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MIT System Dynamics Seminar | Complex Contagions and the Hidden Influence of the Network Periphery

April 21, 2023 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm EDT

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Please visit the MIT System Dynamics Seminars page for more information.

You are invited to attend the System Dynamics Seminar being held on Friday, April 21st from 12:30-2:00pm EST in the Jay W. Forrester conference room, E62-450, or via Zoom: (Password: SDSP23). Our guest speaker will be Douglas Guilbeault (Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley) presenting Complex Contagions and the Hidden Influence of the Network Periphery (see abstract and brief bio below, announcement attached). Lunch will be provided to those attending in person and a reminder email will be sent out closer to the date.

If you would also like to schedule a 30-minute 1:1 meeting with him before or after the seminar, please fill out the following Doodle poll by COB Tuesday, April 18th and I will confirm times and location with a calendar invite: Please notify me if you need to meet over Zoom instead.


The standard measure of distance in social networks – average shortest path length – assumes a model of “simple” contagion, in which people only need exposure to influence from one peer to adopt the contagion. However, many social phenomena are “complex” contagions, for which people need exposure to multiple peers before they adopt. In this talk, I argue that the classical measure of path length fails to define network connectedness and node centrality for complex contagions. I provide theoretical and empirical evidence that centrality measures and seeding strategies based on the classical definition of path length frequently misidentify the network features that are most effective for spreading complex contagions. To address these issues, I introduce novel measures of complex path length and complex centrality, which significantly improve the capacity to identify the network structures and central individuals best suited for spreading complex contagions. I validate this theory using empirical data on the spread of a microfinance program in 43 rural Indian villages. Implications for human cultural evolution are discussed.

About the Presenter

Douglas Guilbeault is an Assistant Professor in the Management of Organizations Group at the Haas School of Business. He studies how communication networks underlie the creation and diffusion of cultural content, such as linguistic categories and social norms. This investigation extends to how communication dynamics are shaped by various sources of influence, such as organizational culture and social media. His work has appeared in a number of top journals, including Nature Communications, The Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, and Management Science, as well as in popular news outlets, such as The Atlantic, Wired, and The Harvard Business Review. Guilbeault’s work has received top research awards from The International Conference on Computational Social Science, The Cognitive Science Society, and The International Communication Association. He is co-director of the Berkeley-Stanford Computational Culture Lab, and he is a faculty affiliate of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he trained with sociologist Damon Centola in the Network Dynamics Group.



April 21, 2023
12:30 pm - 2:00 pm EDT
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MIT Jay W. Forrester Conference Room
77 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139 United States
+1 617-253-1571
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MIT System Dynamics Group
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