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Studying complex social systems with online games

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EBDW03 - Integrating quantitative social, ecological and mathematical sciences into landscape decision-making

Controlled experiments with human subjects provide causal answers to questions that are otherwise difficult to address with observational methods. Specifically, laboratory experiments have been crucial for improving our understanding of individual behavior. Nowadays, online experiments allow us to scale up and also study collective behavior, group-level phenomena, and complex-system dynamics such as positive feedback loops, tipping points, path dependency, and self-organization. To demonstrate the potential of this method, I will present a project that uses an online game to study how differently endowed individuals who interact with each other can produce fair outcomes. We juxtapose fairness mechanisms that individuals employ – generosity, reciprocity, and inequity aversion – with competing concepts of societal fairness – meritocracy, equality of opportunity, equality of outcomes, and Rawls’ theory of justice. The work illuminates which interventions will work better for a specific desired outcome in a company, organization, school, or community. The game and method can be adapted to study topics as diverse as urban segregation, rural development, and immigrant integration.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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