"That's a pretty substantial improvement," Brashears said. Moreover, participants did worse when trying to recall paragraphs that had kin relationships but no triads. "It's like trying to remember a random number sequence by using the 'increase by two' rule," he said.
The study helps explain how humans actively manage so many more social ties compared with other primates a key question in the field of sociology. The answer is that we evolved the capacity to spot and use social patterns.
"Our ability to remember and manage socials ties and build bigger groups of people had to do with coming up with new and interesting ways of compressing that information. It's about how we structure our groups and how that allows us to remember them, as opposed to just sheer cognitive horsepower," he said.
The research may help also explain some peculiarities of human networks, such as transitivity: If George is my friend and Susan is my friend, then Susan and George are likely to be friends. Brashears suspects that some social networks are easier to remember than others, and individuals who build groups that conform to those rules were more evolutionarily successful.
"Some of the reasons why human networks look the way they do is because they have to, in order for us to process them, to manage it cognitively," he says.
Medical researchers may benefit from the research as they seek to understand why some people don't grasp social intricacies as well as others. "We may have a better ability to understand social anxiety and autism spectrum if we understand how we're compressing and reconstructing social information using these mechanisms," Brashears said.
|Contact: Syl Kacapyr|