Inferring complex behavioral mechanisms in difficult places

Jan. 27, 2017 from 3:30 to 4:20 p.m. — Johnson Hall, room 102

Carter Butts

Professor, Department of Sociology, UC Irvine


Patterns of interaction among individuals, organizations, or other entities are often the result of a complex interplay of endogenous behavioral mechanisms and contextual factors. Worse still, many interactions of scientific or practical interest occur in settings that are difficult to study, prone to unobserved heterogeneity, or fraught with hidden roles. Given observational data on such interactions, how can we identify the specific mechanisms responsible for the dynamics? Likewise, how can we translate candidate mechanisms from behavioral theories into estimable (and ultimately testable) models for social interaction, particularly when many different mechanisms may be at work? In this talk, I will describe one approach to addressing these questions, and discuss how this approach has been used to model social interaction in settings ranging from emergency communication and classroom interaction to email and gang violence. I will also point to some ongoing challenges in this area, and opportunities for further applications and development.


Carter T. Butts is currently a Professor in the Departments of Sociology, Statistics, and EECS and the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Professor Butts is the founding director of the UCI Center for Networks and Relational Analysis, housed within the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), and PI of the Networks, Computation, and Social Dynamics Lab. Butts obtained his Ph.D. from the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, and his B.S. from Duke University. He currently serves as an area editor for the journal Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Mathematical Sociology and Science. He also serves on the board of directors of the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) and is a council member of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Mathematical Sociology. Professor Butts is a recipient of the Linton C. Freeman award from INSNA, and the Leo Goodman early career award from the ASA’s section on Methodology; he has received paper awards from the ASA’s sections on Rationality and Society, Mathematical Sociology, and Aging and the Life Course. Professor Butts’s research involves the development and application of mathematical, computational, and statistical techniques to theoretical and methodological problems within the areas of social and biological network analysis, mathematical sociology, quantitative methodology, and human judgment and decision making. Currently, his work focuses on: the structure of spatially embedded large-scale interpersonal networks; theory and applications of discrete exponential family models for cross-sectional and dynamic relational data; Bayesian methods for network inference, model integration, and properties of biological systems; relational event models; network sampling; and methods for the analysis of time-resolved activity data. He is also interested in social phenomena related to emergency situations, and is involved in research which seeks to combine social science and information technology to improve group and organizational responses to disasters and other adverse events.