Helpful thirds and the durability of collaborative ties

Working Paper

(with Sampsa Samila and Alexander Oettl)

We explore whether helpful behavior makes collaborative networks more resilient to decay. Using a novel research design, we study whether research collaborations among 11,000 pairs of research immunologists persists after the unexpected loss of a third collaborator. We find that dyads whose departed third collaborator was helpful—as indicated by acknowledgments in journal articles—continue to collaborate after the death of their third. In contrast, dyads who lost a non-helpful third experienced a 5-12%-point decline in their probability of repeat collaboration. The effect of third-party helpfulness was particularly strong when they were high status and when the treated dyad did not have a prior history of helpful behavior. Our results speak to the central role that helpfulness plays in shaping the collaborative relationships that underpin science and innovation.