The "Fat Friend Effect" And The Surprising Power of Negative Secondary Connections : Under30CEO The "Fat Friend Effect" And The Surprising Power of Negative Secondary Connections : Under30CEO
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The “Fat Friend Effect” And The Surprising Power of Negative Secondary Connections

| January 3, 2014 | 21 Comments

I’m 24 years old and I’m now realizing that, despite my tendency to feel like I have a pretty good handle on life, there were a lot of lessons I learned as a child that still ring true today.

For one, I’ve found it exceedingly true that birds of a feather really DO flock together.

Birds of a Feather

I used to hate this saying growing up because I thought it was just…cliché

“Ok mom, I won’t hang out with any ‘trouble makers’. “

Blah, blah, blah. *picks up PS2 controller*

Turns out, it’s very true. Truer than I’d like to admit — but not for the overtly obvious reasons.

When you’re younger, things are more black and white.

Good vs. Evil.

Right vs. Wrong.

Playstation or Nintendo (COME’ON SON!).

Many decisions were easy to make because the immediate repercussions seemed pretty apparent. Figure out the result you want, then do the action that supports that result.

Now we’re older and things just aren’t that cut and dry.

We are presented with thousands of decsions weekly and sometimes the stress of potentially making the wrong decision overrides our ability to actually make the right one. Ain’t that a bitch!!!

Action halts. Paralysis ensues. No decisions get made.

How bad bad decisions (or no decisions) lead to bad friendships

I am a lazy sonofabitch. So are you.

No harm intended — but let’s face the facts: we avoid making hard decisions every day because hard decisions expend energy. We are energy conservationists by nature.

Friendships fall into this category. We don’t often take time to “prune” our friendships or consciously disassociate ourselves with people who affect us negatively. Especially if they’ve been our friends for a long time.

This is where the conventional wisdom comes in handy. We have to be very aware of who we share our time and space with. A close personal friend or even a more distant friendship with a depressing/unambitious/negative person can, over time, take a huge toll on us.

Mom warned us. This type of bad influence is called a negative primary connection.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon at it’s worst…

The popular social experiment Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon highlights the idea that most people are 6 or less social connections away from eachother.


Pick anyone in the world. A celebrity, a stranger on another continent. Anybody. Odds are that through mutual friends and acquaintances, you two can be connected by six or less people. It’s a fascinating concept, but it’s also very scary when you consider the effect we can have on each other without even realizing it. That’s the digital world for you.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to find that there’s a growing body of evidence supporting the idea that your friends’ friends can wield tremendous power over you without you even knowing it.

In their 2009 work Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler reminded us that the term “social network” doesn’t just refer to the half dozen websites we log into every day as part of our digital alter ego.

Social networks are the groups of real friends that we all share, intersect and interact with – and they’ve always been central to our developments.

Who we hang around, and who THOSE people hang around in turn, matters. A lot.

Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times book review.

Poring through the meticulous records of the Framingham Heart Study, conducted from 1948 to the present in a small Massachusetts city, Christakis and Fowler mapped out the relationship of 12,067 people with more than 50,000 ties (or connections between friends and relatives) among them. Analyzing the network, the authors noticed that obese people tend to be friends with other obese people, while thin people tend to be friends with other thin people. On one level, this is obvious and unsurprising; birds of a feather and all that. But based on their reading of the data (which some other researchers have questioned), the authors concluded that the relationship was causal: being associated with overweight people, even indirectly, is likely to make you overweight.

As Christakis and Fowler (along with other researchers) have found, obesity spreads by contagion. So if your friend’s friend’s friend — whom you’ve never met, and lives a thousand miles away — gains weight, you’re likely to gain weight, too. And if your friend’s friend’s friend loses weight, you’re likely to lose weight, too.



Traditional wisdom and common sense dictate that one type of person likes to hang around others with similar characteristics.

It’s an entirely different scenario, however, to assume that one person in a social network can CAUSE another person several connections away to make definitive personal changes through indirect suggestion and modeling without even knowing the other person directly.

This is what I’ve coined the “fat friend effect”.

