New Methods for the Steady-State Analysis of Complex Agent-Based Models

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Among all tools used to understand collective human behavior, few tools have been as successful as agent-based models (ABMs). These models have been particularly effective at describing emergent social behavior, such as spatial segregation in neighborhoods or opinion polarization on social networks. ABMs are particularly common in the study of opinion and belief dynamics, being used by fields ranging from anthropology to statistical physics. These models, much like the social systems they describe, often do not have unique output variables, scales, or clear order parameters. This lack of clearly measurable emergent behavior makes such complex ABMs difficult to study, ultimately limiting their application to cases of empirical interest. In this paper, we introduce a series of approaches to analyze complex multidimensional ABMs, drawing from information theory and cluster analysis. We use these approaches to explore a multi-level agent-based model of ideological alignment introduced by Banisch and Olbrisch to extend Mäs and Flache's argument communication theory of bi-polarization. We use the tools introduced here to perform a thorough analysis of the model for small system sizes, identifying the convergence toward steady-state behavior, and describing the full spectrum of steady-state distributions produced by this model. Finally, we show how the approach we introduced can be easily adapted for larger implementations, as well as for other complex agent-based models of social behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103
JournalFrontiers in Physics
StatePublished - 8 Apr 2020

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  • agent-based modeling
  • belief dynamics
  • cognitive-evaluative maps
  • complex systems
  • computational social science
  • opinion dynamics
  • polarization
  • social influence


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