Motifs for processes on networks

23 February 2021
Alice C. Schwarze

The study of motifs in networks can help researchers uncover links between structure and function of networks in biology, the sociology, economics, and many other areas. Empirical studies of networks have identified feedback loops, feedforward loops, and several other small structures as "motifs" that occur frequently in real-world networks and may contribute by various mechanisms to important functions these systems. However, the mechanisms are unknown for many of these motifs. We propose to distinguish between "structure motifs" (i.e., graphlets) in networks and "process motifs" (which we define as structured sets of walks) on networks and consider process motifs as building blocks of processes on networks. Using the covariances and correlations in a multivariate Ornstein--Uhlenbeck process on a network as examples, we demonstrate that the distinction between structure motifs and process motifs makes it possible to gain quantitative insights into mechanisms that contribute to important functions of dynamical systems on networks.

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