Tetrad Motifs: A Comparison of the Local Structure in 20 Social Networks

Cassie McMillan , Pennsylvania State University
Diane Felmlee, Pennsylvania State University
Dave Braines, IBM United Kingdom

Previous research in the social sciences analyzes the micro-level features of larger networks by considering how relational ties connect small subsets of two to three actors (i.e., dyads and triads). However, significantly less work examines how tetrads, or configurations of four nodes, pattern our social world. The current project addresses this gap in the literature by comparing the prevalence of 199 directed tetrads across 20 social networks drawn from five unique types of groups. By comparing our observed networks to randomly generated networks, we specifically look for those tetrads that occur more frequently than expected, i.e., “network motifs.” Across all of our networks, we find evidence for 20 network motifs, as well as key differences between the motif patterns of different populations. We argue that theoretical insight can be gained by studying four-node motifs in social interaction.

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 Presented in Session 3. Population, Development, & the Environment; Data & Methods; Applied Demography