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Beware - you can “catch” running

09-May-17

Last updated: 19-Jul-18

By Alice Morrison

We don’t know if this is good news or bad news, but a new study has just revealed that running is, in fact, contagious. We already knew it was addictive.

In the study, which was published in Nature Communications, researchers from the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recorded the daily exercise patterns, geographical locations, and social-network activities of more than one million people, who ran more than 350 million kilometres over five years in total. (S. Aral and C. Nicolaides Nature Commun. 8, 14753; 2017)

It is all about social contagion and it is no surprise that the scientists found that social media and sharing of running exploits is very important for runners. It stimulates competitiveness and people run more when their peers run.

There were some very interesting, more granular, findings. From this study, it is clear that gender plays a big part in social contagion. It was found that women are not at all influenced by men but that men strongly influence men and women moderately influence both men and women.

Perhaps surprisingly, the study also found people are more influenced by those performing WORSE than they do. It spurs them on to stay ahead of the competition and to keep “winning”. This is more of an influence than the achievements of elite athletes.

As the study says, “In the context of exercise, a debate exists about whether we make upward comparisons to those performing better than ourselves or downward comparisons to those performing worse than ourselves.

Comparisons to those ahead of us may motivate our own self-improvement, while comparisons to those behind us may create ‘competitive behaviour to protect one’s superiority’. Our findings are consistent with both arguments, but the effects are much larger for downward comparisons than for upward comparisons.

So, now you know, there really is a “running bug.”

For more,  check out the full study in Nature Communications.

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