Artificial Intelligence and Social Simulation: Studying Group Dynamics on a Massive Scale

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Jesse Hoey of the University of Waterloo, Tobias Schröder of Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, Jonathan Morgan of Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, Kimberly B. Rogers of Dartmouth College, Deepak Rishi of the University of Waterloo, and Meiyappan Nagappan of the University of Waterloo. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “Spotlight on Methods: Artificial Intelligence and Social Simulation: Studying Group Dynamics on a Massive Scale,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, They discusses some of the findings of this research:]

SGR_72ppiRGB_powerpointTechnological and social innovations are increasingly generated through informal, distributed processes of collaboration, rather than in formal, hierarchical organizations. In this article, we present a novel combination of data-driven and model-based approaches to explore the social and psychological mechanisms motivating these modern self-organized collaborations. We focus on the example of open, collaborative software development in online collaborative networks like GitHub (github.com). The synthesized approach is based in affect control theory (ACT), and a recent framing in Artificial Intelligence known as Bayesian affect control theory (BayesACT). The general assumption of ACT is that humans are motivated in their social interactions by affective alignment: They strive for their social experiences to be coherent at a deep, emotional level with their sense of identity and general worldviews as constructed through culturally shared symbols. This alignment is used in BayesACT as a control mechanism to generate artificially intelligent agents that can learn to be functioning members of a social order (see bayesact.ca for further information).

We show in this article how such a model solves two basic problems in the social scientific study of groups and teams. First, because empirical research on groups relies on manual coding, it is hard to study groups in large numbers (the scaling problem). Second, conventional statistical methods in behavioral science often fail to capture the nonlinear interaction dynamics occurring in small groups (the dynamics problem). The ACT-based models we present allow for sophisticated machine learning techniques to be combined in a parsimonious way with validated social-psychological models of group behaviour such that both of these problems are solved in a single computational model.

The purpose of the present article is to discuss the promises of this cross-disciplinary, computational approach to the study of small group dynamics. We review computational methods for using large amounts of social media data, and connect these methods to theoretically informed models of human behaviour in groups. To use a metaphor, we are digging into digital group dynamics data with a sophisticated, artificially intelligent shovel, and showing how computational social science can be taken to a new level with this unique and novel combination of data-driven and model-based approaches. The work is an international collaboration called THEMIS.COG (themis-cog.ca) between researchers in Canada (University of Waterloo), the USA (Dartmouth College), and Germany (Potsdam University of Applied Sciences).

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Reconsidering Virtuality Through a Paradox Lens

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Radostina K. Purvanova of Drake University
and Renata Kenda of Tilburg University. They recently published an article in Group and Organization Management entitled “Paradoxical Virtual Leadership: Reconsidering Virtuality Through a Paradox Lens” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Purvanova speaks about the motivation and impact of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

The academic literature largely paints virtuality in negative overtones, whereas more and more organizations embrace technology-driven work practices, such as virtual work and virtual teaming. This begs the question: If virtuality is so bad, then why do organizations continue to “go virtual”? Our central motivation in pursuing this research was to advance a new theoretical lens through which to view virtuality – that of paradox. Our paradoxical perspective details both the costs and the benefits that virtuality offers organizations; furthermore, it easily lends itself to practical applications, especially applications in the area of virtual team leadership. In our paper, we discuss how virtual leaders can find synergies between the various challenges and opportunities their virtual teams face. Specifically, our perspective suggests that virtual leaders should blend various, and even contradictory, leadership skills and behaviors, to address virtuality’s competing and paradoxical demands. Hence, our paradoxical virtual leadership model emphasizes the ideas of balance and synergy. This stands in contrast to traditional leadership models, such as transformational, relational, inspirational, and others, which advocate for an increased emphasis on such leadership functions in a virtual context.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Our article focuses on three main aspects of virtuality— technology dependence, geographic dispersion, and human capital—and identifies seven paradoxical tensions that virtual teams face. For example, one of the tensions that virtual teams experience due to their technology dependence is the touch tension: virtual team members’ interactions are simultaneously impersonal but also less biased. Practically, then, the role of the virtual team leader is to acknowledge and balance the two sides of this tension (and all other tensions their virtual team might face). Our article provides specific suggestions on how to tackle these paradoxical strains. Briefly, virtual leaders must first adopt a both-and mindset which would allow them to perceive virtuality through a paradox lens, and see both its challenges and its opportunities. Next, virtual leaders must devise strategies for simultaneously addressing competing demands. For example, in the case of the touch tension, a leader can encourage more personal and friendly communication, while at the same time implementing strategies to keep interactions professional.
Practically, then, our model suggests several applications. First, it suggests that organizations should select individuals for virtual leader assignments who are more likely to develop a synergistic leadership style. Second, organizations should train virtual leaders to reframe their assumptions about virtuality, seeing virtuality as a force to be harnessed, not feared. Finally, organizations should also instill a paradoxical view of virtuality in virtual team members, not just in virtual leaders, either through selection, or through training.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

