Events / SCEW seminar: Damon Centola

SCEW seminar: Damon Centola

February 10, 2023
2:00 PM - 3:15 PM

online offering

This seminar will be held via Zoom. For the Zoom link, please contact us:


Damon Centola
Elihu Katz Professor of Communication, Sociology, and Engineering
Network Dynamics Group
University of Pennsylvania


Complex Centrality: Predicting Social Influence


Despite decades of work on the network structures underlying social influence, standard measures of node centrality frequently misidentify the most influential nodes in a network. Meanwhile, these standard measures continue to be widely employed in policy-relevant domains, from marketing to public health, for the purpose of identifying influential “seed” nodes for initiating the spread of behavior. In this work, we identify a key assumption in prior network-based measures of node centrality and social distance that significantly limit their capacity to characterize social influence. Standard measures of mode centrality often assume a “simple” model of contagion, in which individuals only require exposure to one activated peer to adopt. Yet, many social contagions are “complex,” for which people require exposure to multiple activated peers. In this study, we provide novel topological measures of “complex path length” and “complex centrality”, which identify seeds that maximize the spread of social contagions, and we demonstrate empirical applications to microfinance, conservation efforts, and public health.


Bio: Damon Centola is the Elihu Katz Professor of Communication, Sociology and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is Director of the Network Dynamics Group and Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. Before coming to Penn, Damon was a professor at MIT, and prior to that he was a fellow at Harvard University.


Damon is one of the world’s leading scholars on social networks and behavior change. His work has received numerous scientific awards, including the Goodman Prize for Outstanding Contributions to Sociological Methodology in 2011; the James Coleman Award for Outstanding Research in Rationality and Society in 2017; and the Harrison White Award for Outstanding Scholarly Book in 2019.  He was a developer of the NetLogo agent based modeling environment, and was awarded a U.S. Patent for inventing a method to promote diffusion in online networks. Damon is a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.


Popular accounts of Damon’s work have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, TIME, The Atlantic, Scientific American and CNN, among other outlets.  His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and Facebook. Damon’s speaking and consulting clients include Amazon, Apple, Cigna, General Motors, Microsoft, Ben & Jerry’s, the U.S. Army, and the NBA, among others. He is a series editor for Princeton University Press and the author of How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions (Princeton 2018), and Change: How to Make Big Things Happen (Little Brown 2021).