Simply put: if your friends are connected to people who aren’t of the caliber you aspire to be, ultimately you can be dragged down as well. Even if you don’t know the offending slackers. This is called a negative secondary connection and it’s often more dangerous than a negative primary connection because you typically won’t see it coming.

Think this is bullshit?

Imagine your social network as a team. How many times have you seen superstars stifled by a group of overwhelmingly mediocre players?

Sometimes, high performers have to completely disassociate themselves with mediocrity in order to thrive.

Before you run to Facebook to make sure you’re not being “socially polluted”, take a look at this Christaki’s TED talk on the concept:

How to eradicate negative secondary connections without losing all your friends

At this point you should be scared shitless that your friend’s stoner brother-in-law might cost you a promotion.

While that would make me laugh, it’s not entirely true.

There’s definitely something you can do to reduce the chances of a negative secondary connection affecting you:

Be amazing.

As I often tell my grandma (who gets mad when I don’t call enough), the phone works both ways.

Recall in the research that Christakis noted weight lost by a secondary connection can also result in you losing weight.

Positive effects can be spread just as easily as negative effects.

The goal then, should be to elevate your own game so high that others cannot help but take notice. Your positivity and drive must be so strong that not only are you impervious to negative secondary attacks, but both your primary and secondary connections begin to model themselves after you.

In other words, we must learn how to evolve past the victim mentality that says we are incapable beings, barely sentient, constantly affected by our environment in the tide of random choice.

We are not ships lost at sea. We are the sea.

Conversely, it is our duty as change-makers and Rich20Somethings to start affecting our environment, not merely accepting passive consequences.

Gandhi said it best:


When you adopt this mindset, not only will you keep the friends that you have and safeguard yourself against the negative effects of poorly chosen primary and secondary connections — you will most likely make more positive connections than ever before.

The result will be a continuous upward spiral of growing friendships that support you in your journey to be the best damn you possible.

Daniel DiPiazza is the founder of Rich20Something, where he teaches young people how to stop doing jobs that they hate and break free of 9 to 5 boredom by starting their own businesses. Click here to join his tribe of hungry young entrepreneurs and get inside strategies to launching your first digital business.


Image Credits:,, The New York Times,

About the Author: Daniel DiPiazza

Daniel DiPiazza teaches young people how to stop doing shit that they hate and break free of 9 to 5 boredom by starting their own businesses at his blog

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  • CrosbyTee

    Step away from the bong, nephew.

  • Alexa Carey

    I normally really enjoy reading these articles and have for quite some time. This is the first comment I’ve ever left. While this may seem overly-sensitive, your direct statement of “This is what I’ve coined ‘the fat friend effect” is extremely offensive and precipitates an idea that if you have fat, you are not worthy of friendship even.

    You imply that an individual should not be or be friends with a ‘fat person’ because that one physical trait demonstrates they do not meet the standard or caliber you aspire to be or want to be associated with. This is a societal judgement, not based on any value of the person. You then continue on to describe how to be amazing and set goals (internal), enact change (internal decisions), and cultivate friendships that are supportive. I understand your point you are trying to make about how to evaluate relationships but this is not a positive reflection of how to do this.

    This was a disappointingly poor article…please evaluate your wording and respectfully consider cultivating a new perspective on what you consider important about people.

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    ?? lol. What?

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Where did imply that? First of all, we know that obesity is a real problem. Outside of “fat” being a cultural stigma, obesity is an actual health risk to millions of Americans.

    I’m citing research that shows you can be influenced, even physically, by the people you keep around you.

    Do you disagree with the research?

  • Jonathan Bradley

    This headline and article promote fatism, which perpetuates the hatred of someone based merely on their size. This is morally and socially reprehensible.
    I am quite surprised Under 30 would blast such a biased post.

  • Allison

    While I’m not going to comment on the ‘fat friend effect’ or the firestorm I’m sure it’s about to start (although I’m sure it will generate a lot of traffic for you, Daniel) what I find to be the heart of this is something that we all can work towards: Elevating ourselves. Who we associate ourselves with reflects us, and it’s something we can’t forget as we look to achieve success professionally and personally.

