Features of social networks MIT News

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People like to connect with people who are like them. Alumni of the same alma mater are more likely to collaborate together on a research project, or individuals with similar political beliefs are more likely to join the same political parties, attend rallies, and engage in online discussions Is. This concept in sociology, called homophily, has been observed in many network science studies. But if like-minded individuals gather in online and offline spaces to reinforce each other’s ideas and build rapport, what does this mean for society?

The MIT researchers wanted to further investigate homophily to understand how groups of three or more interact in complex social settings. Previous research on understanding homosexuality has studied relationships between pairs of people. For example, when two members of Congress co-sponsor a bill, they are likely to be from the same political party.

However, little is known about the group. interaction Likely to occur between three or more people who are similar. If three members of Congress co-sponsor a bill together, are all three of them likely to be members of the same party, or would we expect more bipartisanship? When researchers tried to extend traditional methods to measure homophobia into these large group interactions, they found that the results could be misleading.

“We found that homophobia observed in pairs or in one-on-one interactions can make it appear that there is more homophobia in larger groups than is actually the case,” says Arnab Sarkar, a graduate student in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society. ” IDSS) and lead author of Study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, He added, “The previous measurement does not take into account that two people in a friendship setting already know each other.”

To address this issue, Sarkar teamed up with co-authors Natalie Northrup ’22 and Ali Jadababai, JR East engineering professor, head of the civil and environmental engineering department and core faculty member of the IDSS, to develop a new way to measure . Homosexuality. Borrowing tools from algebraic topology, a subfield in mathematics usually applied in physics, they developed a new measure to understand whether homophily occurred in group interactions.

The new measure, called simplified homophily, separates the homophily observed in one-on-one interactions from that seen in larger group interactions and is based on the mathematical concept of a simplified compound. The researchers tested this new measure with real-world data from 16 different datasets and found that simple homophily provides more accurate insight into how similar things interact in larger groups. Interestingly, the new measure can better identify instances where large group interactions lack equality, thus improving the weakness observed in the previous measure.

An example of this was demonstrated in a dataset from Trivago, a global hotel booking website. They found that when travelers are viewing two hotels in one session, they often choose hotels that are geographically closer to each other. But when they look at more than two hotels in one session, they are more likely to search for hotels that are too far from each other (for example, if they are taking a vacation with multiple stops). . The new method showed “homophobia” – instead of selecting similar hotels together, different hotels were selected together.

“Our measure controls for pairwise connections and is suggesting that there is more diversity in hotels that people are looking for as group size increases, which is an interesting economic outcome,” Sarkar says.

Additionally, they found that simple homophily can help identify whether certain characteristics are important for predicting whether groups will interact in the future. They found that when there is a lot of similarity or a lot of difference between individuals who have already interacted in groups, knowing individual characteristics can help predict their relationship with each other in the future.

Northrup was an undergraduate researcher on this project and worked with Sarkar and Jadbabai for three semesters before graduating. The project gave her the opportunity to take and apply some of the concepts she learned in class.

“Working on this project, I was able to really build higher-order network models, and understand the network, the mathematics, and apply it on a larger scale,” says Northrup, who majored in civil and environmental engineering. . Systems Track with a double major in Economics.

The new measure opens up opportunities to study complex group interactions in a wide range of network applications, from ecology to traffic and socioeconomics. One of the areas the government is interested in exploring is the group mobility of people looking for jobs through social networks. “Does high-order homosexuality affect the way people receive information about jobs?”. he asks.

Northrup says it could also be used to evaluate interventions or specific policies to connect people with job opportunities outside their networks. “You can also use it as a measurement to evaluate how effective it can be.”

The research was supported through funding from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense through a Vannevar Bush Fellowship and the U.S. Army Research Office Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative.

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