In keeping with the core question that provoked this research—If virtuality is so bad, then why do organizations continue to “go virtual”?—our advice to virtuality scholars is to focus their efforts on better aligning our science with the practice of virtual work and virtual teaming. Describing just the challenges or just the opportunities of virtuality only tackles one side of this complex issue. In contrast, understanding the interdependencies between virtuality’s costs and benefits allows scholars to advance and test theories with a stronger grounding in reality, and allows organizations to truly harness the power of paradox.

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SGR Best Paper Award

We are pleased to congratulate Dr. Wei Zheng from the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Jun Wei from the University of Science and Technology Beijing, China for winning the Small Group Research 2017-2018 Best Paper Award.  The abstract of the article, “Linking Ethnic Composition and Performance: Information Integration Between Majority and Minority Members,” is below and the article will be free to read for a limited time.

sgrd_49_4_coverOften labeled a double-edged sword, diversity can not only trigger social categorization that dampens group cohesion and performance, but it can also increase available information resources and enhance group performance. The ways in which a group integrates information from diverse members play a central role in determining whether and how it can reap benefits from diversity. Guided by research in team diversity and relational demography, we take a diversity-as-disparity approach and focus on the extent of information integration between majority- and minority-status members in a group. Specifically, drawing from social network research, we examine whether majority–minority information brokerage equality mediates the impact of ethnic composition on group performance. Based on data from 540 employees in 34 work groups from a Chinese organization, we find that majority–minority information brokerage equality mediates the impact of ethnic composition on performance but only when group climate is high. We also discuss theoretical and practical implications.


Have research on important group and team research literature? Check out the submission guidelines for the 2021 Review Issue!

When Leadership Powers Team Learning: A Meta-Analysis

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Mieke Koeslag-Kreunen of Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, Piet Van den Bossche of the University of Antwerp, Michael Hoven of Maastricht University, Marcel Van der Klink of Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, and Wim Gijselaers of Maastricht University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “When Leadership Powers Team Learning: A Meta-Analysis,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they discuss some of the findings of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

We are fascinated why some leaders succeed and others don’t in getting the most out of their teams. Knowing that team processes determine team effectiveness we wanted to know how leadership makes a difference in teams. Keeping in mind that one of the fundamental team processes is sharing knowledge and discussing what is shared to build advanced or new knowledge that enable developing the necessary solutions as a team. We were intrigued by the question how team leaders can facilitate this process of team learning without over-structuring it and leaving no space for team members to exhibit the necessary behaviors themselves. Many different leadership behaviors can be effective, but team leaders simply cannot display all necessary behaviors by themselves. Moreover, what can you do as a team leader when your team faces a task that is unstructured or for which you also do not have the answers? What is the best advice for these team leaders? In answering this question, we wanted to identify when leadership propels teams in building new or advanced knowledge.

In what ways is your research innovative and can it impact the field?

After synthesizing the 2000+ scientific hits on the topic, we showed that encouraging, structuring and sharing team leadership behaviors all support team learning. Interestingly, we also found new evidence that the type of team task determines which leadership behaviors can best be displayed to support teams in building new or advanced knowledge. As a consequence, the advice for team leaders is to vary their behavior depending on the team task and to ascertain the specific team situation in their choice. If pioneering ideas and new products of teams are aimed for, team leaders should mainly invest in building trust, creativity and enthusiasm, and not inhibit teams from learning by putting too much emphasis on the task. If advancing existing knowledge and adaptation of the products is enough to reach team success, team leaders who focus on the task, methods and outcomes are beneficial because such behaviors reinforces using known protocols.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

It would be interesting to dig into the reciprocal effect of the team process and leadership behavior, as well as how leadership behavior may shift in style and source over time. We mainly found cross-sectional studies that covered just one or two types of team leadership behavior and examines its influence on team learning behavior. Experimental and longitudinal studies on this topic may bring new perspectives on how team leaders can vary their behavior, what kind of effect that has on team learning, and what team leaders can do to use that information in future team interactions, subsequently.

