During our journal club, we discuss a variety of articles. Some of them are focused on specific topics, but many of them are focused on broader methods (for a full list, see the featured image).
During last meeting (January 22, 2021), we discussed the value of computational modeling. We used Wander Jager’s article “Enhancing the Realism of Simulation (EROS): On Implementing and Developing Psychological Theory in Social Simulation” as the base for our discussion.
Through an example of social simulations, the author asked how we can use modeling in psychological research. The idea behind artificial societies, social simulations and multi-agent systems is simple – building a virtual system where many agents with certain characteristics (such as preferences, behaviors, and psychological traits) interact with each other. The difficulty of implementing the idea increases with the complexity of individual agents.
We reflected on these issues and while we agreed that the tool has a great potential there are still many obstacles that need to be overcome before we can use simulated agents in psychological research. For example, because psychological theories are often too vague at the moment, we are still pretty far from reaching “psychological realism” of agents. This is because often ideas are not sufficiently well operationalized and/or measured, they may only apply to single situations (and do not generalize to others), and are often only tested in a subset of the population. There are also problems related to questionable research and/or measurement practices.
Another obstacle we discussed is the fact that psychologists lack sufficient mathematical and computational training to be able to translate theories into a language a computer can understand.
Finally, we agreed that simulation and modeling are necessary steps to take in the future, but adding another tool to the toolkit won’t solve the other problems we are already facing in psychology. There’s still plenty of work to do before we can reliably use artificial societies in psychological research.
We also identified a few additional resources for those who want to expand their knowledge on the subject:
- A short video explaining social simulations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XvbuEugkIA
- NetLogo, a software for computational modelling: https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/
- An online course: https://www.coursera.org/learn/model-thinking
- A book on models: https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/scottepage/home/the-model-thinker/
- An article on agent-based model exploring the scientific process: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.160384
- An article on agent-based model exploring competition in science: https://osf.io/preprints/metaarxiv/x4t7q/
- An article on agent-based model used in personality research: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0730-3