The transition from 2015 to 2016 brings with it a move towards the acceptance of agent based modeling (ABM) as a viable tool for understanding social phenomena. Two papers were recently published in Psych Science investigating social psychological processes using ABM. The first is an interesting study by Christian Luhmann examining memory transmission in small groups. The second is a study by Andrzej Nowak and colleagues on the evolution of honor cultures. Great news for computational social psychologists.
Agent-based modeling (ABM) is a computational approach to simulating large social systems. It is a way to mimic interactions between individuals (agents) by using predefined rules in order to learn about emerging group level phenomena. In this sense, using ABM is a first and very important step in solving one of the biggest problems in social psychology – the lack of ability to model and examine long term interactions between individuals. If this is the first time you’re hearing about ABM, you can read about it here.
Social psychologists have pointed to the importance of ABM for almost 10 years (read this interesting paper by Eliot Smith et al.). However, until recently, few have actually used ABM to learn about new phenomena. These two recent papers are a step towards an increase in the use of these methods by social psychology, and an important step for computational social psychology. In future posts I will try to follow the advancement of these ideas in the literature and report on them here.