden change, business analyst John Sviokla writes, and what happens to industries impacted by this multifaceted dynamic is a phenomenon he calls "dematurity."
"You can think of dematurity as a crescendo of mini disruptions that add up to great effect," Sviokla writes in Strategy+Business. "It will hit most industries sooner or later; it has struck sectors as
varied as soft ware development, entertainment and defense contracting.
It's happening right now in the U.S. in healthcare and electric power
generation." And results can be surprising.
The term, coined in the early 1990s by former Harvard Business School professors William Abernathy and Kim Clark,
describes what happens when many small companies rapidly adopt multiple
innovations that can rejuvenate practices in an old industry. Sviokla
explains the professors were thinking of the U.S. auto industry, which
was profoundly challenged by Japanese competition, the quality movement
and lean management. But instead of collapsing, the big three Detroit
automakers adopted the tools and techniques of their competition and
aimed for better quality and customer satisfaction.
Sometimes disruption actually helps market leaders. Wharton Management Professor David Hsu, MIT Professor Matthew Marx, and University of Toronto Professor Joshua Gans studied the speech recognition industry
and found start-ups that introduce disruptive technologies with long
term potential are more likely to end up licensing their innovations to
established businesses, or agreeing to be acquired, than they are to
become rivals. They say that's because start-ups are eager to prove the
value of their innovation, and once they do, they often form alliances
with the established businesses or merge with them. These authors call
that a cooperative commercialization strategy that sometimes has the
effect of preserving the status quo. Read their paper here.
says while dematurity can make industries young again, it can also
threaten individual industries if leaders haven't seen it coming in time
to prepare. He cites five "often overlooked but genuinely prescient"
signals of change:
New customer habits:
Mobile phones used only for voice communication in the 1990s didn't
dramatically change people's habits. When people began to use phones for
text messages, reading magazines and books, listening to music, and
playing games, habits changed. They began taking pictures, shopping
online and using multiple apps so business and pricing models changed in
a large group of industries that once operated independently. The same
thing happened in IT when access to services by high speed cloud
connections began to replace web based software.
New Production Technologies:
A recent survey showed more than two thirds of 100 manufacturers report
some use of 3D printing, a burgeoning technology that will have major
impact in many industries in the manufacture of goods, supply chains,
product development, and transportation.
New Lateral Competition:
The emergence of healthcare outlets in bog box stores and retail
clinics is creating competition for primary care providers and hospital
emergency rooms, which will have to adapt. Old and new businesses in
healthcare are trying to keep people out of doctors' offices with
services to promote exercise, control weight, manage disease and offer
When regulations appear to pave the way for self-driving cars, major
dematurity can be expected in public mass transit and private
New Means of Distribution:
Digital infrastructure has already dematured media and entertainment.
Regulations allowing expanded commercial use of unarmed aerial
vehicles-drones-would have major impact in fields such as law
enforcement, insurance, and delivery of emergency supplies to remote
areas. Amazon plans to use drones to deliver merchandize, and some
analysts predict drones are the transportation of the future.
Sviokla is co-author of The Billionaire Effect: What Extreme Producers Can Teach Us about Breakthrough Value. He is a principal and advisory innovation leader with PwC. Read his Strategy +Business article here and the David Hsu article here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, August 07, 2014
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After following nearly 800 Baltimore school children for almost three decades, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found most of the children grew up to have about the same socio-economic status as their parents. Those born poor stayed poor. Those born to more economically successful families fared better.
Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander PhD, and fellow researchers, the late Doris Entwisle, PhD, and Linda Olson MA, tracked 790 Baltimore children from the time they entered first grade through their late 20s. They repeatedly interviewed the students, their parents and their teachers through their school careers, and continued conversations with the maturing students as they entered the work force and started families. Their research is presented in their book, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and Transition to Adulthood.
The findings are described on the Johns Hopkins website. Only 33 children born to impoverished families earned high incomes as young adults, whereas 70 would have been expected to have high incomes if the family of origin did not impact the children's prospect for upward mobility, the researchers reported. Only 19 of those born to well off families dropped into the low income bracket as adults.
