DKU professor given grant to study group dynamics

Gergely Horvath, assistant professor of economics at Duke Kunshan University

A Duke Kunshan professor has received funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) to study group dynamics.

Gergely Horvath, assistant professor of economics, will spend two years researching core-periphery groups, a common structure that spans business and social networks.

“In this project, we aim to advance our understanding of how these networks form and what determines which agents occupy the central core positions that bring payoff advantages,” he said.

The research aims to shed light on many elements of group dynamics, said Horvath, such as the personal characteristics that determine core or periphery group membership and what size of group operates to the best advantage of its members.

The research could be informative for policy makers, in the corporate world and in education where groups of collaborators come together to form a network, said Horvath, as it will help to determine optimal group characteristics that maximize the overall benefit to members.

The core-periphery group structure can be observed in many settings, including international trade networks, online communications groups, research and development collaborations and even in organized crime. It describes a group where there are two types of member: core ones, who are well connected to each other and the periphery of the network; and periphery members, who are connected only to the core.

Horvath will conduct a series of laboratory experiments, under the Research Fund for International Excellent Young Scientists (RFIS-II), an NSFC-backed program that supports young foreign scientists conducting research in China, to better understand how these networks form and what factors determine who occupies a core or periphery position.

The subject lends itself to a laboratory setting, he said, because it eliminates the problems of observing network links and payoffs of interactions that would come with empirical research.

Subjects will be enlisted into the study from a research participant recruitment website called Prolific and placed into groups where there are costs and rewards for interactions. Over the course of 30 to 40 rounds of communication, their interactions will determine whether they are ultimately a core or periphery group member.

“In the experiments, participants choose their network neighbors and an effort level, which can be interpreted, for example, as investment in research and development, collaboration or education,” said Horvath.

“The formation of a link is costly and it requires mutual consent by the parties involved. Effort is also costly and it benefits the person who invested in effort, as well as her direct neighbors in the social network,” he added.

The study will be repeated with varying circumstances, including different group sizes, changing cost and reward patterns for forming links, and different identity groups, or teams, within a network, to reflect the diversity of real-world core-periphery groups.

Horvath will begin the research this year and is looking to recruit several DKU students to assist with the experiments. The study could be followed up by comparing its results to real world data, he said.

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