Explosive Contagion in Networks

Dr Francisco J Perez Reche, of the Institute for Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology has recently published work in nature.com on models inspired by statistical physics to explain explosive social contagion (why things go viral) which has been enthusiastically picked up by the media following the University of Aberdeen’s press release: (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/8744/).

Dr Perez-Reche told us: Some ideas or products are accepted just because they are very convenient. In contrast, other phenomena might not be too appealing at first sight but they end up being accepted by many people overnight. The model suggests that the initial reticence of acquaintances is a key factor for social phenomena to become explosively viral.

Are your friends hesitant to accept an idea? Be ready… it could suddenly catch on!

Examples of such phenomena range from the infamous initial rejection of the Beatles to the sudden popularity of some social movements or seemingly pointless memes. We find that phenomena may remain mostly ignored until their transmission is strong enough to overcome the initial reluctance to accept them. At this point, contagion becomes explosive. Within the language of thermodynamics, explosive contagion would correspond to a first-order phase transition from non-invasive to invasive regimes.

Some of the media coverage can be found at these links: