Estimating social influence in a social network using potential outcomes

W.W. Loh*, D. Ren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


Social influence occurs when an individual’s outcome is affected by another individual’s actions. Current approaches in psychology that seek to examine social influence have focused on settings where individuals are nested in predefined groups and do not interact across groups. Such study designs permit using standard estimation methods such as multilevel models for estimating treatment effects but restrict social influence to originate only from individuals within the same group. In more general settings, such as social networks where an individual is free to interact with any other individual, the absence of discernible clusters or scientifically meaningful groups precludes existing estimation methods. In this article, we introduce a new class of methods for assessing social influence in social networks in the context of randomized experiments in psychology. Our proposal builds on the potential outcomes framework from the causal inference literature. In particular, we exploit the concept of (treatment) interference, which occurs between individuals when one individual’s outcome is affected by other individuals’ treatments. Estimation proceeds using randomization-based approaches that are established in other disciplines and guarantee valid inference by construction. We compared the proposed methods with standard methods empirically using Monte Carlo simulation studies. We illustrated the method using publicly available data from an experiment assessing the effects of an anticonflict intervention among students’ peer networks. The R scripts used to implement the proposed methods in the simulation studies and the applied example are freely available online.
Keywords: causal inference, interference, randomization tests, spillover effects
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841–855
JournalPsychological Methods
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Causal inference
  • Interference
  • Randomization tests
  • Spillover effects


Dive into the research topics of 'Estimating social influence in a social network using potential outcomes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this