UCLA professors Carolyn Parkinson and Mason Porter have been awarded a three-year, $977,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to analyze the complexities of a social network based on its members’ relationships and their interactions with one another.

Parkinson, an assistant professor of psychology, and Porter, professor of mathematics, will combine methods from cognitive neuroscience with cutting-edge research in network science to gain insights into how our social networks shape the way that people process the world around them, and vice versa. They will also test how the brain shapes and is shaped by its social context.

The researchers will conduct and develop new approaches for “multilayer network analysis”; different layers may include friendships, online interactions and common interests. Some of the people in the network will also participate in functional magnetic resonance imaging studies in which the researchers will measure their brain responses to naturalistic videos.

Parkinson recently led a research project that published in Nature Communications findings suggesting that we are exceptionally similar to our friends in how we perceive the world around us and how we respond to it — research praised in the New York Times as “incredibly ingenious.”

Among the questions that study raised is whether we form friendships with people who think like us or whether we become more similar to our friends over time, or some combination of the two.

Porter, who joined UCLA’s faculty from the University of Oxford in 2016, is a fellow of the American Mathematical Society and of the American Physical Society, and the 2014 recipient of the Erdős–Rényi Prize from the Network Science Society.