Social learning has shown that people are more likely to learn from those who are seen as prestigious, talented, or who share demographic attributes with learners. In order to demonstrate that, many experiments and data-based studies have been conducted in many different systems; however, classroom environments have been understudied, because of different complications in both designing experiments and collecting data.
Combining both new technologies that are able to capture children's attention, e.g. video games, as well as experimental game theory, which provides us a formal framework to capture children's revealed preferences—a school classroom can provide an ideal environment for controlled social dilemma experiments, whose results can be contrasted against real-life indicators of school-life.
The connection between cooperation inside a classroom and social relationships is central in our framework. Here, we navigate the social network structure by running a non-anonymous dyadic cooperative (video) game (Fig. 1), in 50 different public primary school classrooms, between grades 3-5, allowing us to map cooperation networks for each classroom.
From the video game decisions, we build a weighted cooperation network for each classroom. The resulting network structure is able to capture different properties of the classroom, such as academic performance and social co-existence (Fig. 2). First, we find that positions in the social network have a significant power to identify, in an early stage, children who are susceptible to becoming the victims of bullying, and children who have a high probability to be bullies (Fig. 2A). Second, we find a positive and statistically significant relationship between network centrality—measured as the sum of the outcome on the video game—and student’s academic performance (measured as GPA, even controlling for others socio-behavioral characteristics that are correlated with GPA (Fig. 2 B)).
These results don't just help us to understand the elementary school environment, but also open new avenues for the role of networks in the education system, with a huge potential impact in education public policy. These results are useful inputs for decision makers and physiologists to prevent bullying and improve learning.