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Utilizing Task Analysis to Identify Coordination Requirements in Three different Clinical Settings

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Sarah Henrickson Parker of Virginia Tech, Dr. Jan B. Schmutz of ETH Zürich, and Dr. Tanja Manser of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. They recently published an article in Group and Organization Management entitled “Training Needs for Adaptive Coordination: Utilizing Task Analysis to Identify Coordination Requirements in Three Different Clinical Settings” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Manser speaks about the motivation and challenges of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

We were interested in understanding general principles of coordination in healthcare teams across different healthcare settings. All of the authors have conducted research in this area for quite some time but usually one study only allows us to study teams in a specific clinical setting. We were interested in seeing if there were any general principles that applied across clinical settings. If so, these could have a much larger impact on the training of healthcare professionals.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

As this was a secondary analysis of existing data, we each had our own challenges with the initial data collection. It is always fun, exciting and challenging to work with healthcare providers in both real and simulated settings. One exciting finding of the current study is the overlap in coordination requirements across clinical settings and tasks. Triggers for re-coordination, anchoring points for coordination, and a deliberate transition from implicit to explicit coordination during unexpected clinical situations were all consistently noted as exemplars of excellent team coordination.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

It is important to immerse yourself in the work context you are studying and to continue to build relationships with those that are doing the work. We believe that the interactions with healthcare providers allow us, as psychologists, to make sure our work is interpreted correctly from a scientific point of view but also relevant and used as intended from an applied point of view. Our experience this requires researchers to be able to speak the language of both clinical care and work psychology.

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Argument Complexity and Discussions of Political/Religious Issues

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Dr. Lyn M. Van Swol of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Dr. Cassandra L. Carlson-Hill Carolina of Coastal Universit, and Dr. Emily Elizabeth Acosta Lewis of Sonoma State University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “Integrative Complexity, Participation, and Agreement in Group Discussions,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Van Swol discusses some of the findings of this research:]

SGR_72ppiRGB_powerpointPolitical and religious issues can be difficult to discuss in a group, and it can be especially difficult to convince others who disagree with your viewpoint. This paper examined the role of complexity of arguments in a group discussion of a political/religious issue. Groups discussed whether or not the words “under God” should be in the United States Pledge of Allegiance. We had hypothesized that group members whose opinion were more similar to their fellow group members would increase the complexity of their contributions to the group when they were exposed to group members with more fringe opinions, but this was not supported. However, members with more fringe opinions in the group were more successful in influencing the group towards their opinion when they used more complex arguments. Argument complexity did not matter for group members with more mainstream views in terms of how much they influenced the group decision. Because group members with more fringe and discrepant opinions cannot appeal to their opinion being normative and aligned with the majority in the group, it may be important for them to have complex arguments to be persuasive. Complex arguments tend to be more nuanced and less dogmatic, which may make someone with an opinion more different from others in the group seem more flexible and informed. Finally, arguments used by members in the group discussion were more complex when the group had a longer discussion. This highlights the benefits of extending group discussion to let more nuances of the topic of discussion get expressed.

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The Relationships Between Stress, Drinking, and Complaints at Work

stress-2051408_1920[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jeremy D. Mackey of Auburn University and Pamela L. Perrewé of Florida State University. They recently published an article in the Group and Organization Management entitled “The Relationships Between Hindrance Stressors, Problem Drinking, and Somatic Complaints at Work” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Mackey speaks about the motivation and challenges of this research:]

GOM_72ppiRGB_powerpointPam Perrewé and I were excited to publish our paper entitled “The Relationships between Hindrance Stressors, Problem Drinking, and Somatic Complaints at Work” in Group & Organization Management. We were motivated to conduct our study on the indirect effects of hindrance stressors on somatic complaints at work through problem drinking because we were interested in examining the impact of problem drinking on organizational stress processes. Our conceptualization of problem drinking examines alcohol consumption that is personally and/or socially harmful. Although problem drinking has been widely studied in psychology research, its effects have yet to be fully illuminated in organizational research. Thus, we sought to examine the effects of perceptions of workplace obstacles (i.e., hindrance stressors) on physiological strain (i.e., somatic complaints at work) through problem drinking. We hope our innovative conceptualization of problem drinking as a self-medication coping mechanism impacts research and practice by encouraging researchers and practitioners to examine the role of employees’ attempts to cope with organizational stress by engaging in problem drinking.

The most challenging aspect of conducting our study was how to appropriately examine problem drinking in organizational contexts. Problem drinking is a sensitive topic and there is little precedent for how to appropriately study it in organizational settings. Ultimately, we opted to examine employees’ frequencies of problem drinking because it was appropriate for our research question and study design. We recommend that other scholars who pursue this field of study consider the numerous ways of measuring problem drinking in order to choose appropriate ways to measure it for their research goals. For example, examining quantities of alcohol consumed, drinking to intoxication, the frequency/intensity of experienced hangovers, and problem drinking within the workplace all offer useful ways for future research to examine problem drinking and assess its effects on groups and organizations.

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Running photo attributed to geralt. (CC)