Special Session Summary Experiments With Social Networks and Social Boundaries

Jonathan Frenzen, University of Chicago
[ to cite ]:
Jonathan Frenzen (1995) ,"Special Session Summary Experiments With Social Networks and Social Boundaries", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 497.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Page 497



Jonathan Frenzen, University of Chicago

The goal of this session was to demonstrate how social network studies can be usefully conducted in vivoCwithin the naturalistic context of social networks and in vitroCwithin the controlled environment of the laboratory. The three speakers, Dawn Iacobucci, John Pantzalis, and Jonathan Frenzen, offered three approaches.

Dawn Iacobucci described a statistical method for comparing experimental data gathered from separate social networks formed experimentally or naturalistically. Prior to the publication of this work (Iacobucci and Hopkins 1994) researchers were limited to the comparison of one network to hypothesized population parameters (analogous to a one-sample t-test), or the comparison of multiple relational structures (e.g. frequency of contact vs. tie strength) measured on the same group of actors (analogous to a correlation coefficient). The new techniques permit researchers to compare network structures that arise in response, for example, to different incentives used in coalition experiments among different sets of actors (analogous to two sample t-tests or between-subject analyses of variance). Coalition data reported in Komorita and Tumonis (1980) were used to demonstrate the techniques.

Jonathan Frenzen described a new technique for testing an extension of Granovetter's "Strength of Weak Ties" theory proposed in Frenzen and Nakamoto 1993. The technique uses real social networks as "living laboratories". Exchange objects are introduced into a network to generate a real-time trace as the exchange objects flowed through two different social networks. One network was a sorority (n=55) at a Southwestern university and the second contained the members of an executive training program (n=77) at a Midwestern university. Frenzen showed how the experiments conducted within these real networks supported the hypotheses posed in the 1993 article. Frenzen briefly considered the advantages of quasi-experiments conducted in the context of real social networks, and proposed several applications of the network tracing techniques developed in the studies to marketing problems.

John Pantzalis proposed a theory and described an experiment for studying the simultaneous diffusion of exclusive brands across social class boundaries. Here the groups under study were defined demographically rather than relationally. Pantzalis looked at two social groups, a high income group H and a lower income group L for which H functions as an aspirational group. He claimed, following Veblen, that brand ownership restricted by high prices to the aspiration group H creates exclusivity and turns the brand into a status symbol. As the brand is adopted by H it becomes a symbol of membership in H and increases its desirability among members of L. However, as L begins to adopt the brand, its exclusivity declines, the brand loses its ability to differentiate L and H, and loses its attraction to H. Pantzalis hypothesized the interdependence of demand between H and L was a function of the social distance between the two groups. He described an experiment designed to test his hypotheses and proposed several approaches to testing the hypotheses in a naturalistic setting.


Iacobucci, Dawn and Nigel Hopkins (1994), "Detection of Experimental Effects in Social Network Analysis," Social Networks, v16, 1, January, p1-42.

Frenzen, Jonathan and Kent Nakamoto (1993), "Structure, Cooperation, and the Flow of Market Information," Journal of Consumer Research, 20 (December), p 360-375.

Komorita, S. and T. Tumonis (1980), "Extensions and Tests of Some Descriptive Theories of Coalition Formation," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39 (3), 421-431.