Seminar Series

Seminar Series

IMPF Seminar Series: Arnout van de Rijt, SUNY Stony Brook

Success Breeds Success: Evidence from InVivo Experiments

Please join us for our next IMPF Seminar Series event on October 3rd, 2013 at Cornell University from 4:30 to 6PM in the Physical Sciences Building, 401. Arnout van de Rijt will present his research “Success Breeds Success: Evidence from InVivo Experiments.”


Successes tend to accrue to people who have been successful before. Two mechanisms can explain the relationship between past and present success. Pre-existing differentiation along fitness dimensions may repeatedly direct successes toward certain subpopulations. Alternatively, success may breed success through positive feedback. Observational studies have not been able to evidence the operation of a success-breeds-success mechanism because correlations between successes in longitudinal records may also be produced by unobserved fitness advantages. To overcome this problem of empirical confounding, we conducted randomized experiments by intervening in four live social systems across the domains of funding, status, social support, and reputation. In each system we consistently found that bestowed success upon arbitrarily selected recipients produced significant improvements in subsequent rates of success as compared to the control group of non-recipients. Experiments in which money was donated to random projects reveal that the average benefit of the treatment exceeded its cost, suggesting that under certain conditions investments may pay for themselves through the subsequent contributions they trigger, even when made in disregard of target quality.


Arnout van de Rijt is associate professor of sociology at SUNY Stony Brook University. Arnout’s work on social networks focuses on linking emergent network structures to principles of relationship formation. For Arnout’s contributions to social network analysis he received the 2010 Freeman Award for Distinguished Junior Scholarship and several best article awards. His work on cumulative advantage explores novel empirical strategies for studying success-breeds-success dynamics in various tournaments for resources and status and is supported by the National Science Foundation through award #1340122. Arnout’s research has been published in American Sociological Review and American Journal of Sociology.

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“[T]he challenge is to specify and explicate the social mechanisms determining the relationship between the informal social organization of close-knit groups and the formal rules of institutional structures.”— Victor Nee