In Popular Vote, Your Friends Usually Win

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“In Popular Vote, Your Friends Usually Win” is an article featured in the Wall Street Journal that highlights the ‘extroversion bias.’ This phenomenon builds on the friendship paradox to link extroversion with leadership, policy-choice, marketing, disease spread, and other spheres. The article opens with a simplified and humorous take on the friendship paradox, explaining that “what you feared as an introvert is true – your friends are more popular than you.” To explain the friendship paradox in terms of extrovertedness, the author makes the connection that the more extroverted a person is, the more lopsided his social network, and therefore, the more lopsided the social networks of those connected with him. This is because the extrovert acts as an outlier in terms of friend count, and when averaged into all of his friends average friend counts, he inflates the average, and does in many averages, since he is included in more friend counts.

After briefly explaining the friendship paradox in terms of extroverts, the article highlights the domination of highly extroverted individuals in certain fields, even though they may not be the most competent in those spaces. To demonstrate this, the author cites a recent study done on incoming MBA students, which tracked their social connections in relation to their personality type as the program commenced. What they found was the friendship paradox with an added “wrinkle” – extroverts were overrepresented in the resulting network, and especially so in the networks of other extroverts.What is seen, simply said, is extroverts gravitate towards other extroverts, who dominate social networks of both introverts and extroverts.

To exemplify the magnitude of this finding, think of the statistic that only about 50% of US citizens are extroverts, but 96% of US leaders are extroverts. This article argues that this is likely a result of a network bias – extroverts are nominating other extroverts for leadership positions because they dominate each others social circles, as well as the social circles of introverts. Although introverts may be less “popular,” they may be overlooked because of their limited networks, although they may be more competent leaders.

By linking extroverts with inflating friend of friend averages (the friendship paradox), we can characterizes this phenomenon with a measurable trait. This is powerful because, by being able to identify individuals who are more likely to be outliers in friendship averages, we can predict the impact of these individuals in different spaces. For example, extroversion may link with likelihood of intercepting and spreading a contagious disease. Since extroverts are highly connected, the probability of them coming into contact with a virus would be higher, and they would spread said virus to more people, since their network is larger. Therefore, characterizing the friendship paradox with extroversion provides a new tool for analyzing and understanding phenomenon that aren’t inherently social. This exciting revelation has a wealth of potential, from appointing better leaders to saving lives during disease outbreak, as in the example above.

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