“Leadership and Friendship Influence Group Formation” by Dr. Alexander Isakov
Dr. Alexander Isakov
CEO at Pallantius Inc.
Dr. Alexander Isakov received his PhD in physics from Harvard University under the supervision of Professor L. Mahadevan. His research has spanned multiple fields: from synchronization in networks of physical/biological systems to evolutionary game theory. Currently, he focuses on human behavior on networks. In particular, Alexander is interested in three broad areas: how networks develop from initially unstructured systems, how ties can both bind us and push us apart, and how unique individual‐level roles within a network (e.g. leadership) promote the emergence of collective behavior. Ultimately, he hopes to answer the “control theory” question – given the dynamics at play, how can we manipulate networks to enhance outcomes, such as creating more efficient organizations or more cooperative outcomes?
Much of human behavior takes place in the context of groups. For example, inter‐group violence is common among humans worldwide. To assess how social dynamics lead to group formation in the context of risky, between‐group conflict, we conducted a three‐year longitudinal study on the formation of violent raiding parties among the Nyangatom, a group of East African nomadic pastoralists currently engaged in small‐scale warfare. We also mapped the social network structure of potential raiders. We will discuss how leadership and friendship interact to determine group formation. On one hand, the initiation of raids depends on the presence of specific leaders. They tend to participate in many raids, to have more friends, and to occupy more central positions in the network. However, despite the different structural position of raid leaders, raid participants are recruited from the whole population, not just from the direct friends of leaders. An individual’s decision to participate in a raid is strongly associated with the individual’s social network position in relation to other participants. Moreover, non‐leaders have a larger total impact on raid participation than leaders, in spite of leaders’ greater connectivity. Thus, we find that leaders matter more for raid initiation than participant mobilization. We also develop and begin to explore a class of models based on evolutionary game theory that includes the primary empirical mechanisms we observe in order to develop a deeper understanding of these phenomena.