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 International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2007)

Psycho-Social Dynamics Advanced by Group Identity Modeling

Norman Johnson
Referentia Systems

Jennifer Watkins
Los Alamos National Laboratory

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     Last modified: June 30, 2007

While rational choice behavior of individuals and its influence on group dynamics have been exhaustively modeled (such as in game theory or economic models), there has not been comparable clarity achieved in behaviors that include social, cultural, extremist, or subliminal motivations – in essence, all the motivational aspects that complicate rational behavior. At best, mature models have been developed and tested for excursions from ideal rationality, such as in bounded/biased rationality, and are usable in limited applications. But the lack of addressing these complexities has limited the application of the rational models or made their predictiveness uncertain. A few models attempt to address the full complexity of rational and social behavior, such as the CONSUMAT model for consumer behavior (Jegar and Viek, 2001) or the foundational model of Douglas’ Group-Grid theory (Douglas, 1982) in cultural systems. But, these studies are generally limited to static social/cultural networks and do not include the essential descriptions of how social networks form, become more/less extreme, and interact. The present study argues that the above challenges can be addressed by starting with a simplifying, but powerful assumption, complementary to the way that economic models assume that individuals are innately rational. The assumption here is that individuals (as a result of evolution) have an innate tendency to form/sustain identity groups* and have prescribed triggers that initiate the influence of the identity group on the individual. We propose a preliminary dynamic model, inspired by the CONSUMAT approach, and present an implementation of the model in an agent-based simulation.

Within this identity group rubric, the complicating aspects of culture, group influence, social network dynamics, irrational behavior from ideological origins, bounded or biased information sources, etc. become expressions of identity groups, rather that the direct determinants of behavior as assumed in many social models. Hence, a corollary to the simplifying assumption is that if one knows an individual’s group identities, this is more predictive of their behavior than specific details of their complex views in a decision-making situation. We conclude that the proper path to maturing descriptions of social/cultural complexities, comparable to rational choice models, is the study of models with group identity. We note for completeness that the social influence of an identity group, either dominates, is recessive or is equally present to rational processes. And because social networks form and are strengthened based on group identity, this formalism also is the basis for a model of social networks and their dynamics.

Why has group identity not been exploited previously? Despite the recognition of the importance of group identity in social dynamics, most studies of group identity accumulate observations of identity's influence on individual and group behavior, rather than capturing the processes by which group identity forms and modifies individual and group behaviors. Furthermore, most models with identity present identity as a pre-existing state that is turned on or off, rather than as an emerging and dynamic group property that is expressed in different degrees under different circumstances. These top-down, prescribed approaches to group identity, while capturing the importance of identity, are not predictive, or at least explanatory, of the influence of group on the individual (and the reciprocal influence), of group formation, of the inter-group interactions, or the conditions of co-existence (or violence) between polarized identity groups.

* A descriptive definition of an identity group (IDG) is that if someone does something to one member of the IDG, it is the same as if it had been done to all members. IDGs express a common worldview (an understanding of how the world works and what are options and what is forbidden), have a shared unspoken knowledge that is less unknowable outside the IDG, often have symbols of association such as dress or language differences, and when in larger and sustained groups they develop culture. IDGs can be weak, such as occasional social groups where the social network is established but there is minimal influence on individual actions, to extreme IDGs, such as extremist religious groups, where the whole comes before the individual.

Jaeger, W., M. A. Janssen, C. Viek, "Experimentation with household dynamics: the CONSUMAT approach," International Journal of Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 4, 90-100, (2001).
Douglas, M., “Cultural Bias,” In the Active Voice, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London (1982).

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