NYU Stern

Social Network Schemas and
The Learning of Missing Relations


Incomplete social networks have been of critical theoretical and empirical interest to sociologists, but have typically played the role of “control stimuli” in social psychological studies of network learning. Five studies tested for schematic processing differences in the encoding and recalling of incomplete networks. In Studies 1 and 2, prior familiarity with missing relations facilitated learning an unfamiliar, incomplete network. Study 3 ruled out an alternative explanation that pattern recognition ability facilitated the learning of incomplete relationship patterns. Study 4 examined how improved encoding and recall of missing relations affected a strategic choice involving the relations in an incomplete social network. Study 5 manipulated the degree of familiarity with missing relations, which produced predicted differences in learning rates. The findings suggest that people can become schematic for complex, incomplete social networks.