Yuan Yuan

20 Ames St · E15-384b, Cambridge, MA 20139 yuan2 [at] mit [dot] edu

Hi, there! I am Yuan Yuan, a PhD Candidate in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I research social and economic networks by applying cutting-edge computational methods, including machine learning, causal inference, and experimental design, to large-scale network data. In particular, I study how social ties are formed and stabilized, and how social ties mediate social contagion, social exchange, prosocial behavior, and information diffusion. My thesis advisor is Sandy Pentland. I identify myself as a computational social scientist who cares a lot about research methodology.

The word cloud below presents my research interests.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Doctor of Philosophy; Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Interested in computional social science, causal inference, networked experiments, social network analysis and human cooperation.
August 2016 - Present

Tsinghua University

Bachelor of Engineering (Computer Science) and Bachelor of Arts (Economics)
Graduation with Honors
August 2012 - July 2016


An Interpretable Approach for Social Network Formation Among Heterogeneous Agents

Nature Communications, 2018 [HTML][PDF][Blog]

Authors: Yuan Yuan, Ahmad Alabdulkareem, Alex Pentland

Here we integrate the methods from game theory, machine learning (node embedding), and agent-based modeling to establish a network formation model. We test our model with large-scale empirical networks.

Covered by: [PNAS Journal Club]

The Gift Contagion in Online Groups: Evidence from Wechat Red Packets

Working paper, under review

Authors: Yuan Yuan, Tracy Xiao Liu, Chenhao Tan, Jie Tang, and Alex Pentland

Abstract: Our study seeks to identify the social contagion of in-group gifts: if gifts trigger their recipients to send more gifts subsequently, the actual impact of a gift on group dynamics would be greatly amplified. Causal identification of contagion is always challenging in observational data; To identify gift contagion, we conduct a natural experiment using a large sample of 36 million online red packets sent within 174,131 chat groups on WeChat, one of the largest social network services worldwide. Our natural experiment is enabled by WeChat's random gift amount algorithm, with which the amount that a user receives does not depend on her own attributes. We find that, on average, receiving one more dollar causes a recipient to send 18 cents back to the group within the subsequent 24 hours. Moreover, this effect is much stronger for ``luckiest draw'' recipients or those who receive the largest share from a red packet, suggesting a group norm according to which the luckiest draw recipients should send the first subsequent red packets. Additionally, we find that gift contagion is affected by in-group friendship network properties, such as the number of in-group friends and the local clustering coefficient.

About My Name

I know my name is confusing but let me clarify it here. My family name is Yuan [袁] but I do not actually know what it means. The most famous person in Chinese history with the same family name is Shikai Yuan: he was the last emperor in the history of China, but only for 83 days unfortunately. My given name is Yuan [源], which means the source of a river or stream. My family name and given name just somehow have the same pronunciation. In the language system of Chinese, many characters (words) have the same pronunciation. How to pronounce Yuan (either [源] or [袁]): see 2:52. Common wrong pronunciation: click me.

Last update: Feb 25, 2019