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Examining illicit networks in laboratory experiments with a preliminary focus on communication

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>28/02/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Legal and Criminological Psychology
Issue number1
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)150-164
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date8/01/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This research introduces a web application, the bot orchestrator, to assist researchers in developing paradigms to examine illicit networks in experiments. We implemented the application and a new paradigm to create mock networks using strangers. The proof-of-concept experiment examined communication when networks plan illicit activities.

Participants assumed the role of an illicit network member—either a manager, a coordinator or an executor. They held some information the group needed to accomplish either a material or ideological goal: communication between the roles was imperative for success. We also manipulated the level of risk associated with communicating about the planning activities. For half of the participants, there was a moderate risk of communicating about the plans. For the other half, the risk of such communication was high. The procedure allowed us to examine who a network member was willing to communicate with, given the goal under pursuit and the associated risk level.

Although goal-type, risk level, and the Goal-type × Risk Interaction did not significantly predict communication decisions, a content analysis suggested that participants were attempting to navigate the risks while pursuing their goals. Participants employed diverse communication strategies: individual differences explained the most variance regarding how network members communicate.

We hope the web application and paradigm this research introduces will facilitate further experiments examining illicit networks.