Only four percent of those from low income backgrounds had a college degree by age 28, a figure Alexander found shocking. By contrast, 45 percent of children born to higher income families had college degrees. And race played a significant role in adult outcomes. While 45 percent of white men from low income families had landed one of the shrinking number of industrial jobs in the area, only 15 percent of black man from low income families had such jobs. White men self-reported having the highest rates of drinking, smoking and drug use, though black men had slightly higher arrest rates and white men were more likely to be employed despite their records and substance use. Alexander said white men were more likely to have social networks that helped them find jobs.
In an interview with NPR, Alexander said we expect that if we "Play by the rules, work hard, apply yourself and do well in school ...that will open doors for you." But the Baltimore study suggests that what makes the difference between success and failure is money and family. Still, a few defy the odds against them. NPR interviewed one young woman in the study whose harrowing childhood included drug addicted parents and neighborhood chaos. "I remember being so immune to death, so immune to shootings and killings. I just remember wanting them to rush, like get the body out of the way so we can get back to playing hopscotch or dodgeball," she said. But she managed to get a well-paying job and give her two children more stability and motherly support. She says she has a strong relationship and plans to be married.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, August 01, 2014
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can learn very early in life to fear something that frightened their
mothers even before they were born. Scientists have known for some time
that trauma can ripple through generations. New research on fear
transmission may help explain how that happens.
team of researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School
taught a group of female rats to fear the smell of peppermint by
repeatedly accompanying the smell with mild but unpleasant electric
shocks. That was before they were pregnant. After the rats became
pregnant and gave birth, the team exposed them to the peppermint smell
again, without the shocks, to induce the fear response again.
A story on the university website by Kara Gavin
explains that the babies of fearful mother rats, and a comparable group
of rat pups whose mothers had no fear of peppermint, were exposed to
the smell under many conditions with and without their mothers. When
babies were separated from their mothers and exposed to the minty smell
along with air piped to them from a nearby container occupied by their
frightened mothers, they quickly learned to fear the smell. The trigger
for learning apparently was the scent the mothers give off when they are fearful.
"Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear very early in life," said Jacek Debiec,
MD, PhD, the psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research.
"Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire
their mothers' experiences. Most important, these maternally
transmitted memories are long-lived, where other types of infant
learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish."
In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Debiec and colleague Regina Marie Sullivan
PhD, describe how brain imaging, studies of the genetic activity of
individual brain cells, and monitoring blood levels of cortisol, the
stress hormone, were used to examine the working of fear in the brain.
They found a brain structure called the lateral amygdale was the key
location for learning fears, and when they gave baby rats something that
blocked activity in that region, they did not learn their mothers'
fear. That could help explain why some offspring of traumatized mothers
don't inherit fears. The authors hope the work will aid understanding of
post-traumatic stress and other mental ills in humans.
recalls working with adult children of Holocaust survivors who had
nightmares and flashbacks related to experiences they had not endured
themselves. Rachel Yehuda,
a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, has studied
descendants of Holocaust survivors and the children of women who were
pregnant and in or near the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. She found
evidence of intergenerational trauma transmission that could not have
occurred through storytelling. She was not involved in Debiec's work,
but she told Arielle Duhaime-Ross of Verge
magazine that the study is valuable because it provides molecular
analysis that would not be possible in living human brains. She said
understanding the brain changes that occur with intergenerational
transmission could help people understand the long-term impact of
parental experiences. "Your fears are not only a response to your
personal experiences," Yehuda told Verge, "but those that your parents
had as well."
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 24, 2014
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tend to choose friends who share our interests and outlooks, but our
selections may have less conscious and more ancient roots. Recent
research suggests friends share genetic similarities and that resulting
social networks play an important role in human evolution.
In their paper "Friendship and Natural Selection," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Nicholas Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Yale, and James Fowler,
a professor of medical genetics and political science at the University
of California at San Diego, write that the number of genetic markers
shared by two friends is about what they would have if they were fourth cousins.
