Small networks, evolution of knowledge and species longevity: Theoretical integration and empirical test

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How do small groups play pivotal roles of invention and innovation in (human) organizations and cultures? Economic theories of human capital, i.e., knowledge-skills—provide classic formulations. The economic theories of human capital as intrinsic to societal development and physical survival have direct connections to small group theory of learning through communication and socioemotional interaction. These theories have important parallels in biological theories of the evolution of human intelligence. They are supplemented by social exchange theory and the ecological dominance-social-competition model. These theoretical approaches are common to the overlapping disciplines of social anthropology, sociology and the social psychology of small group behavior. However, even these theories, while plausible and mutually reinforcing, do not fully account for the extraordinary influence of small groups in the invention and innovation process. A crucial moment of invention and innovation is the psychological stress involved in expression/presentation (even to oneself) of a new idea (on an important subject) that is contrary to accepted (i.e., conventional) wisdom. In this article the argument is made that the social support function of small groups, discussed extensively in the epidemiological literature, facilitates that presentation by: (1) reality testing, i.e., confirmation of the validity (truth value), significance and usefulness of abstract or empirical discovery/creation; (2) emotional support moderating the effects of anxiety or threat; and (3) material support of the discoverer/discovery through financing or provision of significant social contacts. Thus, we observe trends in human knowledge and consequent economic development: (1) continuous enlargement of the base of knowledge through specialization and differentiation of disciplines and employment, where disciplinary knowledge is embedded in the structure of employment. (2) Sustainable economic development results in expanded human longevity—minus the losses through employment and income inequality. The impact of economic growth on species survival, engendered by small-group-mediated innovation, can be observed in a statistical model over the beneficial impact of economic development on global cardiovascular mortality. The statistical model also demonstrates the harm to cardiovascular health brought about by employment losses and income inequality associated with world-wide automation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-322
Number of pages9
JournalChaos, Solitons and Fractals
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Economic development
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Innovation
  • Networks
  • Small group behavior


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