For those curious about my research, here’s the introduction to the most recent version of the first empirical chapter in my PhD thesis:

The literature review outlined the interpersonal, normative and structural factors that influence the uptake of an innovative attitude or behaviour, and argued that these factors contribute complimentary but unique explanations for the processes by which people affect others’ thoughts, feelings and actions (Turner, 1991). Trust, credibility, social comparison and prototypicality were described as psychological precursors of influence, while network strength, network position and network density were described as structural descriptors that helped to identify the pathways that influence travelled.

This chapter examines the relationship between psychology and network analysis in the online community Second Life by assessing the effects of network strength on interpersonal and normative influence variables. Specifically, it selected three virtual world behaviours to be proxies for measures of social network strength: the likelihood an avatar would be designated a Second Life partner, the likelihood s/he would be assigned modification permissions, and the frequency with which two account holders interacted via three modes of communication (in public in the virtual world, via Instant Message in the virtual world and outside the virtual world). Each was hypothesised to predict degrees of perceptions of trustworthiness, credibility, social comparison and prototypicality.

These network strength variables were chosen because they raised two issues relating to the presentation of self in this virtual world. First, they highlighted the negotiation of the public and the private self within Second Life. They described activities that occurred in public and private spheres of this online community, between groups of Friends and strangers and on a one-to-one basis. Second, they described the negotiation of offline self in the online world by outlining the amount of access online contacts had to information about the offline identity of the account holder, illustrating that how much an account holder wished to control the virtual self was an accurate reconstruction of his/her offline identity in the online space.

This study was undertaken because network analysts have rarely considered the underlying interpersonal and normative reasons why their measures are effective at describing sub-group homophily or the uptake of innovations. Their measures of network strength are constructed using criteria that imply psychological phenomena (e.g., friendship, opinion leadership, expertise), but these concepts have not been unpacked. By focussing on network strength in this study, this analysis sought to assess the relationships between social psychology and Social Network Analysis, aiming to clarify the psychological explanations for the effectiveness of network strength in predicting influence.