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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26652. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026652. Epub 2011 Oct 21.

Violating social norms when choosing friends: how rule-breakers affect social networks.

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Evolution & Natural Resources, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States of America.


Social networks rely on basic rules of conduct to yield functioning societies in both human and animal populations. As individuals follow established rules, their behavioral decisions shape the social network and give it structure. Using dynamic, self-organizing social network models we demonstrate that defying conventions in a social system can affect multiple levels of social and organizational success independently. Such actions primarily affect actors' own positions within the network, but individuals can also affect the overall structure of a network even without immediately affecting themselves or others. These results indicate that defying the established social norms can help individuals to change the properties of a social system via seemingly neutral behaviors, highlighting the power of rule-breaking behavior to transform convention-based societies, even before direct impacts on individuals can be measured.

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