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Sept. 26 |The Structure of Human Social Networks Promotes Altruistic Behaviors

  • 509 Knox Hall 606 West 122nd Street New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)
david melamed.jpg

WHEN: Wednesday, September 26, 2018, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
WHERE: Knox Hall 509, 606 W 122nd Street

 Understanding the evolution of prosocial behaviors – cooperation and unilateral flows of resources – remains an important interdisciplinary scientific problem. On the one hand, prosocial behaviors are an evolutionary paradox since they entail decreasing one’s own fitness to benefit another. On the other, understanding the mechanisms that promote prosocial behaviors enable their prediction, making this a key scientific problem as well. Some of the key mechanisms that have been identified to promote prosocial behavior are inherently network or relational phenomena. Direct reciprocity arises in dyads, and both generalized and indirect reciprocity arise in broader network structures. However, these processes are typically studied in isolation, and the role of broader network topology is not understood. Here, we use an agent-based model to investigate how social networks shape altruistic acts. The behavior of the agents is driven by results from a web-based experiment, and the networks that define their relations are derived from generative models of the ten largest friendship networks in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. We find that properties of real-world networks are indeed related to rates of altruism. In particular, homophily and transitivity increase types of reciprocity, which, in turn, increase altruism. That is, we demonstrate that the formal properties of human social relations promote altruism.

David Melamed is an Associate Professor of Sociology and is affiliated with Translational Data Analytics, the Criminal Justice Research Center, and the Mershon Center.  He has published on “The Roots of Reciprocity” in the American Sociological Review and on “Status, Faction Sizes and Social Influence” in the American Journal of Sociology.  Upon receiving his PhD in Sociology from the University of Arizona in 2012 he taught at the University of South Carolina from 2012 to 2015.  His research interests are in Social Networks, Group Processes, Computational Modeling, Stratification, and Theory.

Please join us.  All are welcome!

(Lunch and light refreshments will be served.)

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The Networks and Time seminar is part of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series sponsored by INCITE (Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics).

Knox Hall is located at the intersection of West 122nd Street and Broadway (606 West 122nd Street, New York, NY 10027).

For inquiries about Networks and Time, please contact Mark Hoffman ( or Eugene Grey (