Contagion through Victimization and Observation

Antisocial behavior such as negative gossip, cheating, or bullying can be contagious, spreading from individual to individual and rippling through social networks. Previous experimental research has suggested that individuals who either experience or observe antisocial behavior become more likely to behave antisocially. In this project,¬†one of my MSc students, Ji Eun Kim, and I distinguish between victimization and observation using an observational study. We apply temporal network analysis on large-scale digital trace data to study the spread of cheating in online gaming. We analyze 1,146,941 matches of the multiplayer online game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, in which up to 100 players compete individually or in teams against strangers. We identify temporal motifs in which a player who is killed by or observes cheaters starts cheating, and evaluate the extent to which these motifs would appear if we preserve the team and interaction structure but assume an alternative sequence of events. The results suggest that social contagion is only likely to exist for those who both experience and observe cheating multiple times. The findings point to strategies for targeted interventions to stem the spread of cheating and antisocial behavior in online communities, schools, organizations, and sports.

A preprint of the study is available on arXiv.