Discussion paper

DP8732 Network Cognition

We study individual ability to memorize and recall information about friendship networks using a combination of experiments and survey-based data. In the experiment subjects are shown a network, in which their location is exogenously assigned, and they are then asked questions about the network after it disappears. We find that subjects exhibit two main cognitive biases: (i) they underestimate the mean degree compared to the actual network and (ii) they underestimate (overestimate) the number of frequent (rare) degrees. We then analyze survey data from two `real' friendship networks from a Silicon Valley firm and from a University Research Center. We find, somewhat remarkably, that individuals in these real networks also exhibit these biases.
The experiments yield three further findings: (iii) network cognition is affected by the subject's location, (iv) the accuracy of network cognition varies with the nature of the network, and (v) limitations in network cognition have payoff implications.


Dessi, R and s goyal (eds) (2012), “DP8732 Network Cognition”, CEPR Press Discussion Paper No. 8732. https://cepr.org/publications/dp8732