Ego's important discussants or significant people: an experiment in varying the wording of personal network name generators

Abstract

There is considerable disagreement about the best personal network name generator to employ when only a Ž . single question is practical. One general approach is to ask the respondents egos to delineate the core Ž . Ž members alters of their personal networks according to affective criteria e.g., ‘‘the most significant people . in your life’’ . Another approach provides more guidance to the egos by asking about alters with whom they Ž . have had specific interactions or social exchanges e.g., ‘‘discuss important matters’’ . Finally, most name generators have been criticized for their preoccupation with positive ties to the exclusion of the difficult or Ž negative relationships that may be an important part of ego’s social world. An experiment 2=2 factorial . design was embedded within an interviewer-administered survey of 426 college students to explore the effects Ž . Ž on reported network size and composition of a varying the delineation criteria ‘‘significant people’’ or the Ž . . Ž . 1985 General Social Survey GSS ‘‘important matters’’ and b including or excluding a probe for negative Ž . interactions ‘‘These may include people that sometimes make you angry or upset’’ . The name-generator Ž wording manipulations produced modest network compositional differences ego–alter role relationships and . discussion topics that varied by the sex of both egos and their alters. Compared to the ‘‘important matters’’ criterion, the ‘‘significant people’’ generator elicited slightly more cross-sex relatives and fewer same-sex Ž . close friends and co-workers from female but not male respondents. The negative probe produced some statistically significant but substantively unimportant compositional differences. The results suggest that major differences in name-generator wording may in some situations have little or no effect on reported egocentric networks. q 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. q An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Sunbelt XVIII and Fifth European International Social Networks Conference, Sitges, Spain, May 1998. ) Corresponding author. Ž . E-mail address: straits@sscf.ucsb.edu B.C. Straits . 0378-8733r00r$ see front matter q 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. Ž . PII: S0378-8733 00 00018-6 ( ) B.C. StraitsrSocial Networks 22 2000 123–140 124

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