Humans communicate using systems of interconnected stimuli or concepts — from language and music to literature and science — yet it remains unclear how, if at all, the structure of these networks supports the communication of information. Although information theory provides tools to quantify the information produced by a system, traditional metrics do not account for the inefficient and biased ways that humans process this information. Here we develop an analytical framework to study the information generated by a system as perceived by a human observer. We demonstrate experimentally that this perceived information depends critically on a system’s network topology. Applying our framework to several real networks, we find that they communicate a large amount of information (having high entropy) and do so efficiently (maintaining low divergence from human expectations). Moreover, we show that such efficient communication arises in networks that are simultaneously heterogeneous, with high-degree hubs, and clustered, with tightly-connected modules — the two defining features of hierarchical organization. Together, these results suggest that many real networks are constrained by the pressures of information transmission, and that these pressures select for specific structural features.
Human information processing in complex networks
Christopher W. Lynn, Lia Papadopoulos, Ari E. Kahn, Danielle S. Bassett