Over at e! Science News:
Do friends wear the same style of shoe or see the same movies because they have similar tastes, which is why they became friends in the first place? Or once a friendship is established, do individuals influence each other to adopt like behaviors? Social scientists don’t know for sure. They’re still trying to understand the role social influence plays in the spreading of trends because the real world doesn’t keep track of how people acquire new items or preferences.
But the virtual world Second Life does. Researchers from the University of Michigan have taken advantage of this unique information to study how “gestures” make their way through this online community. Gestures are code snippets that Second Life avatars must acquire in order to make motions such as dancing, waving or chanting.
Roughly half of the gestures the researchers studied made their way through the virtual world friend by friend.
“We could have found that most everyone goes to the store to buy gestures, but it turns out about 50 percent of gesture transfers are between people who have declared themselves friends. The social networks played a major role in the distribution of these assets,” said Lada Adamic, an assistant professor in the School of Information and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.