Happy Independence Day! I hope you’re going out to see fireworks later.
How do social behaviors become viral? I found Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz to be a fascinating work exploring how it is that emotions can be passed from one individual to another. Have you ever noticed that if you’re around someone who is stressed out or who is complaining suddenly you begin to feel stressed out and you begin to complain and feel dissatisfied with the current state of affairs? I know that I have. Kravetz searches for the reasons that behaviors and emotions can be passed from one individual to another in a way that makes this book a page-turner. I find the idea of a social contagion to be absolutely fascinating (and true to my own experience), and I was unable to put this one down.
• Hardcover: 288 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)
Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.
In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.
A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?
The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a “strange contagion:” a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.
Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.
About Lee Daniel Kravetz
Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.