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Modelling individual behaviour

In this video we discuss why modelling human behaviour is interesting and why it is challenging to make them more realistic.
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KATARZYNA ABRAMCZUK: Social sciences have built up impressive knowledge about our own species, be it our cognitions, and sometimes biassed perceptions, our communication, learning, and decision making. Psychologists who research human cognition try to understand not only how people think, but also why and when people process certain information in a given way, and what this might lead to. They build theories of the human mind, reasoning, emotions, and sociality. Oftentimes, these theories take on the form of models.
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WANDER JAGER: There’s one model that is particularly well-known, the model of a rational man. This model is used in many analyses that guide public policy making, policies to deal with important and complex challenges, such as adapting to a changing climate, preserving and restoring biodiversity, responding to a virus outbreak, and the transition of our energy system. In such situations, the opinions of the population can polarise, and even serious conflicts can arise. These situations are very complex, and, hence, uncertain by nature.
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KATARZYNA ABRAMCZUK: We know from experience that, in such conditions, a simple model of a rational man does not predict well what people will choose and do. But we do have many more psychologically sound models that can be used to help us. More realistic models of human behaviour may help us identify what different futures are possible, and how we can steer away from problematic futures.
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WANDER JAGER: As human beings, we have never been as numerous on the planet as now. And we face some serious challenges on our planet. Think, for example, about biodiversity, climate change. There are many issues where our behaviour as a collective is important to deal with problems. One of the challenges is, how can we change ourselves? What can we learn? And experimentation with these large groups of people with complete societies is not only technically impossible, but, ethically, it’s also not defendable. But we can conduct experiments with artificial societies. We can build artificial people, create societies, and conduct experiments on that.
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With that, we can learn about possible scenarios of the future, but we can even explore, if it is possible, to have some policies that might change our behaviour in a benign direction. One of the key challenges, though, is how can we make this behaviour of these artificial populations realistic? How can we use psychological and social scientific theory to construct artificial people that behave in a way that is realistic enough that we can trust these models? This is what we are going to address in this module– how to model human behaviour.

Why on earth should we replicate humans in computational models, whilst there are actually almost eight billion real people we can study? And indeed, in the social sciences a lot of experimentation takes place to learn about how we – as humans – make decisions, change our mind and perceive the world. And probably you have been filling in polls and surveys, that all add to the knowledge social science has about preferences and opinions of different people.

In this video we discuss why it is interesting to model human behaviour, and what the challenges are in going from a simple optimising model towards more realistic behavioural drivers and processes.

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Decision Making in a Complex World: Using Computer Simulations to Understand Human Behaviour

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