The social network maintained by a focal individual, or ego, is intrinsically dynamic and typically exhibits some turnover in membership over time as personal circumstances change. However, the consequences of such changes on the distribution of an ego’s network ties are not well understood. Here the authors use a unique 18-month dataset that combines mobile phone calls and survey data to track changes in the ego networks and communication patterns of students making the transition from school to university or work. Their analysis reveals that individuals display a distinctive and robust social signature, captured by how interactions are distributed across different alters. Notably, for a given ego, these social signatures tend to persist over time, despite considerable turnover in the identity of alters in the ego network. Thus, as new network members are added, some old network members either are replaced or receive fewer calls, preserving the overall distribution of calls across network members. This is likely to reflect the consequences of finite resources such as the time available for communication, the cognitive and emotional effort required to sustain close relationships, and the ability to make emotional investments.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America doi: 10.1073/pnas.1308540110