Flying Together

On June 2nd 2023, we held our first CaterFly gathering. This blog entry is informal – slightly delayed, but for a good reason ! – and intended to recap and inform what we’ve done, and how we’ll go from there.

Beginning of March, Mariëlle and I thought it would be important for us to talk to everyone who just started as a researcher at the intersection of modelling and behavioural psychology to understand emergent phenomena. We’d just gather everyone, lock ourselves in a room, network, socialise, and profit. Getting enthusiastic yesses from our supervisors we started planning with Lynn boarding the team soon after her PhD began.

Fast-forward to June 2nd for which we asked everyone to

  1. read this paper on the differences in language between modellers and social psychologists,
  2. prepare a 90 second pitch of their own research,
  3. and refresh their skills in rock-paper-scissors (RPS) 🙂

Activity 1: Keynote & Academic Speed Dating

Inspired by his vision, we asked Emile to kick off the event as a keynote speaker on complexity and how interdisciplinary teams could work together to handle this. Our idea with this was to induce a culture for the meet-up and our future collaboration that provide a safe space for “risky research” we deem important at the ET Lab. As a little energiser before a social lunch, we had an academic speed dating to get to know each other better.

Activity 2: RPS Workshop

In our workshop, participants engaged in versions of the Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS) game to explore behaviour modelling. Starting with a traditional two-player game, we expanded to a version where players could switch roles based on game outcomes. The players each assumed a role: either rock, paper, or scissors. When they were tagged by someone who could defeat them by the rules of common RPS, they had to assume the identity of their predator. This opened a new behavioural strategy space encompassing movement, speed variations, and dodging, which served to illustrate the fluidity and complexity of agent roles. Weird as it was still the same game – or was it? We discussed a hypothetical situation involving a group of children playing the game – what would they do? Presumably just attack. What if one group of children (say the rocks) were clever? Run from the papers? Pretend they were scissors? Run from everyone and let the scissors take care of the papers, then win against the papers?

Using a NetLogo simulation, we compared our observations with virtual outcomes, leading to thought-provoking questions about the validity and limitations of simulations in capturing behaviour. Indeed, what was missing? Motivation, hidden agendas, learning, coordination and cooperation, and many more were named. Could this even be considered a simulation of behaviour if all this was missing? Or maybe all of these did not matter in order to capture the dynamics observed? Yesn’t. Why did we run away or set a goal, why did we even induce a meaning to this? The purpose was to get a grip on combination of agent-based modelling and behavioural theory. A lecture could have been equally suitable and playing a game of RPS doesn’t have anything to do with that. Thus, when making ABMs or using a behavioural theory, and particularly when combining them, the purpose needs to be clarified and aligned.

Activity 3: Mapping Our Work

Time for the pitches of our research! But how boring to just state what you’re doing, nod, and move on to the next. Again, we asked everyone to assume a random position in the room. When a pitch had been completed, you had to move closer or further away from the person, depending on whether your research was closer or further away from theirs . This made us listen properly, reflect, and act upon to what was said. A well intermingled network emerged – quite in contrast to when we ask the attendees in a second exercise to assume another position in the room: On a scale from modeller to psychologist, where are you? Indeed, two clearly disconnected islands emerged at the ends of the spectrum! How interesting to see how we try to do such similar and connected things coming from two well-separated disciplines!

Activity 4: Conversations Over the Pond

As a last activity, we had prepared some questions for reflection divided into three topics of discussion :

  1. Observations: What happens when you talk to “the other side”? What was easy and difficult today? Did you encounter “false friends” from the ROFASS language paper in your work ?
  2. Similarities and differences: What steps do you take when developing a model? What similarities and differences do you see in what you just discussed?
  3. Integration: What can we learn from each other? How can “the two sides” complement each other? What are the requirements for working together?

Some answers were shared in a panel, after which we proposed our idea to write a follow-up paper on the ROFASS language paper. The idea was positively received! We agreed to write our paper not on language, but on differences and similarities in approaches as well as the possibility to combine and complement them.

Where We Go from Here

We kept in contact via email and set up a Slack workspace to work together. July 14th, we have a follow-up meeting. We will make commitments to writing goals and exchange news, projects, ideas, literature, and socialise. The aim is to make this a useful monthly meet-up. You’re cordially invited to join, just reach out to Lynn, Mariëlle, or me!

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