In one study, we asked teens (with their parents’ permission) to give us access to their list of Facebook friends. This allowed us to see whether teens who are information brokers use their social brain networks differently than teens whose friends all know one another. We scanned their brains while they made social decisions (about whether to recommend different products to their peers). We found that information brokers use their social brain networks more when making choices about what to recommend to others than people whose friends all know one another.
Decades of research have shown that having more numerous and stronger connections predicts better health and well-being, but the shape of your social network matters too. People who are “information brokers” connect people who wouldn’t otherwise know each other. Think of the character “Finn” on Glee, who as a football player who also sings serves as a bridge between two different worlds; or someone you work with who knows people from every department who don’t all know each other. At workplaces, Ronald Burt and his colleagues have shown, information brokers come up with better solutions to problems, potentially because they are exposed to more diverse perspectives.