NYU Stern

Encoding Social Relations: Organizational Size and Use of the Balance Schema


Two studies explored the effect of organizational size on the tendency to make balanced inferences when encoding social relations. It was predicted that individuals tend to rely more on the balance schema in small organizational contexts compared to large organizational contexts, despite evidence that suggests imbalanced relations occur at the same rate in both contexts. In Study 1, a classification learning task was used to measure the learning rate associated with the encoding and recall of an imbalanced triad located in a specific context (participants: n = 68). Two contextual factors were manipulated: type of collective entity (work organization vs. social club) and size of collective entity (small vs. large). A significant interaction effect was found, such that participants assigned to the small work organization condition required more trials to learn the imbalanced relations than participants assigned to the large work organization condition. Size did not affect the rate of learning in the social club condition. In Study 2, participants (n = 51) watched a videotape of actors engaged in an unstructured interaction and made inferences about the relationships among them. The context of the interaction was manipulated such that participants believed the actors belonged to a) a small firm, b) a large firm, or c) a firm (control condition). Results demonstrated that the rate of balanced inferences was significantly higher in the small firm condition. The results support the notion that balance is part of a dynamic knowledge structure involving social relations and not a syntactic, content-free inferential rule.