Skip to main content
Search form
  • 00:00


  • 00:09

    DAMON CENTOLA: I'm Damon Centola,a professor at the Annenberg School for Communicationand the School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.[Damon Centola, PhD, Professor, Annenberg Schoolfor Communication, University of Pennsylvania][What advice do you have for students looking to developcomputational skills?]

  • 00:20

    DAMON CENTOLA: There's lots of different methods out there,and lots of different approaches.And they're all interesting.Most of what's interesting also, is the waythey talk to each other.So the big three that we think about now,is like observational data-- so data science theory.So building models that sort of evaluate mechanisms.And then experiments for testing those mechanisms.And a lot of the work that I've donehas shown how those three work together

  • 00:41

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: to produce really cumulative work thatallows us to keep building and refining our models,and collecting new data, and looking for new thingsat each stage.[What research areas are you most interested in?]

  • 00:54

    DAMON CENTOLA: I think that the science of collective behavioris the key.I mean, that's one that sort of started me off.I can talk a little bit about my sort of origin story,if that's helpful.But I started working on this area based on work at the SantaFe Institute.So that work had really grounded the workin physics that looked at sort of the waythat material systems aggregate to producecollective phenomena.And then in the 80s and 90s, biologists

  • 01:14

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: started taking those ideas from physics, and to look at the waythat collective behavior in schools of fish,or herds of animals, also aggregate and producekind of bodies of behavior, even though the individuals areindependent.And that same logic is now used in social science.Think about herding dynamics, in termsof growth of activism and social movements,or in terms of the spread of new technologies like the iPhone,

  • 01:36

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: and whether or not the same sort of logic of social dynamics,from a networks perspective, that appliedin physics and works in biology, also works in social science.And to me, that sort of exploration of allthe different ways that collective behavior works,and the kind of mechanisms that control it--whether it's the topology of the network,or the orientations of the groups,or whether it's heterogeneity, or whether it's complementarity

  • 01:57

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: rate--all these different kinds of mechanismsthat control how collective behavior evolves are relevantfor everything here at a business school,or also in a medical school, or anywherethat we think of behavior change as important.[How do you deal with challenges in your research?]

  • 02:13

    DAMON CENTOLA: The very nature of the beastis that you're doing something that no one's done before,right?Otherwise it would just be an application.So I think that anything that you'reworking on that's interesting is going to requirebreaking through some walls.And actually, that moment, I think, for anyone doing a PhD--they'll all experience that moment, where they sort of hitthe wall, and they feel like they've done what they can do,

  • 02:34

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: and they don't quite know how to crack the problem.And they start thinking around it.And that experience, I think, is whatyou carry through in the rest of your career--the ability to sort of talk to peoplewho are outside your area, to learn a new method,to look at the problem a different way.And interdisciplinarity is a huge partof that, is being able to see new ways of approachinga problem that you might have only thought about for oneway for a couple of years, and all of a sudden you

  • 02:55

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: see new ways of pushing on it.And then there's a breakthrough from there.Those methods-- two years, three years later--may not be as relevant to the next problem.But that experience of kind of thinking through and shiftingyour sort of approach is invaluable.So I think that one of the earlier speakerswas Josh Becker, who is a graduate student of mine.So we've been working on the problemof collecting intelligence for a couple of years,and trying to look at the network dynamics,

  • 03:15

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: and looking at it, in my opinion, in a wrong way.And then we started looking at itfrom a new perspective, which wasthis kind of social learning perspective,and it really changed our sort of viewof how the collective intelligence dynamics work.And it gave rise to a sort of a whole new series of projects,and ultimately to applications.But so what ended up happening was,we basically took a step back, because all

  • 03:36

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: of our results from our models weren'tshowing anything interesting.And then the empirical data weren't working out either.And so instead of giving up, what we did was kind of pushon it, and look sort of more deeply into the theory,and then also more deeply into what the empirical experiencewas of people trying to make decisions together.That helped to change our thinking,and to look at new features of topology

  • 03:57

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: that we were ignoring previously,that would up actually being the key featuresfor network dynamics of collective intelligence.[How can theories of collective behavior and networks dynamicsbe applied in social science?]

  • 04:06

    DAMON CENTOLA: Well, social science,and particularly, some sociologiststend to think about mechanisms.We tend to think sort of, why is itthe case that we would see a behaviorchange in one situation and not in another one?And I think that is a very important thing,is mechanisms and the idea of identification--is can we identify, in a given social situation, a settingin a medical situation where people are trying

  • 04:27

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: to decide whether or not to get a screening-- whywould they decide whether or not to get a screening?What would be the sort of focal point--features of the interactions thatwould drive them to change their behavior?And could you see that in a community setting, where peopleare talking to their neighbors-- with their neighbors,and increase your likelihood of getting a screening?Or would you see that, also, online?If you have a bunch of strangers interacting in a patient health

  • 04:49

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: network, would that--something about the interaction encouragethem to get a screening?Now for social scientists, the kind of face to face,or kind of the human experience of that interactionreally matters.But we can start to think about is, what mechanism might showup in that face to face interaction that would alsoshow up at an online interaction?And how general are those mechanisms?I think for social scientists, that idea of thinking more

  • 05:10

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: generally gets us into a computational space verynaturally.Because once you start to think that way,then you can think about how to model it.So what's general across different settings?What would be applicable in India and also in the US?Or are there differences from the India--between India and the US that would be important to representin our models?And those are the kinds of thingsthat I think give material traction

  • 05:31

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: to the kinds of problems we're interested in,and also help us to think more broadly about wherethe computational boundaries are, and what kinds of new datawe may need to collect.[What tools and readings are available for learning moreabout modeling and methods?]

  • 05:43

    DAMON CENTOLA: So I just publisheda book a couple weeks ago that's all about this, right?How we build models in social science,and how we can test them using experimental methods,and how that integrates with observational data.More generally, of course, there's tons of resourcesonline.There's a method of obser--sorry, agent based modeling, the sort of tool net logo, whichwas built here at Northwestern.So that's obviously a very useful tool.

  • 06:04

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: There's also all kinds of tools for large network datasets.Aaron and other people have talked about that,and that's also extremely useful.And I think that, honestly, your social network is the bestresource, all right?Talk to people who are working on different kinds of problems,and see what strategies they're adopting, and how usefulthey may be for you.Again, it's plasticity of mind is the most valuable thingto learn in graduate school.

  • 06:24

    DAMON CENTOLA [continued]: [Further Reading] [Centola, D. (2018).How behavior spreads: The science of complex contagions.New York, NY: Princeton University Press.][MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2019

Video Type:Interview

Methods: Collective behavior, Social network research, Network analysis, Computational social science

Keywords: agent-based modeling and simulation in the social sciences; interdisciplinary communication; interdisciplinary studies; models and modeling; Social learning; social science; Social science research ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Damon Centola, PhD, Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, discusses the need for interdisciplinary approaches when studying social science, specifically studies on social behavior or social networking.

Looks like you do not have access to this content.

Damon Centola Discusses Collective Behavior & Network Dynamics

Damon Centola, PhD, Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, discusses the need for interdisciplinary approaches when studying social science, specifically studies on social behavior or social networking.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website