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Elizabeth Eve Bruch photo

The Co-Evolution of Individual Behavior & Social Environments

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigators:   Elizabeth Eve Bruch, Fred Feinberg

Behavior is central to the prevention, treatment, and management of diseases and health care conditions on which the U.S. spends about $1.5 trillion annually. The ecological perspective emphasizes that behavior is shaped by multiple levels of influence and dynamic feedback between individuals’ actions and their social environment. A major challenge in solving pernicious social problems is accounting for this bidirectional feedback between individuals and their environment. In recent years, studies have identified “systems science” methods (i.e., agent-based models, network models, system dynamics) as potentially transformative for capturing feedback across multiple levels of analysis. Meanwhile, researchers in the field of marketing have worked out sophisticated statistical models of behavioral decision-making, but these have not been applied to population problems. We believe there is fertile territory at their intersection: extending individual-level choice models from marketing to a variety of thorny, open problems in demography and cognate disciplines. Our pilot project will: (1) repurpose “cognitively plausible” marketing choice models for use in social research; and (2) incorporate the behavioral models into agent-based simulations to explore how key features of individual decision-making shape and are shaped by features of the environment. Our hope is that this strategy will ultimately allow for more efficient and effective interventions aimed at precise points in the decision-making process. In addition, our work will explore how small changes in the decision architecture may propagate due to feedback between individual behavior and social environments.

Funding Period: 01/01/2014 to 12/31/2014

Country of Focus: USA

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