October 2012’s Wired Health Conference, held in New York, brought together over 200 experts to discuss the innovative ways in which data may be collected and applied in order to revolutionise healthcare as we know it.
The focal point of the talks was ‘big data’, the hottest term in healthcare at the moment. It refers to creating large collections of analysed and sorted individuals’ medical information. The possibilities of ‘big data’ helping treat and cure diseases more efficiently is exciting, but it wasn’t the inspiration for this post.
The pay-it-forward phenomenon
One other speaker in particular struck a note with us; Harvard social scientist Nicholas Christakis on ‘manipulating social networks to effect positive change’ and the ‘pay-it-forward’ phenomenon.
In the context of his work the ‘pay-it-forward’ phenomenon is defined as the way behaviours and emotions spread through a social network of people, or as Christakis calls them, ‘clusters’. This phenomenon predicts that if person 1 were to smile at person 2, person 2 would smile at person 3, person 3 at person 4 and so on. More importantly, if person 1 were to contract a contagious disease (and thanks to big data we find out about it) then person 2, who is in person 1’s network has an increased likelihood of developing the disease and could therefore, be warned.
The ‘spreadability’ of behaviours and emotions depends on the structure of the connection between people within a network: if you and person 2 consider each other friends, your tie is stronger and there’s a higher chance that a behaviour or emotion might spread between you. Between person 2 and person 3 there might only be a one-sided friendship, so the likelihood of spreadability would taper off.
The pay-it-forward principle is what our online community is built around. The network of members, some of whom are sleep-deprived and some who are improved, is at the core of the programme. We strongly encourage a positive ripple effect, where a graduate, i.e. a person who has finished the course, welcomes a new member, who will then someday as a graduate (or even sooner) welcome other new members.
“It is the ties between people that makes the whole larger than the
sum of its parts.”
- Dr. Christakis
Strong community ties are nurtured so that members are more likely to persist and successfully finish the course. If a person in your network tells you you can get better if you stick with the course and you can see that they’ve gotten better, won’t that make you stick with it more?
Our graduates stay active in the community even after they have finished the programme. This means there’s more successful people in our network for “newbies” to bond with and get motivated by.
So thanks to all who continue to add to this network of positive influence. Insomnia is a lonely disease but having a strong network of people around you hopefully neutralises that. So go and bond with the other sleep-deprived. However you might want to stay away from your siblings.
Fun fact: if your sibling develops sleep problems, your likelihood of developing sleep problems increases by about 29%. Were your sleep problems “caused” by a sibling or might you have “caused” theirs?
Watch this space for further research on the impact that the online community had on individuals suffering from insomnia during the randomized controlled placebo trial that Sleepio underwent.
Christakis, A.N., and Fowler, J.H., 2012. Social contagion theory: examining dynamic social networks and human behavior. Available from: http://humannaturelab.net/wp-content/themes/human-nature-lab/media/pdf/publications/articles/136.pdf.
Nicholas Christakis: How people networks impact health. Interview from Wired Health Conference 2012: living by numbers. Available from: http://fora.tv/2012/10/16/Nicholas_Christakis_How_People_Networks_Impact_Health.