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 ( 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 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 ( between researchers in Canada (University of Waterloo), the USA (Dartmouth College), and Germany (Potsdam University of Applied Sciences).

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Personality and Leadership in Virtual Teams

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Claudia C. Cogliser and William L. Gardner of Texas Tech University, Mark B. Gavin of West Virginia University, and J. Christian Broberg of Wichita State University, authors of “Big Five Personality Factors and Leader Emergence in Virtual Teams: Relationships With Team Trustworthiness, Member Performance Contributions, and Team Performance,” published on October 29, 2012 in Group & Organization Management.


As more and more organizations have come to embrace virtual teams, we quickly realized that they create unique leadership challenges. We wondered if the types of social- and task-oriented emergent leadership behaviors that are important in traditional face-to-face teams, are also important within a virtual setting.  We were also curious about the types of personality traits that influence the emergence of leaders within virtual teams.

To answer these questions, we studied the emergent leadership behaviors of 243 business students working in 71 virtual teams as a course assignment.  We explored the relationships between the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and emotional stability) and emergent leadership behaviors, how these behaviors influenced members’ perceptions of team trustworthiness, and the implications for individual and team performance.

As we expected, more conscientious team members were more likely to emerge as task-oriented leaders, while more agreeable members tended to emerge as social-oriented leaders.  We were surprised to find that emotional stability was not related to either form of leadership. We also found that members who exhibited emergent task-oriented behaviors were seen by their teammates as contributing more to team performance.  We were again surprised to find that emergent social-oriented leadership behaviors were not seen as contributing to team performance. We thought members would see expressions of concern for the well-being and emotional health of the team as enhancing team performance, but this was not the case.  However, at the team level, we did find that the more team members engaged in social-oriented leadership, the more other members saw the team as being trustworthy.  Finally, we found that virtual teams with high overall levels of task-oriented emergent leadership performed particularly well.  Again, we were surprised to find that social-oriented emergent leadership had no effect on performance.

One practical implication of our findings is that organizations should give serious consideration to including both highly conscientious and agreeable persons when they assemble virtual teams.  Doing so will increase the odds that leaders will emerge to engage in the types of task- and social-oriented activities needed to promote team performance and team trustworthiness.  Overall, we believe our findings can help organizations that adopt virtual teams to better realize the potential of such teams to promote brave new forms of work and leadership.


Chris Broberg (Ph.D., Texas Tech University), is an Assistant Professor of Management at Wichita State University where he teaches entrepreneurship courses in new product and new venture development. His current research interests include determinants of innovative activity, business model innovation, content analysis, and strategic leadership.

Claudia Cogliser (Ph.D., University of Miami) is an associate professor in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University, USA. Her main research interests include leader-follower relationships, authentic leadership, and scale development.

William L. Gardner (DBA, Florida State University), is the Jerry S. Rawls Chair in Leadership and Director of the Institute for Leadership Research at Texas Tech University, USA. Current research interests include leadership, impression management, emotional labor, causal attributions, ethical decision-making, and organizational recruitment and socialization processes.

Mark Gavin (Ph.D., Purdue University), is a faculty member at West Virginia University and serves as the Department of Management’s Ph.D. Program Coordinator. He researches in the areas of interpersonal trust, leadership, emotions, employee behavior and multilevel phenomena and his work has appeared in Academy of Management Journal, Human Relations, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Personnel Psychology, among others. He serves on the editorial boards of Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Leadership and Organization Studies, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior and Organizational Research Methods. He is the Past President of the Southern Management Association, and currently serves as a Representative-at-large on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Management.