Reaching Out, Reaching In
Edited by Viva Ona Bartkus and James H. Davis
Chapter 7: Experimental Approaches to the Diffusion of Norms
7. Experimental approaches to the diﬀusion of norms David W. Nickerson Many theories of social capital contend that dense ties within networks develop norms that govern the behavior of group members. Dense networks also establish surveillance and sanctioning systems for violations of those norms. Compliance with those norms provides the basis for trust in the community as behavior becomes more predictable. Coleman (1988), Burt (2005) and many other scholars argue that networks with closure are sources of social capital precisely because densely connected groups transmit and reinforce group norms. Thus, social networks are perceived as critical in the diﬀusion and reinforcement of important civic and other norms. Unfortunately, selection into social networks makes it extremely diﬃcult to isolate the unique role played by the network in the formation of norms. Speciﬁcally, how does one disentangle the inﬂuence of the network over time from that of the traits that inﬂuenced the person to join the network in the ﬁrst place? Randomized ﬁeld experiments oﬀer a method for measuring the role of these two processes. Researchers can pursue three diﬀerent experimental strategies to measure norm creation in the ﬁeld: create a randomized social network; randomly manipulate interactions within an existing network; or trace the eﬀect of an exogenous shock through the network. This chapter brieﬂy explains the logic motivating experiments and provides an example of each type of experiment to study norm formation within social networks.1 Friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors...
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