Pulling together while pushing apart: modelling social learning with polarizing forces

Abstract: Social networks are important conduits of information in several domains, from the dissemination of information on new technologies to the deliberation of risks associated with vaccines. Models of social learning enable exploration into the role that network structure plays in forming societal opinion(s) and can guide the optimal information targeting to members of the network for those seeking to influence the eventual consensus. However many of these models, being consensus-oriented, are unable to explain long-term polarization of views and may not be suitable for analysing domains where information is abundant but contentious. I propose a class of social learning models in the style of DeGroot(1974)’s seminal work that can result in polarization under different network conditions. I do this by incorporating a bias towards consuming information that aligns with agents’ existing views, allowing the distance between views to affect the attention paid to them. The propensity for networks to polarize is minimised when (1) agents continue to listen at all, however slightly, to opposing or counter-attitudinal views, (2) moderates have more relative influence than those with more extreme views and (3) the level of assortativity (homophily) by initial beliefs is low.

The role of trust in vaccine confidence: insights from a longitudinal survey in seven Sub-Saharan African countries with Alex De Figueiredo and Heidi Larson

Making connections: exploring the impact of social and professional network assortativity on the labour market for South African youth with Patrizio Piraino

Measuring the labour market quality of social networks with Raquel Caldeira & Patrizio Piraino

Shifting expectations: An analysis of youth labour market expectations in the context of a work-based-learning programme with Rocco Zizzamia and Patrizio Piraino

Publications and working papers

Age-Dependent Changes in Intuitive and Deliberative Cooperation in Nature Scientific Reports, 13, 4457 (2023), with Elena Nava, Francesco Nava and Francesco Margoni

Other research experience

I had a professional career in research before I started doing my own work. Have a look at my policy page to get a feel for the topics I’ve worked on and the contexts in which I’ve led data collection, research staff management, dissemination, project development and research-to-policy translation efforts.

Note to my new colleagues in Epidemiology and Public Health, co-authorship norms are very different in Economics, partly because we do not differentiate different levels and types of contribution (e.g. through authorship order). You’ll find my name, or the team I led at J-PAL Africa, acknowledged in the footnote of glory for many experimental studies in South Africa.