The Psychology of Social Networks: The Creation, Spread, and Extinction of Memes in Virtual Communities

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Psychology and Special Education

Date of Award

Spring 2015


Whereas the group contributes to an individual's definition of self, understanding culture is crucial in understanding and explaining how individuals interact with the world. From the cultural psychology perspective, researchers study culture as dynamic and adaptive systems subject to a generalized Darwinism, known as universal Darwinism, where culture follows the same rules of biological evolution at an abstract level. The meme has been proposed as the unit of replication for culture. Differing intragroup status results in high status members wielding higher influence and prestige within the group such that low status members are eager to show loyalty and conformity by imitating and agreeing with the high status members. This study investigated the effect of status and consistency on the propagation of memes in virtual communities. Utilizing text from a combined total of about 6 million interactions between more than 120,000 individuals across 4 forums, this study investigated the effects of group status and consistency on the spread of memes. The results showed that memes started by low status individuals spread faster than memes started by high or moderate status individuals. In addition, memes that were consistent with the group norms/content spread faster than memes that were not normative of the group.


Stephen Reysen

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences