Network dynamics of social influence in the wisdom of crowds

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017)

Joshua Becker, Devon Brackbill, Damon Centola

Medical decisions are based on scientific research which allows physicians to make treat patients based on probability estimates about the likelihood of diagnoses and treatment efficacy. Where medical diagnoses are made in conditions of uncertainty, physicians must rely on their judgement to generate the best decision possible. At the same time, large variations in medical procedure between geographical regions indicate that medical decisions are also subject to social influence by peers and community norms. Fortunately, research on the wisdom of crowds has shown that the average belief within a group is generally more accurate than any given individual. Our pilot tests on simple estimation tasks have shown that by allowing people to share information with each other, individuals can draw on the wisdom of crowds to improve the accuracy of their beliefs. This project is designed to understand how encouraging information flow between physicians and institutions can improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses.

Support or competition? How online social networks increase physical activity:
A randomized controlled trial

Preventive Medicine Reports (2016)

Jingwen Zhang, Devon Brackbill, Sijia Yang, Joshua Becker,
Natalie Herbert, Damon Centola

Online social networks have become a highly attractive target for large scale health initiatives; however, there is insufficient knowledge about why online networks might be effective sources of social influence for improving physical activity levels. In a randomized controlled trial, we evaluate the effects of social support and social comparison independently, and in combination, to determine how social motivations for behavior change directly impact people’s exercise activity.

Identifying the effects of social media on health behavior: Data from a large-scale online experiment

Data in Brief (2015)

Jingwen Zhang, Devon Brackbill, Sijia Yang, and Damon Centola

Sedentary lifestyle is an escalating epidemic. Little is known about whether or how social media can be used to design a cost-effective solution for sedentary lifestyle. In this article we describe the data from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that evaluated two prominent strategies for conducting exercise interventions using elements of social media: motivational media campaigns and online peer networks.

The social origins of networks and diffusion

American Journal of Sociology (2015)

Damon Centola

Recent research on social contagion has demonstrated significant effects of network topology on the dynamics of diffusion. However, network topologies are not given a priori. Rather, they are patterns of relations that emerge from individual and structural features of society, such as population composition, group heterogeneity, homophily, and social consolidation.

The spontaneous emergence of conventions: An experimental study of cultural evolution

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2015)

Damon Centola and Andrea Baronchelli

We present experimental results—replicated at several scales—that demonstrate the spontaneous creation of universally adopted social conventions and show how simple changes in a population’s network structure can direct the dynamics of norm formation, driving human populations with no ambition for large scale coordination to rapidly evolve shared social conventions.

Choosing your network: Social preferences in an online health community

Social Science and Medicine (2014)

Damon Centola and Arnout van der Rijt

A growing number of online health communities offer individuals the opportunity to receive information, advice, and support from peers. Recent studies have demonstrated that these new online contacts can be important informational resources, and can even exert significant influence on individuals’ behavior in various contexts.

Social media and the science of health behavior

Circulation  (2013)

Damon Centola

The recent explosion of social media provides significant new opportunities for health researchers to study how social interactions affect the dynamics of behavior change.

A simple model of stability in critical mass dynamics

Journal of Statistical Physics (2013)

Damon Centola

While strong social incentives, such as peer-enforcement, can facilitate the growth of collective action and collective behavior, these incentives can also compromise the dynamics of long term stability.

The spread of behavior in an online social network experiment (Supporting materials)

Science (2010)

Damon Centola

Experimental results show that behaviors spread farther and faster through clustered-lattice networks than through ‘randomized’ networks.

  • Awarded 2011 Best Article in Mathematical Sociology,American Sociological Association
  • Awarded 2011 Goodwin Award for Outstanding Contribution to Sociological Methodology, American Sociological Association
Failure in complex social networks

Journal of Mathematical Sociology  (2009)

Damon Centola

Scale-free networks can be far more vulnerable to failure due to random attacks than more homogeneously distributed exponential networks.

Complex contagions and the weakness of long ties

American Journal of Sociology (2007)

Damon Centola and Michael Macy

When behavioral adoption requires peer reinforcement, adding weak ties to a social network can actually slow down (and even prevent entirely) the diffusion process.

  • Awarded 2009 Best Article in Mathematical Sociology, American Sociological Association
Cascade dynamics of complex propagation

Physica A (2007)

Damon Centola, Victor Eguiluz, and Michael Macy

Randomizing permutations on ordered social networks can cause phase transitions in the collective dynamics of diffusion.

Homophily, cultural drift, and the co-evolution of cultural groups

Journal of Conflict Resolution (2007)

Damon Centola, Juan Carlos Avella, Victor Eguiluz, and Maxi San Miguel

Allowing networks to evolve endogenously provides a mechanism for understanding how the “homogenizing” forces of homophily and social influence can produce cultural diversity.

The emperor’s dilemma: A computational model of self-enforcing norms

American Journal of Sociology (2005)

Damon Centola, Robb Willer, and Michael Macy

We investigate how normative behaviors that can be detrimental to everyone in a population can nonetheless wind up not only spreading, but also being enforced by every member of the population.

  • Awarded 2006 Best Article in Mathematical Sociology, American Sociological Association
Social life in silico: The science of artificial societies

Handbook of Group Research and Practice (2005)

Damon Centola and Michael Macy

Computational modeling has become well established as an essential methodology in the biological and physical sciences, and has recently begun a migration into the social sciences. In physics, systems with non-linear dynamics and sensitive dependence on initial conditions (so-called “complex systems”) have motivated the use of a wide variety of computational techniques. Similarly, social scientists have begun to appreciate that the complexity of social systems cannot be understood using traditional analytical techniques.