Friday, October 5, 2018

These subtle differences lead to big differences in theory but they don't matter to the players who get caught up in their group mates' flocking no matter what

From Cognitive mechanisms for human flocking dynamics by Seth Frey and Robert L. Goldstone.

From the Abstract.
Low-level “adaptive” and higher-level “sophisticated” human reasoning processes have been proposed to play opposing roles in the emergence of unpredictable collective behaviors such as crowd panics, trafc jams, and market bubbles. While adaptive processes are widely recognized drivers of emergent social complexity, complementary theories of sophistication predict that incentives, education, and other inducements to rationality will suppress it. We show in a series of multiplayer laboratory experiments that, rather than suppressing complex social dynamics, sophisticated reasoning processes can drive them. Our experiments elicit an endogenous collective behavior and show that it is driven by the human ability to recursively anticipate the reasoning of others. We identify this behavior, “sophisticated focking”, across three games, the Beauty Contest and the “Mod Game” and “Runway Game”. In supporting our argument, we also present evidence for mental models and social norms constraining how players express their higher-level reasoning abilities. By implicating sophisticated recursive reasoning in the kind of complex dynamic that it has been predicted to suppress, we support interdisciplinary perspectives that emergent complexity is typical of even the most intelligent populations and carefully designed social systems.
There is an article in, Study finds people flock, or behave similarly to others, despite reasoning abilities by Karen Nikos-Rose.
Crowd panics, market bubbles, and other unpredictable collective behaviors would not happen if people were smart about these things and just thought through their behavior before they acted. Right? That's the perspective in economics, and even psychology and sociology.

But a UC Davis researcher looked at how people behave in simple reasoning games and found that people are usually driven to "flock," or behave similarly to others in a given situation. Seth Frey, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, said this happens "even when people use the fancy reasoning processes that are supposed to make humans so special."

Frey is lead author of an article, "Cognitive mechanisms for human flocking dynamics." The paper appeared in the Journal of Computational Social Science this month.

"The basic idea is that we have this preconception about fads and panics and flocks and herds, that they are driven by our basest animal spirits, and that adding thoughtfulness or education or intelligence would make those things go away," Frey said.

"This paper shows that people who are being thoughtful (specifically people who are doing dizzying 'what you think I think you think I think' reasoning) still get caught up in little flocks, in a way that the game they end up playing is driven less by what seems rational and more by what they think the others think they're going to do."

Each game used in the study is based on a very different way of thinking and should have evoked different varieties of reasoning by players, Frey said. But they did not. The same sophisticated flocking behavior bore out in all three games.


These subtle differences lead to big differences in theory, but they don't seem to matter to players, who get caught up in their group mates' flocking no matter what.
We have long known that an accumulation of mental models, habits, stereotypes and rules of thumb drive conclusions to a greater extent than logic and evidence. Indeed, it appears that we essentially conjure our conclusions and then construct empirical and logical rationalizations for those conclusions rather than the reverse.

Frey and Goldstone are looking at the emergent order reflected in the flocking tendencies that we pursue as a social animal. Subject to over-interpretation, but interesting none-the-less.

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