ITHACA, N.Y. With a dizzying number of ties in our social networks that your Aunt Alice is a neighbor of Muhammad who is married to Natasha who is your wife's boss it's a wonder we remember any of it. How do we keep track of the complexity? We cheat, says a Cornell University sociologist in Scientific Reports (March 21), a publication of Nature.
Humans keep track of social information not by rote memorization but with simplifying rules, as you might remember a number sequence that always increases by two, according to author Matthew Brashears, assistant professor of sociology. People recall social ties that both involve at least three people who know each other and kinship labels such as "aunt" twice as well as they remember ties that do not, even though triad kinship networks are far more complex, he said.
"Humans are able to manage big, sprawling, complicated social networks essentially because we don't remember big, sprawling, complicated social networks. We remember simplified, regular structures that bear a reasonable similarity to what those networks look like," Brashears said. In cases where the relationships don't fit the pattern, we remember the pattern and the few exceptions, instead of remembering all the ties simultaneously, he added.
About 300 study participants read paragraphs describing a group of people and how they relate to each other. Some paragraphs included kinship labels and some didn't. Other paragraphs included closed triads where three people each know each other while other paragraphs did not. The participants were then asked to recall as many of the ties as possible.
When the paragraphs contained both kinship labels and closed triads, the participants' recall improved by 50 percent compared with participant
|Contact: Syl Kacapyr|