That amounts to about one percent of a human's genetic markers. That doesn't sound like much, but Fowler explains in a Washington Post story
that has huge implications for human evolution. Researchers found the
genes that friends have in common seem to be evolving faster than other
genes, so our social environments and social networks could be a key
no gene for friendship, and no way to predict friendship among people
because of a particular genetic trait. But the genetic data of two
people provides clues to whether they will become friends. The
researchers developed a genetic "friendship score" that suggests the
likelihood of friendship. Individuals don't consciously recognize these
similarities, but they are statistically measurable in huge data sets.
are likely to share genes associated with the sense of smell. Being
drawn to the same scent could attract us to certain environments, the
authors suggest: people who like the smell of coffee might be drawn to
coffee shops where they meet others who like the smell. The authors
think our sense of smell may be one of the mechanisms humans use to
identify genetically similar friends, though they emphasize more
research is needed to discover how that happens.
and Fowler examined genetic information and details of social
relationships documented among nearly 2,000 people who participated in
the Framingham Heart Study
that began in 1948. They and colleagues analyzed nearly 1.5 million
markers of gene variations, and compared the data for pairs of unrelated
friends and pairs of unrelated strangers. Because nearly all the people
in the study had similar European origins, the findings weren't
explainable by the tendency to gravitate to others of similar
friends are less likely to share genes associated with immunity to
specific diseases, the authors note, and that that could be an
evolutionary advantage. We're somewhat less susceptible to the things
that sicken our friends.
In their book Connected,
Christakis and Fowler write that social networks are in our genes.
After studying friendship networks among 1,110 twins drawn from national
health data of 90,115 adolescents, they discovered that social network
structure was influenced by genes: kids located at the center of their
networks had a different genetic makeup than those located at the
periphery, and those whose friends were closely connected had different
genetic make than those with friends in divergent groups.
the new paper they discuss the role of genes in a broader social
environment where we interact and collaborate with friends and
strangers. "Our results support the idea that humans might be seen as metagenomic
not just with respect to the microbes within them, but with respect to
the humans around them. It may be useful to view a person's genetic
landscape as a summation of the genes within the individual and within
the people surrounding the individual, just as in certain other
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 17, 2014
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technologies allow us to be "in a persistent state of absent presence"
that can erode empathy and connection, according to Virginia Tech
fact, researchers found just having a mobile device within easy
reach-even if you're not holding it or using it-can lessen the quality
of a face to face conversation, reduce empathy among friends, and
deflect our attention from what is happening right before our eyes.
"Mobile phones hold symbolic meaning in advanced technological societies," a research team led by Shalini Misra of Virginia Tech wrote in an article in the journal Environment and Behavior.
"In their presence people have the constant urge to seek out
information, check for communication and direct their thoughts to other
people and words."
the study, 200 participants were divided into pairs and asked to chat
for 10 minutes on either a meaningful topic or a trivial one. Nearby
researchers recorded their nonverbal behavior and the presence or use of
any mobile device at any time during the conversation. Afterwards,
participants were asked about their feelings of personal connectedness
and empathy with their conversational partners. When a mobile device was
visible, participants rated the encounter less fulfilling and less
empathetic. That finding held for trivial and substantial topics, and
the negative relationship between the presence of devices and empathy
was even more pronounced when the conversation was between people who
knew each other. Apparently the mere presence of a mobile device can
derail the natural empathy between friends.
Earlier research by Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein
of the University in Essex in the UK produced similar findings. Pairs
of strangers conversed while seated facing each other. A nearby table,
out of their direct line of vision, held a book and one other item. When the other item was a cell phone, participants reported lower connectedness and a lower quality encounter than when the other item was a notebook.
Research by Sara Konrath and colleagues, reported in Scientific American and at the University of Michigan website,
indicates college students of today are less empathetic than they were
30 years, ago, and that empathy has declined the most in the last
decade. Konrath conducted meta-analysis combining the results of 72
different studies of American college students between 1979 and 2009.
While reasons are uncertain, researchers note the trend has accompanied
the rise of social media and mobile communications.
scientists say those results aren't necessarily discouraging. They show
our brains are plastic and subject to experiential influence. And as
Konrath writes in a Psychology Today blog
mobile communications can make people feel closer to distant loved
ones, and that they have tremendous still fully untapped potential to
help people manage physical and mental illnesses. She notes that
paradoxically the same technology associated with our being stressed and
distracted can be used for people to provide electronic encouragement,
kindness and support to each other.