Tomas Zwinkels

Methods, Human Behavior and Policy
Current projects

Literature study on behavioral models

Starting from the assumption that to explain many social phenomena recourse to a model of human behavior is needed, we aim in this literature study to review a wide range of behavioral models from different disciplines and compare them amongst each other along some criteria - the latter derived from meta-theoretical as well as practical considerations about desirable properties these models should have. To do this, our reading process will be structured as follows:

  1. Philosophy of the social sciences (and related disciplines): The first cornerstone of our literature study is a thorough review of principal considerations relevant to a review of behavioral models. Examples of this are the questions of how to make decisions in case of trade-offs between simplicity and realism (e.g. Lindenberg 1992) or the question whether realism of actor assumptions matters at all as long as predictions hold (Friedman 1953). The aim of these readings is to arrive at a list of criteria as well as structuring principles. This will guide us in selecting, mapping and evaluating the reviewed models
  2. Reading of models: We will read papers from different disciplines - among others anthropology, biology, cognitive science, economics, neuro-science, psychology and sociology - that introduce or review fundamental models of human behavior. While the scope covered will be wide, we will only consider those models that are - in principle - usable for the explanation of social phenomena, i.e. within  frameworks in which the ultimate dependent variable is «above» the single individual. Note, however, that this does not exclude models in which processes within the individual are modeled as long as they can be applied in social contexts. Thus, the standard decision in the social sciences to not consider levels below the individual agent is not a priori confirmed, but remains an open question.
  3. Empirical findings on the characteristics of human behavior: While acknowledging that each behavioral model is, by definition, a gross simplification of actual human behavior, we believe that - to review the models - it is of great importance to have a good overview of the established knowledge on human behavior - such as cognitive capacities, perception and memory. These collected findings will not be used to exclude models that contradict evidence about fundamentals of human behavior, but rather to assess the relative «distance» of different models to actual processes. However, given the importance of simplification, we will use this as a criterion among others not simply advocating the model closest to actual processes.

Connecting these different strands of readings, it is our goal to achieve some form of visual representation - for example, a possibility space or decision tree - that allows us to make sophisticated decisions when choosing behavioral models for our own research. Being aware of fundamental model choices as well as their relative strengths and weaknesses, we hope, will allow us to choose appropriate models depending on the context of the respective research questions.

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