Topic: Bent Preferences: The Social Psychology of Agency and Motivation in Social Networks
Speaker: Professor Ronald Burt
Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Time: 10:00-11:30am, Monday, June 28, 2010
Location: Room 109, New Building of GSM, Peking University.
Recent empirical evidence on network advantage implies that advantage results less from access to heterogeneous information than from skills that develop as a by-product of dealing with heterogeneous information. Pushed by the evidence, I propose a network model of the perceptions that underlie preferences and motivation. The idea is that preferences are bent in predictable ways by network structure. A network model of “bent preferences” results from adjusting Stevens’ Law in psychophysics for social comparison with peers. The resulting model has four virtues: (1) The model brings back to networks the classic concept of social comparison that emerged after WWII. Motivation is based on perceptions predictably bent by social context as frame of reference, consistent with relative income in economics (Duesenberry, 1949), social comparison in psychology (Festinger, 1954), and relative advantage/deprivation in sociology (Stouffer et al, 1949). (2) The model is “plug & play” compatible with the three primary social science sources for network theory: economics (marginal evaluation, no interpersonal comparison of utility), psychology (psychophysics foundation, no transcendental group mind), and sociology (network defines peers, the social is again a causal variable as in social psychology golden age). (3) The model generates a new hypothesis about motivation in which networks primarily motivate action through fear. The feelings of loss as peers overtake ego are more severe than the feelings of gain in overtaking peers, but the feelings of loss fade as peers continue to do well. This hypothesis is a potential bridge into prospect theory and behavioral economics in that gain and loss frames for evaluation are defined by social situation in which evaluation is made. (4) The model generates a contingency hypothesis about motivation that offers a new understanding of network brokers bridging structural holes. In evaluating a new idea or practice, brokers are ‹ relative to people with obvious network peers ‹ more motivated by the lure of gain and less troubled by the fear of failure. The feared difference between loss and gain is larger for people with more obvious peers because it is more obvious when one falls behind peers.
Network brokers are relatively unique structurally, so their peers are less obvious, making brokers less subject to the pain of relative deprivation.
Beyond whatever information advantages are enjoyed by network brokers, they are further advantaged emotionally by their relative freedom from a fear of failure. My summary conclusion is that the concept of bent preferences could be useful for interdisciplinary work on agency and motivation in social networks.
Speaker’s Biographical Sketch:
Ronald Burt is the author of many publications on sociology, network analysis, and organizational behavior. He is famous for his formal model and quantitative measurement of social capital. His research has been published in academic journals, including Administrative Science Quarterly, American Journal of Sociology, Organization Science, Social Networks, Sociological Inquiry. Among his books are Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition (Harvard University Press, 1992) and Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Burt earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1977. Prior to joining the University of Chicago in 1993, he was Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. He is also the former Shell Professor of Human Resources at INSEAD. In 1993 Burt was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.