Problems 3.1-3.7
Research Design

Questions are given in black, responses are given in blue.

1. Consider each of the research problems in Chapter 1, Problem 1. Based on the designs outlined in Tables 3.1 and 3.2, what type of research design does each of the research problems suggest?[BS1]

a. In a coeducational summer camp for teens, researchers want to know the extent to which attitudes about religion play a role in the formation of friendships within the first week of coming to camp.

  • Field study.

b. An anthropologist is interested in studying the relationship between Canadian Inuit hunters’ structural position in a hunting advice network, as measured by indegree centrality, and their hunting success.

  • Field study

c. A sports psychologist is interested in studying the relationship between basketball team cohesion off the court and the number of regular-season wins among a sample of 30 US universities.

  • Field study.

d. A political scientist hypothesizes a relationship between the presence of international trade relations and the formation of bilateral defense agreements.

  • Field study.

e. An agricultural extension researcher proposes that time of adoption of a new fertilizer among Iowa corn farmers is related to the structural centrality of farmers in a communication network.

  • Field study.

f. An organizational sociologist hypothesizes that the more regional sales teams have a centralized information-sharing network, the greater each team’s overall sales.

  • Field study. An experiment could also be attempted if the researcher had the ability to restrict information-sharing so as to make some (randomly chosen) teams have a centralized network while others would have a decentralized network. If doable, the experiment is probably preferable.

g. An educational researcher is interested in how the political views of incoming freshmen at a large university affect the formation of friendship ties over the first semester.

  • Field study.

h. A psychologist is interested in the relationship between an astronaut’s knowledge of a mission team’s network structure and psychological well-being over the course of a 30-day simulated mission.

  • Field study.

i. A management researcher hypothesizes that highly centralized networks are more efficient at a variety of task settings than more evenly distributed networks, and designs an experiment to test this hypothesis.

  • See f.

2. For each of the research questions below, discuss whether a whole- or personal-network approach is more appropriate.

a. How do social relations in a university sports club influence members’ attitudes towards university sports policies?

  • The question is a bit vague: either design might be appropriate.

b. To what extent is smoking behavior among adolescents affected by their social networks?

  • Either.

c. How much do voting patterns in a state legislature conform to political party affiliation?

  • Network design not needed to answer this research question.

d. How do immigrants’ social networks affect cultural assimilation?

  • Egocentric.

e. Does the network structural position of a manager in a financial firm impact that manager’s performance?

  • Sociocentric.

f. To what extent is toothpaste brand selection affected by consumers’ social networks?

  • Egocentric would probably be best.

g. To what extent is the social network structure at a commercial fish camp in Canada influenced by ethnicity?

  • Sociocentric.

h. What factors influence the development of cooperative social relations among activists in an environmental social movement?

  • Either design could be useful.

3. Produce a hypothetical social network study example for each of the three major types of research designs: experimental, quasi-experimental and observational. For each example, identify the independent and dependent variables.

  • See Tables 3.1 and 3.2

4. For the hypothetical observational design presented in Problem 3 above, is the design cross-sectional, retrospective, or prospective? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each in the study of social networks?

  • Again, see Tables 3.1 and 3.2

5. Bounding the network in whole social network studies can be challenging but is important in designing valid research. For each of the social network examples below, provide a discussion for how the networks might be bounded in the design of a whole-network study.

a. A study of fraternities at a medium-sized Midwestern university

  • For each fraternity, bound the network by the list of active members. More ambitiously, bound the network by the list of all people who are members of any fraternity on campus. Then study ties within and between fraternities.

b. The study of an informal activist group in an urban neighborhood

  • Ask a few known members of the group for a list of people they consider members. Drop candidates that are mentioned by just one or two informants.

c. The network relations among active hunters in a small village in the Amazon

  • The names of the most active hunters could be elicited from village members and then bounded by degree of activity (e.g., only the most active hunters)

d. Relationships among non-governmental organizations involving a dam project in West Africa

  • Ask people working on the project, as well as others living in the area, for the names of NGOs working there. Keep only names mentioned by several informants.

e. Food-sharing networks in a village in Central Asia

  • Try to enlist all households in the village.

f. The political network of community activists in a moderate-sized city

  • Identify a seed group of known activists (e.g., check newspapers). The ask them for the names of other activists.

6. Non-response in social network surveys can be a major threat to the validity of a social network study. What are some of the ways researchers can minimize survey non-response?

There are many ways to reduce non-response, but the following are key:

  1. Build rapport with the people in the study in order to gain their trust and cooperation

  2. Try not to overburden the respondents with questionnaires that are too long and mentally taxing. This is particularly important if the study involves collecting data at multiple time points

  3. Do preliminary work to make sure the network questions are relevant and clear. Working with people in the study to develop good and valid questions is always useful

7. What are some of the key ethical concerns in social network research as opposed to other types of more traditional research, such as classical social surveys?

A key problem is that in sociocentric network research, the respondents cannot be anonymous. Therefore, safeguarding their identities becomes a key task. Moreover, the results of network analyses tend to be more useful to the subjects of the study if names are retained in visualizations of the network and in various analyses.

In addition, respondents may be asked to report on the behavior of others (e.g., ‘who do you drugs with’) who have not given consent and who could be harmed by the revelations.