  • Erin

    I’m sorry, but this article has nothing to do with being
    fat, obese, etc. I enjoyed this article a lot! I didn’t realize it may be offensive
    to some until I read the comments, and I am overweight myself!

  • Karisa Karmali

    Daniel, I love it. Truth is truth, and your term is a simple symbolic metaphor and it is fabulous. Offense is a reaction, reaction is a choice, you cannot censor yourself to the point of making no impact in the world, so keep on sharing your wisdom.

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  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Thanks, Karisa. Ok, so here’s a question for you: Can you think of a time in your life when somebody that was close to you, or a certain group of people brought you down when you were trying to elevate yourself?

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Thanks for chiming in, Erin. I appreciate the support. Why do you think this get under people’s skin so much?

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Are you sure that it’s not simply pricking a “pain point” of some people, despite being true? Fat may be a harsh terminology. What if we called it “The Obese Friend Effect”? The point remains that poor health, both mental and physical, can be transmitted from person to person just by interacting with each other. Do you agree with that?

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Hey Allison, glad to have you here. Thanks for jumping in. So quick question: Can you think of a time when you moved from one friend group to another and you felt really elevated as a result?

  • Catrin Jones

    Well done Daniel, great response to that comment. Fantastic article and makes me think about my own current friends & those I’ve distanced myself from.

    Alexa the research chose obesity as a tangible, easily collected quantitative measure which is becoming a health epidemic in the developed world. Science actively ignores the subjective and Daniel’s article (specifically the wording used) comes from that research study. The word ‘fat’ is incredibly emotive, rightly or wrongly, be careful not to ignore the core content of this article because of it. I can understand how easy it is to do though as I have done it myself in the past. The Ted lecture here is really fabulous and explains what Daniel is trying to say.

  • Allison


  • Allison

    Sorry, I am clearly inept at Disqus!

    Your question prompted me to look into my own friendships and their evolution in a new way, and it’s quite fascinating. I don’t think I can point to a specific time when I have jumped from one group of friends to another, which seems quite drastic. Rather, this process is a gradual attrition of those who don’t have similar values and building of a core that is ambitious and has like minded goals. And sure enough, this core does make me feel elevated.

    This isn’t to say that I don’t still value those who are no longer close, as they brought perspective during a different period of my life, and it’s not so much that I abandoned them as friends, but we grow apart because we have different priorities. I enjoy your posts and this particular one touches on something that is a particular goal of mine for the year: elevate!

  • Ursula Wood

    I think it was a great article. I am overweight myself and did not take offense at reading this article because I think it is true that you should be careful who you associate with. You should take care in picking your friends, because if I hang out with people who ‘drag me down’, I won’t reach my goals. Or at least, it makes it more difficult to reach my goals.
    I don’t think that necessarily hanging out with skinny people solves the problem either. Example: My husband is a cyclist and has a fast metabolism, so he basically eats whatever he likes and it doesn’t show (of course also partially because he cycles). Now he is married to me who cannot eat the same way he does. So for me, ‘hanging out’ with this slim friend (husband) is not beneficial. :)
    My solution: I have to hang out with like-minded people. Who aspire to be better people and ‘elevate’ themselves. I like to have friends or hang out with people who inspire me. Time spend with them is an investment.
    Thanks Daniel, for your inspiring article. It is truth and inspiration.

  • Claire

    I was offended by the title, and then I saw the misplaced apostrophe in “its” and realized we should all be taking it easy on this guy, the poor dear.

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    LOL ^^ Classic case of someone squabbling over minutiae and holding themselves back from getting the bigger benefit — in this case, a message that was mostly unrelated to weight at all. This is the same type of person who spends 3 years trying to start a diet (unsuccessfully) because they read every book in the store to “get more information.” Show me a 1,000+ word post you’ve written. I’ll find some typos.

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Perfect example – “My solution: I have to hang out with like-minded people. Who aspire to be better people and ‘elevate’ themselves. I like to have friends or hang out with people who inspire me. Time spend with them is an investment.” >>> it’s all about mindset. The fat/skinny thing is just a framework. Thanks for reading :)

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