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Cascading transitions in psych-social systems

Prof. Han van der Maas
University of Amsterdam ~ Psychology

Tipping points or phase transitions separate stable states in psycho-social systems. Examples are quitting smoking, radicalization, and dropping-out of school. Two knowledge gaps prevent our ability to predict and control these tipping points. First, we miss explanatory mathematical models of such non-linear processes. Second, we ignore the multilevel character of psycho-social transitions. I contend that important changes in many psycho-social systems are cascading transitions, where individual transitions trigger or are triggered by social transitions. The cascade of radicalization of individuals in the context of political polarization in societies is an example of such a multilevel process. In this talk I will present and discuss a mathematical approach to the study of cascading transitions. This approach comprises theory construction in the form of mathematical modelling and innovative empirical analyses. The basic cascading transition model is: dX_i / dt = -X_i^3 + a_i + ∑_jb_ij X_j +∑_jc_ij X_i X_j With specific choices of a, b and c we can apply this model in different contexts. Variants of this complicated model have been recently analysed in climate research (Dekker et al., 2018; Klose et al., 2020; von der Heydt et al., 2019), mostly for the case that c_ij=0. In a new ERC project, we will apply this model to: a) opinion change from individuals to populations and back, b) learning, where progression and drop-out are embedded in collective processes, c) addiction, where transitions to addiction or abstinence within individuals are part of cascading epidemiological changes of substance use in populations, d) muti-figure multistable perception. These individual projects will also be presented as posters.



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Cite this as:

van der Maas, H. (2023, July). Cascading transitions in psych-social systems. Abstract published at MathPsych/ICCM/EMPG 2023. Via