This project is my Master's thesis research project that explores whether motivation may be another factor to the limitations of offline social network sizes.
My contribution: Project ideation, product designer, interaction designer, research design, user testing, data analysis, academic paper author. Collaborator: Kaj Toet – programmer.
The social brain hypothesis predicts that (typically developed) adult humans have a natural social network size of around 150 ‘friends’ (active social network), known as Dunbar’s number. It is predicted that humans cannot maintain more than ~150 relationships at any one time due to constraints of cognitive processing and time. These limitations affect the quality of relationships and thus, ultimately, the total number that one can maintain.
Does motivation play a role in Dunbar’s number? This project explores whether motivation may be another factor to this equation: how motivated are people to get in touch with their friends? A pilot study was performed, whereby 21 participants used a mobile app on their smartphone to fill out multiple surveys per day over the course of 7 days. Participants were asked to estimate their motivation to contact friends, provided their social network sizes, and were evaluated on their ability to handle multi-level intentionality tasks (a.k.a. theory of mind/mentalising). An investigation into correlations between individual motivation, social network sizes, and theory of mind capabilities were presented. Results are inconclusive, potentially due to a small sample size and too much noise in the social network size data.
Daily surveys: For a week long study, participants provided names of 15 friends, where were then stored as URL variables and used in subsequent online surveys. The online surveys asked participants to estimate their motivation to contact the names they previously provided. Contact was defined for participants as some form of interaction, including face-to-face, phone call, email or text-messaging, or a letter.
Motivation was self-reported by participants on a 100-point sliding scale ranging from 0 (not motivated) to 100 (very motivated) for each name they provided. Past work has investigated the accumulation of intrinsic and extrinsic task-specific sources of motivation over the course of a workday, and evidence suggest that they may exhibit within-day fluctuations (Benedetti, Diefendorff, Gabriel, & Chandler, 2015/6). To account for this and provide an average motivation value for each friend, participants are asked to estimate their motivation 3 times per day (morning, afternoon, and evening) over the course of 7 days.
Included in the motivation surveys, participants were asked at the beginning of each day to identify any people from their list of 15 friends with whom they had plans to contact that day. At the end of each day they are asked to identify who they had contact with from their 15 friends. These questions are asked to see if there are any relationships between motivation scores, planned interactions, and actual interactions.
Final Surveys: In order to investigate if motivation has any correlation to individual social network sizes, participants are asked at the end of the week to identify members of their active social network. This survey asked participants to list the initials of everyone whom they had social contact with during the last 7 days and all others in the last 30 days, as well as their gender. Social contact was defined to participants as some form of interaction, including face-to- face, phone call, email or text-messaging, or a letter. Additional instructions asked participants to not include people whom they had contacted for professional reasons (e.g. doctor, lawyer, hairdresser, priest, employer or supervisor, plumber or DIY consultant etc.) unless they considered the interaction to have been mainly social in nature at the time.
As theory of mind capabilities have also previously been linked to social network sizes, participants were additionally asked to complete three multi-level intentionality tasks with a version of a test that has been used in past studies (Kinderman, Dunbar, & Bentall, 1998). The task included reading 3 short stories, with 20 questions pertaining to character intentionality after each story. This task was adapted to allow users to select “True”, “False”, or “I don’t know” to the questions, as opposed to the original which does not include the “I don’t know” option. Participants were instructed to answer True or False to each of the questions that follow each story and to try their absolute best to come up with an answer. If they didn’t know the answer to a question to the extent that they would have to make a 100% guess, then (and only then) they should choose the 'I don't know' option. Additionally, they were instructed not to guess. With this information we could see if any correlations exist between theory of mind capabilities and motivation.
It is unclear, at the point of writing this, if assessing motivation in this manner is successful, although it seems advantageous to use mobile phones to collect psychological data from within an individual’s natural environment. Experience from this study suggests that interrupting people within their environment while they have other priorities can distort data collection. Also, the use of mobile phones creates a dependency on technology, user interaction, and the level of experience one has with these. This has to be taken into account when relying on mobile phones to collect data in future studies. Lastly, due to time and technical limitations, this pilot study used a hybrid app as a method to collect and record data, but an improvement to the method would be the use of an all-inclusive app that does not have a dependency on an internet connection every time participants are notified to fill out a survey.