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Agent-based and multi-agent simulations: coming of age or in search of an identity?


The promise of agent-based for explicating properties of social systems has not yet been fully realized. Agent models sometimes provide only a veneer of, rather than substantive engagement with, social behavior. The problem will be illustrated with Axelrod’s model for evolution of ethnocentrism (a biological model) versus Schelling’s model for spatial segregation based on preferences (a cultural model). The examples show the need to incorporate both the biological and cultural basis for behavior through a schema that includes behavior based on cultural/cognitive processing of information and behavior based on biological/cognitive processing of information. An example of an agent-based model that implements decision making in this manner is discussed. The model accounts for heterogeneity in behavior outcomes and leads to two main predictions: (1) small scale, hunter-gatherer societies in resource scarce environments will have stable adaptations less affected by variation in resource abundance in comparison to groups in resource rich regions where inter-group conflict is more likely and (2) the relationship between community size, population size and administrative complexity will have two distinct patterns, one for patrilineally organized societies and the other for matrilineally organized societies. Both predictions have been verified empirically.

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