Social fMRI, investigating and shaping social mechanism in the real world

Nadav Aharony, Wei Pan, Cory Ip, Inas Khayal, Alex Pentland


We introduce the Friends and Family study, a longitudinal living laboratory in a residential community. In this study, we employ a ubiquitous computing approach, Social Functional Mechanism-design and Relationship Imaging, or Social fMRI, that combines extremely rich data collection with the ability to conduct targeted experimental interventions with study populations. We present our mobile-phone-based social and behavioral sensing system, deployed in the wild for over 15 months. Finally, we present three investigations performed during the study, looking into the connection between individuals’ social behavior and their financial status, network effects in decision making, and a novel intervention aimed at increasing physical activity in the subject population. Results demonstrate the value of social factors for choice, motivation, and adherence, and enable quantifying the contribution of different incentive mechanisms.

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