Pulling it all together. It’s only 11 pages tho. It was 22. Hrmm…

This research was carried out to gain insight into the unique contribution social network analytic concepts offer to the prediction of influence above those observed by social psychological analyses. The results of three studies confirmed that network strength, network density, network position and network exposure predicted attitudes and behaviours in the online community Second Life, and that they explained the variance in these outcomes in different ways and at different times than psychological predictors like interpersonal and normative source attributes, perceived attitudes and perceived experiences.

This thesis set out to explore this question by focussing on three component parts: why network strength features have been effective at predicting influence, why the density of a network and the positions of an individual within it predicted personal attitudes and why an individual’s position in a network relative to his/her Friend and the amount of exposure s/he had to an innovation via his/her direct contacts predicted when an individual would adopt the innovation as it diffused through the online community.

To assess these questions, this research tested the relationships between network strength and measures of interpersonal trust, credibility, social comparison and prototypicality, it identified how network density and network position affected perceived attitudes and it followed the interpersonal pathway of an innovation across a nine month period through the Second Life community.

From these analyses, two themes emerged. The first dealt with how social network attributes related to psychological predictors, including the features of network analysis that were proxies for psychological measures that have been associated with social influence in the literature.

The second theme that emerged considered the complimentary relationship between network and psychological measures that went some way in explaining why influence occurred when a social system’s structure did not support it, and when interpersonal and normative features of influence did not predict it. It also explored how network measures established the foundations for psychological influence and the implications for network measures on the development of the perception of norms.

Throughout the thesis, special attention has been paid to the context of the analysis. The literature has argued that the unique interpersonal and structural features of online communities challenge many of the assumptions of offline social psychological theories, which has led to the emergence of influence theories that have focussed on the impact of the leanness of cyberspace on group processes (e.g., Spears & Lea, 1994). However, although this research found that there were some contextual differences, in general, the psychological processes of social influence appeared to function in the same ways as offline. It is argued that researchers should adapt their tools and practices to consider the context, but that the interpersonal and normative experiences in online communities, on the whole, remain the same.

If you liked this, you might like the introductions to Study 1, Study 2 and Study 3.

And that pencil’s getting smaller, by the way…