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DYNAMIC NETWORKS AND BEHAVIOR: SEPARATING SELECTION FROM INFLUENCE

Authors


  • This work is part of the ESF European Collaborative Research Project “Dynamics of Actors and Networks across Levels: Individuals, Groups, Organizations, and Social Settings.” We thank the Chief Scientist's Office of the Scottish Home and Health Department for funding data collection carried out by Professor Patrick West and Lynn Michell of the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow University. We thank three reviewers and the editor for helpful comments. The first author was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) under grants 401-01-550 and 461-05-690. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the XXIV Sunbelt Social Network Conference, Portorož (Slovenia), May 12–16, 2004. The third author received funding from the Carnegie Trust. Direct correspondence to Christian Steglich, Grote Rozenstraat 31, NL-9712 TG Groningen, The Netherlands; e-mail: c.e.g.steglich@rug.nl.

Abstract

A recurrent problem in the analysis of behavioral dynamics, given a simultaneously evolving social network, is the difficulty of separating the effects of partner selection from the effects of social influence. Because misattribution of selection effects to social influence, or vice versa, suggests wrong conclusions about the social mechanisms underlying the observed dynamics, special diligence in data analysis is advisable. While a dependable and valid method would benefit several research areas, according to the best of our knowledge, it has been lacking in the extant literature. In this paper, we present a recently developed family of statistical models that enables researchers to separate the two effects in a statistically adequate manner. To illustrate our method, we investigate the roles of homophile selection and peer influence mechanisms in the joint dynamics of friendship formation and substance use among adolescents. Making use of a three-wave panel measured in the years 1995–1997 at a school in Scotland, we are able to assess the strength of selection and influence mechanisms and quantify the relative contributions of homophile selection, assimilation to peers, and control mechanisms to observed similarity of substance use among friends.

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