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Deciphering Social Influence vs. Selection Through Wikipedia Edits

Deciphering Social Influence vs. Selection Through Wikipedia Edits
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Understanding Social Dynamics with Wikipedia Data

In the realm of social sciences, distinguishing between social influence and selection poses a challenging yet intriguing question. How do these forces play out in human relationships, and can we observe these patterns through concrete datasets? A unique piece of research utilizing Wikipedia offers insightful observations into this query. This article delves into the experiment conducted on Wikipedia, aiming to unravel the complexities of social influence versus selection.

How Wikipedia Works

Wikipedia serves as an open platform where anyone can contribute and edit content. This collaborative model raises questions about reliability, but the collective effort often leads to accurate and trustworthy information. Behind the scenes, contributors engage in discussions on 'user talk pages,' providing a rich dataset for studying social interactions.

The Concept of Similarity Measure

A similarity measure quantifies the commonalities between individuals, such as shared interests or activities. By applying this concept to Wikipedia editors, researchers assess the overlap in the articles two individuals edit. This measure helps in understanding the extent of their similarity.

The Experiment: Social Influence vs. Selection

The study tracked interactions between Wikipedia editors, specifically looking at their conversations on talk pages and their editing behavior before and after these interactions. By plotting the similarity measures over time, researchers observed a notable pattern: a steep increase in similarity leading up to the interaction, followed by a gradual rise post-conversation. This suggests that individuals are more similar before they choose to interact (selection) and that their similarity grows after interaction due to shared interests or activities (social influence).

Analyzing the Results

The findings indicate a clear interplay between selection and social influence. Initially, selection plays a dominant role as individuals choose to interact based on pre-existing similarities. Following the interaction, social influence becomes apparent as their similarities increase, reflecting shared experiences or interests. This pattern confirms the hypothesis that both forces are at play, with selection initially being more prominent.

Context Matters

However, the extent to which social influence or selection dominates can vary across different contexts. For instance, in scenarios involving habits like smoking or obesity, the balance between social influence and selection might differ. This underscores the importance of considering the specific context when interpreting these dynamics.


This research on Wikipedia offers a compelling glimpse into the mechanisms of social influence and selection in human interactions. By leveraging the extensive dataset of Wikipedia edits and discussions, the study highlights the nuanced ways in which these forces shape our relationships and communities. As we continue to explore various datasets, new questions emerge about the relative impact of social influence and selection across different aspects of society, opening avenues for further investigation.

For a deeper understanding of this fascinating study, you can watch the original video here.

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