Communication and Social Networks (Fall 2023)/smith status summary

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The paper examines how people of different socioeconomic status activate their social networks when faced with job loss threat. It defines network activation as the subset of a person's full potential network that comes to mind in a given situation.

Study 1 analyzed data from the General Social Survey, finding that when facing job threat, high status people activated larger, less constrained networks while low status people did the opposite. This supports the idea that threat causes people to defend their identities, with high status people asserting agency and low status people turning inward.

Study 2 was an experiment manipulating job threat. It replicated the finding that under threat, high status people activate larger, less redundant networks while low status people activate smaller, denser networks. This ruled out reverse causality as an explanation.

The studies support a cognitive perspective where networks are dynamic mental structures that shift cross-situationally. The activated network is key for subsequent mobilization of contacts for help. Activation and mobilization are distinct steps.

People appear to activate networks that align with and support their perceived status. Threat amplifies these tendencies as people defend their identities. High status people expand networks to assert competence, low status people withdraw to core supporters.

The research complements structural explanations by showing within-person cognitive shifts in network activation. It also has methodological implications for studying networks, as "errors" in recall may reflect legitimate situational differences.

For low status people, inward network response to threat could reduce access to novel job information and worsen inequality. For organizations, broad socialization could help combat factionalism.

Limitations include network contacts being passive, and activation as a one-time event rather than a recurrent process subject to learning over time. Future research could address these.

Study Question Answer
How is network activation defined? The subset of a person's full potential network that comes to mind in a given situation.
What did Study 1 find about how different status people respond to job threat? High status activate larger, less constrained networks. Low status activate smaller, more constrained networks.
How did Study 2 complement Study 1? Used an experiment to show the causal effect of threat on network activation differences.
What is the proposed cognitive perspective? Networks are dynamic mental structures that shift with situations as different aspects become accessible.
How does threat affect high vs low status people? High status people defend competence by expanding networks. Low status withdraw to core supporters.
How does the research complement structural explanations? Shows within-person shifts not explained fully by stable network structure.
What are some implications discussed? For low status, inward response could reduce job information and worsen inequality. Factionalism risks for organizations.
What are some limitations? Contacts are passive, activation studied as one-time event rather than a process.