Popularity is linked to neural coordination: Neural evidence for an Anna Karenina principle in social networks

Elisa C. Baek, Ryan Hyon, Karina López, Emily S. Finn, Mason A. Porter, Carolyn Parkinson

People differ in how they attend to, interpret, and respond to their surroundings. Convergent processing of the world may be one factor that contributes to social connections between individuals. We used neuroimaging and network analysis to investigate whether the most central individuals in their communities (as measured by in-degree centrality, a notion of popularity) process the world in a particularly normative way. More central individuals had exceptionally similar neural responses to their peers and especially to each other in brain regions associated with high-level interpretations and social cognition (e.g., in the default-mode network), whereas less-central individuals exhibited more idiosyncratic responses. Self-reported enjoyment of and interest in stimuli followed a similar pattern, but accounting for these data did not change our main results. These findings suggest an "Anna Karenina principle" in social networks: Highly-central individuals process the world in exceptionally similar ways, whereas less-central individuals process the world in idiosyncratic ways.

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