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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Under the microscope: researching the science of successful people

The results of Dr. Arnout van de Rijt’s research have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. (CHRISTOPHER PEMENTEL / THE STATESMAN)

Every other week Ruchi Shah, a biology major, will take a look at Stony Brook-related research and science news.

Successful people tend to gain further successes, though many wonder if these successes are a result of merit or other social factors. Dr. Arnout van de Rijt, associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, is elucidating the social influences in success through his experiments.

To better understand the nature of success as something that is arbitrary versus something that is meritorious, van de Rijt received a grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct experiments that “intervene in the real world as it is occurring.”

His research team implemented his experiment in two mediums. First, they worked with Kickstarter, a website where entrepreneurs post their ideas and ask for funding.

Initially, van de Rijt chose a group of projects on Kickstarter that were relatively small and equal in scale.

When the projects were chosen, they did not have any funding. The projects were then split into two groups. All of the projects in one group were given a small amount of money and the projects in the second group were left untouched.

Anticipated results show that the small initial endowment given to select projects predicted greater future success.

Other random third parties were more likely to invest in the projects that already had a small amount of funding compared to similar projects that did not have funding.

This phenomenon appears to play a role in gaining signatures on a petition. Van de Rijt’s students chose some petitions on the website that did not have any signatures.

After splitting them into two groups, the petitions in one group received a few signatures, while the petitions in the other groups were left untouched.

Van de Rijt is still waiting for results but anticipates that those petitions given a few initial signatures will  ended up with many more signatures than the petitions left untouched.

This work is significant because it plays a role in all aspects of daily life, like donations, downloads, votes and reviews. Things and people that are already successful may to be more successful due to “sizeable feedback effects,” van de Rijt explained.

The next step in his study is to better understand the reason behind this phenomenon.

Using a team of sociologists, psychologists, economists and statisticians, van de Rijt plans to create a complete analysis of the nature of repeated success and the role of society in this success.

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