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A generalized model of social and biological contagion

Journal of Theoretical Biology, 232, 587-604, 2005


Status: Published

Citations: 233

Cite: [bibtex]


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Abstract: We present a model of contagion that unifies and generalizes threshold models of social contagion and epidemiological models of disease spreading. Our model incorporates individual memory of exposure to a contagious entity (e.g., a rumor or disease), variable magnitudes of exposure (dose sizes), and heterogeneity in the susceptibility of individuals. Through analysis and simulation, we examine in detail the case where individuals may recover from an infection and then immediately become susceptible again (analogous to the so-called SIS model). We identify three basic classes of contagion models which we call epidemic threshold, vanishing critical mass, and critical mass classes respectively, where each class of models corresponds to different strategies for prevention or facilitation. We find that the conditions for a particular contagion model to belong to one of the these three classes depend only on memory length and the probabilities of being infected by one and two exposures respectively. These parameters are in principle measurable for real contagious influences or entities, thus yielding empirical implications for our model. We also study the case where individuals attain permanent immunity once recovered, finding that epidemics inevitably die out but may be surprisingly persistent when individuals possess memory.


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Joshua Bongard - Department of Computer Science, Associate Professor

Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.


  • Stacks Image 525371
    Josh Bongard, Victor Zykov, Hod Lipson. Resilient Machines Through
    Continuous Self-Modeling.
    Science 314, 1118 (2006). [Journal Page]
  • Stacks Image 525379
    Joey Anetsberger and Josh Bongard. Robots can ground crowd-proposed symbols by forming theories of group mind. Proceedings of the Artificial Life Conference 2016. [Link to Proceedings]
  • Stacks Image 525375
    Sam Kriegman, Nick Cheney, and Josh Bongard. How morphological development can guide evolution. arXiv 2017. [arXiv]


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Chris Danforth -Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Flint Professor of Mathematical, Natural, and Technical Sciences

Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.

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    Peter Sheridan Dodds , Kameron Decker Harris, Isabel M. Kloumann, Catherine A. Bliss, Christopher M. Danforth. Temporal Patterns of Happiness and Information in a Global Social Network: Hedonometrics and Twitter. PLoS ONE 2011. [Journal Page].
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    Lewis Mitchell , Morgan R. Frank, Kameron Decker Harris, Peter Sheridan Dodds, Christopher M. Danforth. The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter Sentiment and Expression, Demographics, and Objective Characteristics of Place. PLoS ONE 2013. [Journal Page].
  • Stacks Image 525310
    Andrew G Reece and Christopher M Danforth. Instagram photos reveal predictive markers of depression. EPJ Data Science 2017. [Journal Page].


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Laurent Hébert-Dufresne - Assistant Professor, Computer Science

Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.

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    Laurent Hébert‐Dufresne Adam F. A. Pellegrini Uttam Bhat Sidney Redner Stephen W. Pacala Andrew M. Berdahl. Edge fires drive the shape and stability of tropical forests. Ecology Letters 2018. [Journal Page]
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    Samuel V. Scarpino, Antoine Allard, Laurent Hébert-Dufresne. The effect of a prudent adaptive behaviour on disease transmission. Nature Physics 2016. [Journal Page]
  • Stacks Image 525339
    Laurent Hébert-Dufresne, Joshua A. Grochow, Antoine Allard. Multi-scale structure and topological anomaly detection via a new network statistic: The onion decomposition. Nature Scientific Reports 2016. [Journal Page]


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Paul Hines - School of Engineering, Associate Professor

Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.

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    Paul D. H. Hines, Ian Dobson, Pooya Rezaei. Cascading Power Outages Propagate Locally in an Influence Graph That is Not the Actual Grid Topology. IEEE Transactions on Power Systems ( Volume: 32, Issue: 2, March 2017 ). [Journal Page]
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    Mert Korkali, Jason G. Veneman, Brian F. Tivnan, James P. Bagrow & Paul D. H. Hines. Reducing Cascading Failure Risk by Increasing Infrastructure Network Interdependence. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 44499 (2017. [Journal Page]
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    Pooya Rezaei, Paul D. H. Hines, Margaret J. Eppstein. Estimating Cascading Failure Risk With Random Chemistry. IEEE Transactions on Power Systems ( Volume: 30, Issue: 5, Sept. 2015 ). [Journal Page]


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James Bagrow - Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).

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    Y.-Y. Ahn, J. P. Bagrow and S. Lehmann. Link communities reveal multiscale complexity in networks. Nature, 466: 761-764 (2010). [Journal Page].
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    M. R. Frank, J. R. Williams, L. Mitchell, J. P. Bagrow, P. S. Dodds, C. M. Danforth. Constructing a taxonomy of fine-grained human movement and activity motifs through social media. In preparation. (2015). [Journal Page].
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    J. P. Bagrow and L. Mitchell. The quoter model: a paradigmatic model of the social flow of written information. To appear, Chaos (2018). [Journal Page].