The Spread of Goodness

Jonah Lehrer reports on findings that human behavior is contagious whether it’s obesity, optimism or generosity.

He added this postscript with a reader comment. I suspect it’s one explanation for the healing and sustaining power of communities of recovery:

Update: I’ve gotten a few emails wondering what this means for free will. After all, if our decisions are so determined by the decisions of others, then where is there space for human autonomy? My first reaction is that the new science of social networks still leaves plenty of elbow room for individual decisions. We’re talking about risk factors and tendencies and statistical correlations. Just because we’re influenced by others doesn’t mean we can’t reject those influences. I asked James Fowler a related question last year and this was his eloquent response:

Everyone always tells me that this research is so depressing and that it means we don’t have free will. But I think they’re forgetting to look at the flipside. Because of social networks, your actions aren’t just having an impact on what you do, or on what your friends do, but on thousands of other people too. So if I go home and I make an effort to be in a good mood, I’m not just making my wife happy, or my children happy. I’m also making the friends of my children happy. My choices have a ripple effect.