Tuesday, May 9, 2017. 12:00PM. NSH 3305.

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Andrew Mao - Studying Teamwork and Cooperation in the Virtual Lab

Abstract: For decades, physical behavioral labs have been a primary, yet limited, method for controlled experimental studies of human behavior. Now, software-based "virtual labs" on the Internet allow for studies of increasing complexity, size, and scope. In this talk, I highlight the potential of virtual lab experiments for studying social interaction and coordination. First, I present a study of cooperation in a social dilemma over a month of real time, using crowdsourcing participants to overcome the time constraints of behavioral labs. Our study of about 100 participants over 20 consecutive weekdays finds that a group of resilient altruists sustain a high level of cooperation across the entire population. We also explore collective intelligence and digital teamwork in "crisis mapping", where digital volunteers organize to assess and pinpoint damage in the aftermath of humanitarian crises. By simulating a crisis mapping scenario to study self-organization in teams of varying size, and find a tradeoff between individual effort in small groups and collective coordination in larger teams. Together, our work motivates the potential of controlled, highly instrumented studies of social interaction; the importance of behavioral experiments on longer timescales; and how open-source software both can speed up the iteration and improve the reproducibility of experimental work.

This talk is based on joint work with Lili Dworkin, Winter Mason, Siddharth Suri, and Duncan Watts.

Bio: Andrew Mao is currently a postdoc at Microsoft Research in NYC, where his research focuses on experimental studies of collective behavior using Internet participants by combining approaches from social and computer science. Andrew is especially interested in expanding the boundaries of experimental methods, and his work has appeared in interdisciplinary journals including Nature Communications and PLoS ONE as well as computer science conferences such as AAAI, EC, and HCOMP. He has also designed TurkServer (http://turkserver.readthedocs.io/), an open-source platform for real-time, interactive, web-based behavioral experiments, to share these methods with other researchers. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 2015.