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MIT System Dynamics Seminar: Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance

December 10, 2021 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EST

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Please visit the MIT System Dynamics Seminars page for more information.

You are invited to attend the System Dynamics Faculty Candidate Seminar being held on Friday, December 10th from 1:00-2:30pm ET in the Jay W. Forrester conference room, E62-450, or virtually via Zoom: Our guest speaker will be Vicky Chuqiao Yang (Santa Fe Institute) presenting Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance (see attached paper, abstract and brief bio below). A reminder will be sent out closer to the date.

As per updated Sloan policies, there will be no food permitted inside any of the E62 conference rooms, beverages will require a straw to be consumed underneath your mask, and in-person attendees will need to sign a check-in sheet upon arrival to assist in contact tracing should it become necessary.

Abstract A key question concerning collective decisions is whether a social system can settle on the best available option when some members learn from others instead of evaluating the options on their own. This question is challenging to study, and previous research has reached mixed conclusions because collective decision outcomes depend on the insufficiently understood complex system of cognitive strategies, task properties, and social influence processes. This study integrates these complex interactions together in one general yet partially analytically tractable mathematical framework using a dynamical system model. In particular, it investigates how the interplay of the proportion of social learners, the relative merit of options, and the type of conformity response affect collective decision outcomes in a binary choice. The model predicts that, when the proportion of social learners exceeds a critical threshold, a bistable state appears in which the majority can end up favoring either the higher- or lower-merit option, depending on fluctuations and initial conditions. Below this threshold, the high-merit option is chosen by the majority. The critical threshold is determined by the conformity response function and the relative merits of the two options. The study helps reconcile disagreements about the effect of social learners on collective performance and proposes a mathematical framework that can be readily adapted to extensions investigating a wider variety of dynamics.

 Vicky Chuqiao Yang is an Omidyar Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. She uses quantitative behavioral models, assisted by the analysis of data, to study collective human behavior on a broad range of organization levels, from teams to cities. Recent research topics include collective decision-making, political polarization, scaling laws in cities, and bureaucracy in human organizations. She received a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Northwestern University.


December 10, 2021
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EST
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