While we are all keeping an eye on the H1N1 virus, scientists are looking at how other things can be spread among a population. Even behaviors.
Sociologists began hunting for ongoing, real-life situations in which better data could be found. A 2000 study of dorm mates at Dartmouth College by the economist Bruce Sacerdote found that they appeared to infect each other with good and bad study habits — such that a roommate with a high grade-point average would drag upward the G.P.A. of his lower-scoring roommate, and vice versa. A 2006 Princeton study found that having babies appeared to be contagious: if your sibling has a child, you’re 15 percent more likely to have one yourself in the next two years. These were tantalizing findings, but again, each was too narrow to really indicate whether and how the effect worked in the mass public. What was needed was something more ambitious, some way of mapping out the links between thousands of real-life people for years — decades, even — to see whether, and how, behaviors spread. [More]We have seen more evidence of this type of contagious social behaviors (overeating, for one). While it certainly points out how much impact our friends have on us, it also works the other way around.
It is not a comfortable thought at times.
The bigger question for me is if the nature of the farming community is still collective enough to promote such effects. Most of my friends are non-farmers, and I would hazard that is more the norm than highly occupation-centered social circles for farmers. Our influence would likely be more noticeable in friendship links rather than professional connections.
It could be there is less internal contagion for farmers - where we all tend to think the same way on common issues - that we imagine. This may contribute to our continuing dissatisfaction with how farmers are portayed in media. We all have differing ideas of that that image should be.
Maybe there is a critical mass necessary for a coherent subculture that we dropping below.