Social Happiness

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 1:50 PM EST

SOCIAL HAPPINESS....Remember all those news reports from last week hawking a study about how happiness is spread via social networks? Via Justin Wolfers, a couple of spoilsports have done a competing study that looked at a few other characteristics. From their writeup:

As we intended to investigate potential biases in previous methods, we looked at three health outcomes that could not credibly be subject to social network effects and were available in all three waves of the data: self reports of skin problems, self reports of headaches, and height over time.

Long story short, they found network effects for all three of these things even though network effects almost certainly don't exist. The problem, they say, is that shared environments (same school, similar eating habits, etc.) can explain much of the supposed "contagion," but the datasets used for social network studies often don't include enough information on individual environments to allow it to be factored out.

In other words, be careful accepting breathless claims about the spread of this or that via social networks. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. On the other hand, it can't hurt to have happy friends, can it?