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Social Cognitive Networks Research Center


Our social networks are staple sources of information, advice, and ideas. Add technology to the mix -- Twitter, Facebook, cell phones -- and the power of social networks balloons to a global scale. Harnessing that power is the work of the new Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“Rensselaer offers a unique research environment to lead this important new network science center,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. “We have assembled an outstanding team of researchers, and built powerful new research platforms. The team will work with one of the largest academic supercomputing centers in the world -- the Rensselaer Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations -- and the leading visualization and simulation capabilities within our new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. The Center for Social and Cognitive Networks will bring together our world-class scientists in the areas of computer science, cognitive science, physics, Web science, and mathematics in an unprecedented collaboration to investigate all aspects of the ever-changing and global social climate of today.”

The new center, funded by a $16.75 million five-year grant from the Army Research Laboratory, will join researchers from a broad spectrum of fields -- including sociology, physics, computer science, engineering, and medicine -- in exploring social cognitive networks. The center will study the fundamentals of network structures and how those structures have been altered by technology. The goal will be a deeper understanding of social cognitive networks and a firm scientific basis for this newly arising field of network science.

“Social networks involve people who interact for various reasons - mentoring, friendships, rivalries,” said Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “In the past, social networks were limited by the distance of possible interactions. Thus, they were limited in size and there was no easy way in which a network could become huge and fast. Technology -- cell phones, Facebook, LinkedIn -- makes it much easier to be involved in the lives of many people who could be very distant from each other. This brings new opportunities and new dangers to society.”

The center will look at five aspects of social cognitive networks, each of which could lead to improvements in how we form ties, gather information, and make decisions:

  • Dynamic processes: The center will develop mathematical formulas and models for analyzing the effects of social cognitive networks, measuring how interactions influence people performing a task.
  • Organizational networks: Researchers will study how information moves in a network. All organizations have a hierarchy, but the movement of information doesn’t always match the established hierarchy.
  • Adversarial networks: Weaving game theory, computer science, and other academic disciplines leads to better understanding of and ways to counter the harmful use of adversarial networks within social networks.
  • Trust within social networks: The challenge of building trust among a group of individuals with diverse and opposing perspectives, the fourth aspect, is also important.
  • The impact of human cognition on social networks: In today’s networked society, a decision maker will always have more data to consider than time in which to consider it. The new center will develop models to analyze how human cognitive limitations influence judgment.

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