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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Does Social Sampling Differ Between Online and Offline Contacts? A Computational Modeling Analysis

  • Author(s): Hecht, Marlene;
  • Pachur, Thorsten;
  • Schulze, Christin
  • et al.

Decision makers can infer social statistics (e.g., the relative frequency of health risks or consumer preferences in the population) by drawing on samples from their personal social networks. In light of the growing use of the Internet, much of people’s social interactions occur online (e.g., via social media) rather than offline (e.g., via face-to-face contact). Here, we examine to what extent sampling of social network members from memory (social sampling) is affected by whether one usually has online vs. offline contact to a person. In our study, participants judged the popularity of holiday destinations and recalled people in their own online and offline social networks who had vacationed at each destination. Additionally, participants indicated the respective contact mode (offline, online, or mixed) and social category (self, family member, friend, or acquaintance) of each recalled person. We used a hierarchical Bayesian modeling approach to contrast two variants of a cognitive model that assumes sequential and limited search—the social-circle model. The variants assumed the search process underlying social sampling to be guided by either contact mode (online vs. offline) or social category. The model comparison further included an exhaustive sampling strategy and guessing. The majority of participants was best described by a limited rather than an exhaustive search strategy or guessing. Additionally, more than a third of participants were best described by the variant of the social-circle model assuming search to be guided by contact mode. Interestingly, participants who followed this search strategy also relied more strongly on their own experiences than participants who probed their memory by social category. Overall, these results provide the first evidence that contact mode affects social sampling from memory.

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