Studying Teamwork and Cooperation in the Virtual Lab
Andrew Mao
For decades, physical behavioral labs have been a primary, yet limited, method for controlled experimental studies of human behavior. Now, software-based “virtual labs” on the Internet allow for studies of increasing complexity, size, and scope. In this talk, I highlight the potential of virtual lab experiments for studying social interaction and coordination. First, we explore collective intelligence and digital teamwork in “crisis mapping”, where digital volunteers organize to assess and pinpoint damage in the aftermath of humanitarian crises. By simulating a crisis mapping scenario to study self-organization in teams of varying size, and find a tradeoff between individual effort in small groups and collective coordination in larger teams. We also conduct a study of cooperation in a social dilemma over a month of real time, using crowdsourcing participants to overcome the time constraints of behavioral labs. Our study of about 100 participants over 20 consecutive weekdays finds that a group of resilient altruists sustain a high level of cooperation across the entire population. Together, our work motivates the potential of controlled, highly instrumented studies of social interaction; the importance of behavioral experiments on longer timescales; and how open-source software both can speed up the iteration and improve the reproducibility of experimental work.
* based on joint work with Lili Dworkin, Winter Mason, Siddharth Suri, and Duncan Watts.
Andrew Mao is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Computational Social Science at Microsoft Research in NYC. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 2015. His research focuses on studying collective intelligence and social interaction on the Internet, such as teamwork in online communities and coordination in crowdsourcing systems. Andrew specializes in designing and gathering data from real-time, interactive, web-based behavioral experiments, and he is the designer of TurkServer (, an open-source platform for building such experiments. He received the Yahoo! Key Scientific Challenges award in 2011.

October 18, 3pm

177 Huntington Ave 11th floor

Please bring your Northeastern ID (or other photo ID) when entering the building. Please email Janette Briceno (j.briceno[at]northeastern[dot]edu) if you plan to attend so that she may enter your name in the system for access to the building.