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10.03 The Link between Cooperation and Social Networks: Exclusion or Stimulation of Defectors?

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Aim of the project

Understanding how cooperation can spread is of importance for thriving societies, theory, and policy. Scholars identified several key features affecting cooperation. We highlight two fundamental ways that link networks to cooperation: mutual selection of cooperative actors, and influence from cooperators on defectors. The presence of ties can be a channel for enforcing cooperation (influence) through, e.g., learning, imitation, and sanctioning, but the possibility to endogenously create and sever ties can be an enforcement mechanism as well (selection). As selection changes the network, thus affecting the scope for influence processes, we need a dynamic approach to account for both mechanisms simultaneously that hitherto has not been addressed. Most work in that regard has been done with static network, however, social networks are not static but dynamic in nature. Yet, whether and how social networks affect cooperative behavior and vice versa also depends on personality characteristics. Some actors are innately more likely to cooperate than others. We study how configurations of social relations and cooperative behavior – affected by individuals’ personality characteristics – co-evolve from one point of time to another. The scope of this project is twofold: accounting for factors ‘outside’ (selection and influence) and ‘inside’ of the individual. The main research question is: How do selection, influence, and personality jointly relate to cooperation in (students’) social networks over time? This project moves beyond existing research in the field of cooperation in two ways: (1) it integrates selection and influence processes in a dynamic perspective, and (2) it tests how both processes are moderated by individuals’ personality characteristics.

Research design

To answer the research question, we propose to test the interrelatedness of said features with a triangulation of methods to fill the knowledge gap in the literature: (1) a longitudinal field study in the context of students which allows to study the co-evolution of social relations, perceived cooperativeness, and personality traits; (2) agent-based modelling in which influence and/or selection manipulations are incorporated to isolate external factors and explicate cooperation behavior in the face of social dilemmas; and (3) empirically-calibrated agent-based models to study more complex conditions.

Faculty Fund Behavioural and Social Sciences, University of Groningen

  • Discipline
  • Location
    University of Groningen, Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, Department of Sociology