Date of this Version
Pachur, T., Schooler, L.J., & Stevens, J.R. (2014). We’ll meet again: Revealing distributional and temporal patterns of social contact. PLoS ONE, 9, e86081.
What are the dynamics and regularities underlying social contact, and how can contact with the people in one’s social network be predicted? In order to characterize distributional and temporal patterns underlying contact probability, we asked 40 participants to keep a diary of their social contacts for 100 consecutive days. Using a memory framework previously used to study environmental regularities, we predicted that the probability of future contact would follow in systematic ways from the frequency, recency, and spacing of previous contact. The distribution of contact probability across the members of a person’s social network was highly skewed, following an exponential function. As predicted, it emerged that future contact scaled linearly with frequency of past contact, proportionally to a power function with recency of past contact, and differentially according to the spacing of past contact. These relations emerged across different contact media and irrespective of whether the participant initiated or received contact. We discuss how the identification of these regularities might inspire more realistic analyses of behavior in social networks (e.g., attitude formation, cooperation).