The main activities of the Behavioral Sciences Program at SFI are:

The Coevolution of Institutions and Behaviors working group. This small long-standing discussion group brings together scholars from across the scientific discipline to study dynamics of both group level institutions and social norms and other elements of cultures using mathematical modeling, computer simulations and empirical studies using a range of methods. Permanent members in addition to me are Peyton Young, Robert Boyd, Herb Gintis and Larry Blume.

The Dynamics of Wealth Inequality Project. I co-founded this project a decade ago with Monique Borgerhoff Mulder (Anthropology, UC Davis) to bring together quantitative social scientists, dynamic systems and other contributors modeling the evolution of inequality, and field workers doing primarily ethnographic work. Over the past 4 years the project has focused primarily on conceptual and empirical studies of how network structure affects wealth inequality, and the co-evolution of human mating systems (especially polygyny) and wealth equality. Other SFI community members participating in these projects are Matthew Jackson, Robert Boyd, Elly Power, and Simon DeDeo.

The Behavior Discussion Group. This informal discussion group meets periodically during the year (primarily during the summer) to discuss common research interests, with a focus on projects at initial stages.

Recent Meetings have included:

2014 Working Group: Coevolution of Institutions and Behaviors January 13-15

2015 Workshop: The Dynamics of Wealth Inequality: Family Structure and Demography January 30 - February 1

2015 Working Group: Coevolution of Institutions and Behaviors January 6-8

2016 Working Group: Teaching and Learning Economics as if the Last 30 Years Had Happened February 13-15

2017 Workshop: Dynamics of Networks and Inequality February 1-3

2018 Working Group: Coevolution of Behaviors and Institutions March 15-17


Behavior Discussion Group at work 2017


Behavior Discussion Group: High theory, 2014


George Cowan's 90th Birthday Party (and an unhappy Isaac Newton looking on).
Remembering George Cowan (1920-2012).


Some of the behavioral discussion group Summer 2006

Background: The Origins and Purpose of the Behavioral Sciences Program at SFI

In 2003, the Institute launched a research program in the behavioral sciences. The program is supported by an endowment generously given to the Institute by George Cowan. As the Arthur Spiegel Endowed Research Professor at the Institute I coordinate this program.

Rationale. Many of the pressing contemporary challenges to human well being -- global warming, HIV-AIDS, terrorism--as well as many opportunities for enhanced well being--the alleviation of global poverty--are social in nature. Understanding these challenges and addressing them requires knowledge not only of the workings of the physical world but also of how people behave and how individual behaviors interact to produce aggregate social outcomes. By contrast to the immense contributions of physical science to human betterment, however, the contribution of the behavioral sciences appears paltry, and in any case inadequate to the contemporary challenges.

This inadequacy may be traced to many sources, one of which is that the various disciplines making up the behavioral sciences have for the most part pursued research agendas in isolation from one another despite substantial elements of common subject matter. Neuro-scientists, economists, psychologists, and evolutionary biologists, for example, all study the relationships between rewards and behaviors, but without a common framework of analysis (and with little interest or knowledge of the contributions of related disciplines.) Similarly, historians, sociologists, political scientists and anthropologists seek to explain institutional and cultural change, with surprisingly little exchange of methods among the disciplines and virtually no attention to the possibility of applying models from physics, population genetics and other more distant fields.

Program. The program will support non-disciplinary research by visitors to the Institute, participants in workshops, post doctoral fellows and others.