What is BEHAVE?
BEHAVE is the new centre for research and training on behavioural sociology of the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Milan. Established in 2019 thanks to an award by the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) under the “Departments of Excellence” programme, BEHAVE aims to integrate experimental and computational research to examine the emergence of large-scale, complex social patterns from agent interaction. Social norms, collective opinions and institutions are emergent features of agent behaviour in interaction contexts, whose analysis requires in-depth integration of different methods, observation scales and disciplines. This includes integrating the microscopic scale of individual behaviour, the meso-scale of network structure and dynamics, and the macroscopic scale of social systems and societal master trends. While perspectives and findings from different disciplines are essential to understand social behaviour, a unique combination of analytical instruments of detection is necessary to connect composite and plural approaches. For instance, while experimental methods (in the lab, field or online) have roots in the social sciences and are key to ground sociological analysis on solid theoretical foundations, scaling up their findings towards larger and more complex scales requires what we call “computational augmentation”. By replicating experimental procedures and settings into artificial computational models, BEHAVE will test and extend ‘real’ experimental (empirical) findings in artificial computerized surrogates, not necessarily less complicated and detailed. This will permit to perform counterfactual analysis that corroborates the estimation of causal relationships established by experimental protocols and test the impact of parameter manipulations (e.g., population size, spatial-temporal or interaction scales), which are either difficult to observe or impossible to manipulate in the lab. This can also inform further experimental research. In short, in this integration lies our true understanding of “behavioural sociology”, a synthesis of experimental and computational research that supports synthetic observations of macroscopic social patterns as aggregate properties of agent interaction and the complex eco-evolution between individual behaviour and social environments.
How does BEHAVE work?
BEHAVE vision is to link research and training. The development of innovative approaches and methods in sociological research requires inspiring students and young scholars to explore new frontiers. We all realise how the digital divide of sociology students is decreasing, while young scholars are more and more familiar with computing and modelling. BEHAVE aims to exploit such a potential, stimulate innovative training and offer a coherent integration of training modules and courses, from behavioural sociology basic courses to undergraduates to advanced summer school training in agent-based modelling. It will take years to put this vision into concrete plans, but this is our creative tension and this is what BEHAVE wants to nurture and instil in the new generation of social scientists.
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